blue jeans, blue quilted
peasant jacket, purple
halter top blouse, and
pink lace panties
Jewelry: Hollow gold
heart pendant and
Other: Red toenail polish. She had prior surgery removing uterus.
On September 19, 1982, the remains of
an unidentified “Jane Doe”,
were found on an island in the San
Juan River in New Mexico. An autopsy
indicated the female had been
a victim of murder by strangulation.
At this time the victim and
her killer have not been identified.
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to please contact:
Detective George Barter of the
Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office at
Below is an updated article on the case, published in 2009 by Durango Herald
Two bodies, no names
Pagosa Springs detective reopens 1982 murder case
The Durango Herald
by Chuck Slothower
Last Updated; Sunday, July 19, 2009
CARRACAS – Frank Chavez dismounted from his horse to examine what looked like a football in the San Juan River.
The cattle rancher discovered a human foot, attached to a dead woman, her upper body skeletonized.
Chavez went for help and returned later that day with Archuleta County sheriff’s deputies, the coroner and neighbors to recover the body. The woman had been strangled, authorities later determined.
That was Sept. 19, 1982. A month later, on Oct. 22, another rancher nearby stumbled across a dead man who had been shot twice, his body in the river, eaten by coyotes.
Almost 27 years later, authorities do not know who the victims were, who killed them or why. George Barter, an Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office detective, is trying to change that
Barter has taken a strong interest in the case, re-interviewing witnesses and commissioning new reconstructions of what the victims would have looked like.
Months before their deaths, the couple – known as John and Jane Doe – were seen at the bar of the Iron Horse Inn north of Durango. They also came through Pagosa Springs, Farmington and Dulce, N.M. A witness remembers seeing someone matching the woman’s description at the Bondad Hill Saloon.
“They ran all around this area during that summer,” Barter said.
Someone, Barter believes, has gotten away with murder.
Jane Doe was found with two pendants, one of a heart and another of an Italian love horn.
A piece of paper found in her jeans pocket had a name and phone number, but for years, investigators could not decipher the writing. Eventually, they determined it was the penmanship of Marilyn Cobianco, who lives in Farmington.
Cobianco confirmed it was her handwriting, but she could not remember Jane Doe or explain why her name and phone number ended up in a dead woman’s pocket, Barter said. Cobianco declined to be interviewed when reached by phone recently.
John Doe was wearing a tan T-shirt with the logo of Lazy B Guest Ranch, a now-defunct brothel in Fallon, Nev. The reverse showed a map of brothels in that area.
John Doe’s body is buried at Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque in a grave marked only by a number.
Jane Doe’s remains were given to Block-Salazar Mortuary in Española, N.M.
“They put her in an unmarked grave in an unknown cemetery,” Barter said. “Not to say that I’m done looking for her.”
John and Jane Doe’s skulls were separated from their bodies to aid in police reconstructions shortly after the crime, ending up in storage at a museum used by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, Barter said. That office did not return messages requesting comment.
Much of the evidence connected to the case has been lost, including Jane Doe’s clothing. The case file itself was missing until an Archuleta County clerk found it in an old file cabinet.
Turf disputes over the crime, which happened on the Colorado-New Mexico border, just east of Arboles, also have slowed the investigation.
Prosecutors in Archuleta County and Rio Arriba County, N.M., fought over jurisdiction of the case, Barter said. New Mexico State Police officers who now are retired investigated, along with the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office. Evidence was split among law enforcement in Archuleta County, Rio Arriba County and state investigators in Albuquerque.
Barter fears physical evidence was thrown out because of New Mexico’s former 15-year statute of limitations on prosecuting murders.
Barter said if investigators “had just done their jobs and preserved what was there,” the victims’ assailant or assailants would be in jail by now.
“I feel like she was probably sexually molested,” Barter said. “Now, with DNA, we could tag the person if we found those things.”
Jane Doe, investigators believe, was 5 feet 5 inches tall, 115 pounds and had brown hair, although Chavez insists she had long, blonde hair. She was 30 to 35 years old. By the time Chavez found her, she had been in the river for four to six weeks, the coroner estimated.
Investigators know less about John Doe because his body was more badly decomposed. It had been at least eight weeks since his death when he was found. He was believed to be in his mid-20s, with a stocky build and reddish-blond hair. He may have worked for a carnival traveling around the area. Both were white.
Barter got Mary Brazas, a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office official, to draw new, more accurate reconstructions of the victims with the aid of computer technology. Older reconstructions done soon after the crime simply used clay and wigs.
Several theories have emerged to explain why the two, who may have been a couple, were killed.
Jane Doe may have been raped, and John Doe killed to get him out of the way, Barter said. It also could have been a drug deal gone bad. But Barter said both of these theories are only “wild guesses.”
No car has been tied to the victims and they are believed to have hitchhiked around the area, Barter said. They likely would have had few possessions worth stealing.
Barter hopes someone still living can help him identify the victims and catch the killers.
“This case epitomizes injustice,” the detective said. “If there was justice in the world, (the killers) would be in jail, and we’d know who (the victims) were.”
A Colorado Bureau of Investigations agent in Durango, Jeff Brown, has helped track down leads for Barter. He said the bureau would not release any information about the investigation and referred questions to Archuleta County.
The case became a bit more eerie when Barter and Brazas went to visit John Doe’s grave. They found it in a line of gravestones devoted to unidentified victims.
“There were fresh flowers on it,” Barter said.
Frank Chavez, 76, and his brother Chris still raise cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens at Rancho Juanita near where the bodies were found.
The remote area is about 18 miles south of U.S. Highway 160, west of Pagosa Springs. A dirt road leads to Pagosa Junction, a place on the map marked only by a church and a crumbling railroad depot. The Chavez brothers live south of there, at Carracas, near where the San Juan River dips into New Mexico.
The brothers think the bodies may have been thrown off the Carracas Bridge that spans the San Juan among cottonwoods and sagebrush on County Road 557. Both bodies were found downstream of there. But Barter said the bodies could have been dumped at any point upriver of where they were found.
The brothers believe the killings were drug-related. Trafficking and a lack of law enforcement posed problems in the 1970s and early ’80s, they said. “Planes used to fly by here real low,” Chris Chavez said.
But Barter said the Chavez brothers’ theory that the killings were drug-related is only “speculative.”
The killings shocked residents, Frank Chavez said.
“It was a dark day in our community here to have something like that happen in our backyard,” he said. “We grew up with hardworking, honest people. In the ’70s, it all turned. People were coming from all over the place.
Barter hopes publicity about the case will lead to the victims’ identification.
“These people deserve to be known,” he said. “And their families deserve to know where they are.”
The Durango Herald