Monday, March 16, 2009

Thirteen women murdered and killer still at large. Media ignores story.

My sister Miriam, who lives in New Mexico sent me the following guest post:

Time Magazine finally has a short story about it this week.

But have you heard anywhere else about the fact that 13 bodies have been found buried in the mesa west of Albuquerque, near where a new development was being started? A woman walking her dog discovered the first skeleton back in early February, and since then crews have unearthed 12 more, including a skeleton of woman carrying a fetus. All of the victims are female, and the killings appear to have happened about 5 years ago, in 2004. Only 3 of the 13 have been identified, and there is no lead on who the killer may have been.

Why isn't an undentified serial killer headline news? The American appetite for sensational news would seem to beg for this to be a top story, but the only news about this string of murders had been from local news outlets (including an insightful commentary from a local independent publication.) CNN, ABC, the AP – the national news outlets – have only had occasional second-teir mention; a ticker at the bottom of the screen mentioned it for a day or two, and then it dissapeared, despite the fact that bodies continued to be discovered for several weeks. Web sites with mention are few and far between.

I think this story is not high priority for a reason, and that reasons shows that our country is far from the enlightened, fair-minded populace that we hoped the election of Barak Obama would help reveal. The first young woman's body was identified as a “prostitute and a drug-user.” The next 2 who have been identified also had a history of prostitution. So, that's the issue – apparently if a young girl is troubled and finds herself earning money in way not sanctioned by society (although obviously serving a business need successfully enough to be the “world's oldest profession”) she is a throw-away. Her murder doesn't matter. Violence against women- even when it results in murder – wasn't reason enough to raise this to the national conciousness. Indeed, even after the Albuquerque police department received reports several years ago about a number of missing women (someone out there DID love them after all), apparently the effort needed to find and stop the killer was not a high priorty. As NM Representative Linda Lopez (D-ABQ) eloquently stated on March 12 (in a story also reported only in the independent media) “the police have characterized the dead women not as victims of crime, but as criminals themselves.” Lopez, to her great credit, brought attention to the issue at a session of the State Legistlature by bringing a “State Memorial” (SM 85) which takes the both the press and the police to task for their treatment of the crimes. Her symbolic Memoral states:

WHEREAS, the women whose remains have been identified in the west mesa mass grave site have been depicted by both the police and many members of the media not as victims of violence and crime, but rather as criminals themselves; and

WHEREAS, the labeling of these victims creates an atmosphere of ambivalence with regard to the crimes that have been perpetrated against them, while also denying their humanity and their role in our communities as daughters, mothers, sisters,
cousins, nieces and granddaughters; …

The Memorial goes on to note the significance of the issue of poverty and violence against women in New Mexico, which she notes has the third-highest domestic violence rate in the country.

Representative Lopez's Memorial is right on target, but it is unlikely to raise the horrific nature of the event beyond state borders, despite the fact the very lack of attention being paid by the national press indicates this is much more than a local issue. If 13 middle-class soccer moms were killed and buried for 5 years without notice, the revealation would overtake the press for weeks, silencing all other issues with the media frenzy. That, of course, is the other end of the spectrum, but this story does at least deserve the respect of bringing issues of violence toward women – and a potential serial killer on the loose – the attention they legitimately deserve.

I would add that my sister is right about the double standard applied to women. We've seen the media obsess for months about the disappearance or murder of a single 'good' girl (like Natalie Holloway or Lacey Peterson) but they don't care if something happens to a 'bad' girl (they get to define who is 'good' and who is 'bad,' according to their own definition of morality of course.)

The conduct of the police here bears a disturbing resemblance to another case I once blogged on, in which a rape victim was arrested and the investigation into the rape closed all because she once had a juvenile arrest warrant that was years old). The job of the police is to solve the crime. It is not to be the judge and jury, and certainly not to prioritize solving the crime according to their view of the worthiness of the victim to receive their help.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It's all ratings driven.

People want to read a story about a missing blond beauty.

Nobody wants to read about a missing prostitute.

The police should absolutely be faulted in this case, but you can't really fault the media, they decide what to cover based on long experience of what sells.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot to this story, and a lot more still to be known. When there's a "hook" that gets the attention of national news desks then it will get played up, but until then it will only be national news when the body count increases.

Police are saying they don't really expect to find more bodies (but they're still looking, I think), but the number of bodies discovered is within one or two of the number of women reported missing in the 2001-2004 period that had a history of involvement with drugs and/or prostitution. I think it's unlikely they'll find more bodies.

Another thing that bothers me about this case is that the police aren't calling this the work of a serial killer or killers, despite the long period of time elapsed for the disappearances and the apparent interconnection among all the victims (the 3 ID'd to date all knew each other). Part of it is that the bodies had decomposed so much they're not sure of the cause of any deaths, but when you find this many apparently related bodies in one place that died over such a long period of time it's a real stretch to think it's not the work of a serial killer.

Btw, the ABQ Journal had a front page article that made much the same arguments Miriam made regarding the shoddy way the original disappearances were investigated, and also questioned why there wasn't more outrage expressed at this point. It's not just the NM Independent that's picked up on that.

Anonymous said...

Hi there! Actually, since you've written this, it did hit the mainstream media -- I saw a story about it on one of the cable news networks within the last couple of weeks. (Stories about ABQ always perk up my ears!)

Suzanne J.