Police in Santa Fe say they have a new lead in a 61-year-old cold case after bone fragments were discovered at the former home of a man whose 26-year-old wife, Inez Garcia, went missing in 1952.
The man, Juan Andres Jose Garcia, was the main suspect in the investigation, but police could never bring him to trial.
Celina Westervelt, a spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Police Department, told the New Mexican that investigators believe the bone fragments could belong to Inez Garcia. The bones were sent to a Texas crime lab, where DNA testing could take several months. (Forensic investigators plan to use DNA swabs from one of her two daughters, now in their 60s, to determine if the bones match.)
Garcia, 40 at the time of his wife's disappearance, died in the mid-1990s. Shortly after his death, police unearthed bones from his property, but investigators later determined that the bones belonged to animals.
In January, Detective Robert Garcia Jr. (no relation) reopened the case. “I thought, ‘Why not?’" he said. "Maybe I could bring a little closure."
The detective took a dog specially trained to find human remains to the late suspect's home, and "the dog responded almost immediately began pawing at the ground in two separate locations in the garage."
Police got permission from the current tenant to begin excavation.
"Anyone have a small backhoe they'd be willing to donate to us for a few hours?" the department asked on Twitter last week without elaborating.
Anyone have a small backhoe they'd be willing to donate to us for a few hours?— Santa Fe PD (@santafepolice) March 24, 2014
Police say they "used shovels, pickaxes and eventually a backhoe to sift through dirt at least four feet deep," uncovering four small bone fragments that appear to be from a shin and forearm.
“There were lots of rumors that (Juan Garcia) buried her in the dirt floor,” Westervelt told the Albuquerque Journal.
"When he lived in the home, no one was ever allowed to enter that garage, and he spent much of his time inside the shelter," the Santa Fe Police Department said in a statement. "There were also rumors of strange smells coming from the structure and reports of dogs who tried many times to dig their way inside."
Inez Garcia was reported missing on Nov. 6, 1952. In the years that followed, two differing accounts of her disappearance emerged. One, based on police interviews decades after her disappearance, was that the Garcias were driving home from a bar when she "suddenly" jumped out of the car, walked away and was never seen again.
Another, from a 1954 article in the New Mexican about the then year-old case, said Inez Garcia was with her sister at a different bar at about 1 a.m. when a stranger entered the bar, "walked straight up to Inez and spoke some words in English," then left the bar with her following him.