BOSQUE FARMS, N.M. (KRQE) – Customers handed over what they consider prized possessions. Members of the hunting community are up in arms after they say their taxidermist closed up shop and vanished with their prey and their money.
For Katie DeLorenzo, hunting is more than just a hobby. “I’ve just been surrounded by it my whole life, so it’s really having organic, free-range meat to eat. It’s what we love to do together.”
“Hunting for our family is really a lifestyle,” she added.
Known to her online followers as New Mexico Huntress, DeLorenzo is a conservationist with a learned love of New Mexico’s landscape and wildlife. In 2017, she and her dad got the rare opportunity to hunt Oryx together. After six grueling days, they each took one home.
“I knew it was an irreplaceable moment with my dad,” DeLorenzo recalled.
DeLorenzo says they processed the meat. Then, as many hunters do, DeLorenzo wanted a mount made of her Oryx to memorialize her special hunt.
“Female hunters are definitely growing in the population but when I heard there was a female taxidermist, I just thought it was really neat,” said DeLorenzo.
DeLorenzo went to Wildlife Artistry in Bosque Farms, where Taxidermist Chris Morgan took her Oryx and down payment.
“The agreement was a year later, my animal would be done and I would pay her in chunks when I could,” DeLorenzo explained. “And I was honestly more concerned with how soon I was paying her rather than when she was promising to have it done.”
More than a year later, DeLorenzo said she’d paid $1,000 in full, but still no mount. Instead, the shop in Bosque Farms had closed and Chris Morgan had vanished.
When asked what point DeLorenzo started to worry about not getting her Oryx back, she replied, “I think I realized things were a little precarious you know probably a year-and-a-half into it.”
It’s now been two-and-a-half years. DeLorenzo said she handed over her Oryx to Morgan in August of 2017. When the shop closed, DeLorenzo said most of her calls to Morgan went unanswered, and when they did talk, Morgan would claim the work was almost done.
“I got a little fed up,” said DeLorenzo.
In December 2019, DeLorenzo realized she wasn’t alone. She posted about it on Facebook to her online hunting community, and the post was shared almost 900 times.
“And out of that came about 30 other people that are in the same position,” said DeLorenzo.
“Chris Morgan was referred to me,” Duane Chavez told KRQE News 13. Chavez said he paid Morgan to mount his Barbary Sheep.
“That was handed off back in October of 2018 to be ready in January of 2019, and there’s a year later and nothing yet,” Chavez explained. It’s a story they’re hearing again and again from other hunters.
“There’s a family from Durango that gave her ten animals from an Africa trip,” said DeLorenzo. “There’s a youth hunter that killed their first antelope that’s gone. There is a white buffalo, there’s a trophy elk.”
“The list is robust, to say the least, and I think you know, we haven’t even heard from all of the victims yet,” DeLorenzo added.
Bosque Farms police are now investigating what could become a felony embezzlement case. “It’s growing into a quite larger case just in less than two months,” explained Bosque Farms Police Chief Paul Linson.
Chief Linson said the case involves tens of thousands of dollars. “We’re gonna send this case to the District Attorneys office. We’re gonna let them review the facts and make the determining decision if it’s gonna go criminal or this is gonna be a civil matter.”
Some have receipts, but none of Morgan’s clients KRQE News 13 spoke to had contracts with her. “I think a lot of these dealings are with a handshake and a smile and a deposit, and you just trust that they understand the value of that animal as much as you do,” said DeLorenzo.
“I think those days are unfortunately gone,” Chief Linson told News 13. “I mean you can’t really trust someone’s word.”
Carl Chavez isn’t associated with Morgan in any way, but after 19 years in the business running Mountain Legends Taxidermy in Belen, he understands the pressure to produce a high-quality product for every customer.
“Bring back memories of the hunt maybe with family members – a father, a child,” said Chavez. “It becomes an heirloom at that point.”
“You have to be dedicated,” Chavez added. “We’re bonded and insured.”
Chavez said it’s typical for a taxidermist to take a year to complete a job, but communication and contracts with customers are key. He said he’s heard from Morgan’s unhappy customers.
“Nobody knows what’s going on in somebody else’s life, but I hope that for her sake and her name that she’s able to take care of the customers that she has,” he said.
KRQE News 13 called Morgan’s listed business number. “The subscriber you have dialed is not in service,” an automated message plays.
KRQE News 13 eventually reached Morgan’s mom and Morgan herself called us back. She declined an interview but said she fears for her safety after receiving threats from angry customers.
Morgan claims she had to close the shop for personal reasons and move out of state. She said she’s working to return the animals to her clients, either finished or unfinished and has her mom handling the correspondence.
“My biggest fear is probably that Chris got in too deep and left the animals somewhere to rot,” said DeLorenzo. “Which would just be heartbreaking for all of us.” DeLorenzo said some of Morgan’s customers have been waiting as long as five years for their mounts.
When asked what message they’d like to get across to Morgan, Duane Chavez replied, “Things happen in every one of our lives, you know good and bad. But what is right is right.”
The hunter’s all hope Morgan will do the right thing and return their prized possessions.
Morgan wouldn’t tell KRQE News 13 where she lives now but said she plans on making a trip to Albuquerque soon to return items to her customers. Her mom told KRQE News 13 that Morgan is not in a position to issue refunds.
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish requires hunters and taxidermists to fill out a ‘Temporary Possession Certificate’ when an animal is handed over. However, that’s just to prove the animal was hunted legally.
If a taxidermist fails to return a product, Game and Fish can’t really do much, which is why law enforcement is now involved.
“There’s a lot of people that have a lot of you know, emotional stories attached to these hunts,” Chief Linson said. He’s encouraging any other customers who can’t get their items back to file a report with the Bosque Farms Police Department.