WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?
In 1989 Kaitlyn Arquette was found dead in her car in
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Fifteen years later, and the shooting death of
Fifteen years later and there are still no answers.
At least none that satisfy her family and
The shooting, they say, may have been a glimpse, Arquette's
glimpse, into a dark, disturbing and powerful
"We are convinced that Kait was murdered because she knew too much," her mother, Lois Duncan, said from her home on the East Coast.
In those 15 years, Duncan, a nationally noted author, has turned the agony of her daughter's death into a relentless quest for answers - not just for herself but for other families struggling to understand why justice has not come. "I used to wake up in the night to the sound of gunshots and Kait's voice screaming for help," she said. "Now it's a chorus of voices."
It helped bring about the New Mexico Justice Project, a
collaboration of those families who, like
Still, none of it has brought answers
Fifteen years later,
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
They called her Kait, big and bold, her hair golden like
corn silk, her smile like Sunday afternoon. She possessed a confidence and a curiosity
that earned her honor student status at
On the evening of the shooting, Arquette, 18, showed up
briefly at her parents'
Arquette left their house around , telling her parents that she was off to a
friend's house near
"There are all these pieces, interesting pieces, to all
this, but I still don't know what it all means," said
Arquette left Smith's home around and went east on
"I thought it was probably people looking at cars," Merriman wrote in his report.
Perhaps he couldn't see Arquette crumpled across the front seats, two bullets in the left side of her skull. He called in the scene as an accident without injuries.
But after another glance, he went back. This time he noted blood on the left side of Arquette's head. But he apparently did not see the bullet holes in her face, in the driver's window or in the exterior of the car.
Merriman's report said he called for medical assistance and backup. But statements from two ambulance workers insist no officer was present when they arrived to transport Arquette.
"There was no one at the scene, as I recall," said Bette Clark, now chief of the Bernalillo County Fire Department, in a 1998 notarized affidavit.
"It seems to me that APD vehicles were arriving as we were pulling away from the scene," emergency medical technician Kathy Baca said in a similar affidavit.
The man with the Volkswagen - Paul Apodaca, 21 - told police he had just stopped to see what was going on. Police apparently asked little else of him and let him leave, reports indicate. Two of Arquette's neighbors later told detectives three Asian men who were often seen at Arquette's apartment, friends of her Vietnamese boyfriend, were spray-painting a primer gray Volkswagen Beetle black in the apartment parking lot shortly after the shooting.
Police never again questioned Apodaca, in prison now since 1995 for raping a relative.
Arquette died at the University of New Mexico Hospital hours after she was shot.
A RANDOM DEATH?
But police never paid that theory heed, she said. Instead, they told her Arquette's death was the result of a random drive-by shooting.
They appeared to be right when three young men were arrested in connection with Arquette's death six months after the shooting. The men shot her on a dare, the state's star witness said.
But 10 days later, all charges were dropped against the men when it was learned the star witness had been incarcerated at the Youth Diagnostic Development Center and could not have seen or spoken with them that night. The would-be witness later told a reporter police bullied him into fingering his pals.
Ten years later, though, police appeared to stick with that theory.
"The case has been solved," Detective Don Mayhew of the department's Cold Case Squad said in a 1999 Tribune article. "We're not going to look at it."
In a 2001 Tribune interview, Cold Case Detective Paul Jassler echoed Mayhew's sentiments. "That has never been a cold case," he said. "It has never been part of our files."
And in a Tribune article in January,
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
But that may be about to change. Last month, Chief Gilbert Gallegos announced he was re-establishing the Cold Case Squad, which went defunct in 2002. Already, the two-detective unit has 178 cases to delve into. One of them is Arquette's.
"It's absolutely an open case. It absolutely will be worked," Cold Case Detective Don Roberts said. "It's of great interest to me. It's on my desk right now. It's probably the biggest case that I have." Roberts said he has already read through the thick case file, posing questions to himself, scribbling notes that span half a legal pad. "It's somewhat becoming one of my 'hobbies,' " he said.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Roberts said he is ready and willing to meet with the family and private investigator Caristo.
Gallegos is also not entirely disproving of taking another look at the case. "That one in particular has been looked at and will continue to be reviewed as we go through the process of looking at the many cold cases," Gallegos said.
Caristo has heard all this before. "So many of them read my investigation and are appalled at how the case was handled," she said. "But then something stops them, something happens to end their interest. Then it's over."
Still, Caristo said she is ready to meet with Roberts, share her years of investigation and hope something will be done. "As long as there are unanswered questions I will continue to try to answer them," she said. "This case will not go away."
NANCY DREW DIES
What did Arquette know? What had she seen that could have cost her her life?
Caristo agrees that Arquette's death was intentional and likely because of something she knew. "Somebody wanted Kait dead or scared," she said.
Caristo can recite most of the disturbing details of
Arquette's case by heart. She keeps finding more details even after 15 years. Earlier this year, she brought her private
investigator apprentices to an old mechanics shop at
The cancelled check was made out to Sharon Smith, the new friend that Arquette went to see on the night of her death the woman who gave her written directions to her home, routing her through the neighborhood in which she was shot. Maybe it means something. Maybe nothing. For Caristo, the work continues.
"Kait is just as dead today as she was 15 years ago," she said. "The same people who knew what happened back then still know what happened. Loyalties change; intimidated people gain courage; lost people find God. That hope is what keeps us going."
POSTSCRIPT by Lois Duncan Arquette:
In June 2004, KRQE-TV in Albuquerque released information from a confidential narcotics report about drug activities of Chief Judge John Brennan and other prominent judges, attorneys, and members of the NM state legislature that date back to before Kaits murder. Other victims whose cases are featured on this web, (Peter Klunck, Ramona Duran, Stephen Haar, etc.), were killed immediately after telling people they feared for their lives because they had information about VIPs in NM who were involved in the drug trade. If this was what Kait found out about, the information in this long-buried report might turn out to hold all the answers that we and so many other NM families have been searching for.