Painting by Bonny Holder

There is a graveyard west of town, but it doesn’t have green grass or headstones. The place where at least 11 people were buried on the city’s far West Mesa is a crime scene, perhaps the city’s largest ever.

Or is it?

Until recently, Albuquerque police said they weren’t really sure these were homicides. To be fair, that was a few days ago, back when the body count stood at six, including the bones of one woman and her fetus.

But how does anyone end up dead and buried on a remote mesa if they weren’t murdered?

I’ve been watching this case closely since the first bones were pulled from the ground in early February, and I’ve been struck by what I see as the media and law enforcement doing their best to tamp down public alarm over the fact that people were murdered and dumped like trash — AND that there was or may still be a serial killer at large.

The statements from police — and the media’s unquestioning coverage of them — have been puzzling, to say the least.
Police have said — and local media have endlessly repeated — the apparent fact that the first known victim, Victoria Chavez, was a “known prostitute and drug user.”

They say it on the television news night after night as they show her blurry police mug shot. This woman has a family and had a life and they have reduced her, personally, to this.

And now, as the body toll keeps growing, we heard police speculating that the rest of the victims were probably prostitutes, too, killed by a pimp who’s now dead.

The bodies are unidentified, but Chavez has been assigned the role of defining the rest of the victims as probably being from this same (worthless?) class of people.

Does anyone else feel like we’re being told: Yes, we are still pulling bones from the ground but these people were drug users, prostitutes and transients (and not coincidentally, apparently all women) so… all you normal people out there in ABQ, sitting on the couch watching this on the news, you have nothing to worry about.

That serial killer who may or may not be running around? He’s not after you.

So I think we have some questions for ourselves. Do we as a society value life for life’s sake, or do we only care about certain kinds of lives?

The question has sparked a fierce online debate at Duke City Fix, a popular website about life in Albuquerque.

About the pregnant victim, identified this week as Michelle Gina Valdez (also a prostitute, our police chief tells us), a DCF commenter writes:

She was a person living on the margins, but she was a person nonetheless, an expectant mother. Didn’t she deserve to live? Didn’t her child? I don’t know. Even prostitutes or “people who are involved in the drug trade” don’t deserve to be killed and dumped out on the mesa, used as entertainment livestock for some sicko and then discarded like an old refrigerator.

Someone took this woman’s life, and the lives of nine others, and the attitude I’m picking up on seems to be “well, everyone knows being a prostitute or junkie is dangerous.” Or, “Don’t worry, ladies, these were hookers, so there’s nothing for ‘normal’ women to worry about.” Sure, but does that mean we should look at a massive crime scene involving 10 women and a fetus and shrug our shoulders?

My feelings exactly.

Can we talk about this?

Read and respond to comments at original link on New Mexico Independent