CAROLINE FERRARO

 

On January 28, 1989, I awoke at 7:10 a.m. in my home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, to find a man with a ski mask standing over me with a butcher knife.  He was wearing one of my mother’s nightgowns and was otherwise naked except for a pair of black tennis shoes.  He had gotten in through the garage.

 

My mother worked as a nurse anesthetist, and this was her Saturday to work.  My father made it a habit to leave with her on weekend mornings and start his errands early in the day, so I was alone in the house. 

 

What happened next is what nightmares are made of.  The intruder slashed my clothes with his knife and tore them off me and repeatedly threatened to kill me if I refused to satisfy him sexually.  He told me that he had killed women before and would have no trouble doing it again and described how he’d buried their bodies in the California hills.  He eventually ended up ejaculating on my arm and on the bed clothes.  When he finally left, he told me to stay in my room for ten minutes or he would kill me.

 

I got dressed and, after ten minutes, climbed out the window and ran to my neighbor’s house, where she called the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety.  PSO Helen Haga arrived first, followed shortly by Det. Donald Donges. I described my attacker – a white male, about 5’11” and 170 lbs., dark brown hair and eyes, very smooth skin with little body hair, and a medium to dark complexion. I also described his sex organ, which was an unusual size and shape.

 

Det. Donges refused to take me seriously. Immediately, he accused me of either making the whole story up or of knowing the perpetrator personally, implying he might have been a boyfriend.

 

I was stunned by that last suggestion.  I was an unusually innocent 18-yr-old and had never even seen a naked man before.  My friends consisted mainly of my youth group from church. 

 

Two days after the break-in, my mother contacted Det. Donges to tell him that there were cigarette butts in our yard. She thought perhaps they’d been left there by the perpetrator.  Donges told her not to worry, because they probably had been left there by Det. Mike Chinigo.  Apparently Chinigo didn’t believe in keeping a sterile crime scene.  

 

In the months that followed, there were three or four other break-ins and sexual attacks with a similar "MO."  In one case the victim tried to protect herself by grabbing for the knife and was injured in the struggle.  Her description of the attacker was much like mine, as was the fact that he commanded her not to leave her room for ten minutes or he would kill her.

 

On July 10, 1989, my story, along with the others, was featured on Crime Stoppers.  About two weeks later, Det. Donges announced they had a suspect -- Douglas J. VanRoosenbeek.  VanRoosenbeek’s girlfriend worked at Radio Shack, and he often picked her up there after work. That Radio Shack was next door to the Hallmark Shop where I worked, and a co-worker and I recalled an "odd" customer, who would come in periodically and buy something and always insist that I be the one to wrap his purchase. He had brown hair, and was in his 20's, but since my attacker had been wearing a ski mask, I couldn’t be certain it was he.

 

The police department was flooded with leads in all of the sexual assault cases, and VanRoosenbeek was at the center of them.  Det. Donges told me, "When the right guy is sitting right in front of you, you know it.  It's him!  We have our man!" 

 

Then, suddenly, Det. Donges became virtually unreachable.  In October, when I finally was able to get through to him, I asked what was going on with the investigation.  The police had plenty of evidence in my case, including the perpetrator’s fingerprints, footprints and semen. Why didn’t they simply compare VanRoosenbeek’s DNA with the semen on the bedclothes and either arrest him or eliminate him as a suspect?

 

To my horror, Donges informed me that all the evidence in my case had been destroyed at the request of the District Attorney. He further informed me that VanRoosenbeek had moved to California.  A man who claimed to have partied with Rio Rancho police officers has stated that a cop told him that VanRoosenbeek paid off one of the officers to let him leave town.  That statement has not been confirmed, and RRDPS does not consider the informant credible. 

 

Within the next year, both Det. Don Donges and Det. Mike Chinigo left the department. The last I heard, Donges was a deputy in Valencia County.  I don’t know what happened to Chinigo.

 

In 1991, my parents and I moved to Albuquerque.  I went to the Rio Rancho police to give them my new phone number in case there was anything to report to me.  I never heard from them. 

 

In 1992, I again went to the RRDPS, and demanded to speak with someone who could obtain information about my case.  That duty was assigned to a very nice detective, Ernest Wilson.  Det. Wilson contacted the State Crime Lab and requested a copy of all the documents they had on file.  He received one copy of evidence submitted on January 31, 1989, which listed all my clothes and bedclothes, plus all items taken from my house that the suspect may have touched, including a pubic hair from the bathroom sink. There was also a card with a fingerprint that belonged to a suspect with a different name than VanRoosenbeek.  After submitting those materials, the Rio Rancho Police changed their minds and told the lab not to run tests on anything but the fingerprint. 

 

On August 1, 1989, the lab sent the items with the perpetrator’s semen back to Det. Mike Chinigo at RRDPS, with instructions to freeze them or, at the very least, keep them cold, in order to preserve them.  Their registered letter to Chinigo, containing the fingerprint card and the evidence receipt, had never been opened. 

 

Det. Wilson was able to confirm that “the court” had issued a destruction order and the rape kit in my case had been destroyed.  The other materials pertinent to my case had vanished from the evidence room.  With that evidence gone, Det. Wilson had nothing to work with. However, he did run a criminal history check on Douglas VanRoosenbeek and discovered that he twice was a suspect of indecent exposure in Santa Rosa, California, once on a public playground. 

 

In 2000, I heard on a Crime Stoppers show about a serial rapist who had been attacking women in Albuquerque from 1991-98, and VanRoosenbeek leapt to my mind.  Although he had moved to California, he still had relatives in Albuquerque whom he might occasionally visit. 

 

I contacted the Albuquerque Police Department and met with a Detective Anthony Maez.  My older sister went with me for moral support.  Detective Maez told us that he had received numerous negative reports about the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety, but, after comparing the information on all of the sexual offense cases, he didn’t think the offender in 1989 was the same person as the offender in the more recent cases.  He then stated that he wished he could have "just solved this case for them (RRDPS), and placed the results in their lap. Yours wasn’t a tough case to solve. The evidence was there."

 

If only there had been an investigator like Det. Maez in Rio Rancho in 1989!

 

Caroline Ferraro