Harriet Moldov-Taylor, 57, my friend since our teenage years, was found unconscious and in a diabetic coma in her Albuquerque, NM apartment on Sept. 27, 2003. A SunVan bus driver, scheduled to take her for dialysis treatment, found her lying unconscious and bleeding from her mouth and rectum. Newspaper stories would later say Harriet was “lying in a pool of blood,” but although she had lost two to three liters of blood, little of it was found in the apartment. She was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she suffered a series of strokes and died three days later.
The first doctor to examine Harriet stated a belief she had been raped. As a result of that report the police went to Harriet’s apartment, but performed no real investigation. They had already convinced themselves no foul play was involved. Harriet not only suffered from diabetes, she also had rheumatoid arthritis and difficulty bending her knees. At 269 pounds, she had very poor vision and was barely able to stand up. Because of her disabilities, her apartment was a mess. The police apparently decided that no one would enjoy raping a woman who was disabled, overweight, and lived in unsanitary conditions. Therefore, they concluded that Harriet must have injured herself.
The Office of the Medical Investigator ruled that Harriet died of “right cerebral infarct or inadequate blood flow to her brain associated with sexual assault.” The Albuquerque Police Department has refused to accept that finding. The ME’s report described deep vaginal tears, consistent with an attack. The police keep attempting to explain away these tears with an assortment of bizarre theories. The first of these was that Harriet raped herself by crashing her electric wheel chair. More recent theories include “rough consensual sex” (God knows with whom) or “intercourse with an unidentified object – (no suspicious cucumbers were found in that apartment).
Something else that wasn’t found in the apartment was the 2-3 liters of blood that Harriet lost. Police speculate that, after her sexual interlude, Harriet walked around for a couple of hours and then washed herself off. Harriet could only walk a few steps at a time, was physically incapable of getting herself in and out of the bathtub, and there were no bloody wash cloths in her apartment. The police may have taken a bloody towel into evidence.
Harriet’s other friends and I believe that the person who raped Harriet may have tried to clean her off to get rid of DNA evidence, taking the incriminating wash clothes with him when he left.
Yes, Harriet had friends. She had an indomitable spirit and irrepressible sense of humor, and her friends loved her dearly. The police didn’t enter that into their equation when they decided to shrug her off as just a crazy, disabled person who wouldn’t be missed. I’m sure they were startled to discover that she had long-term friends who cared about her and didn’t consider her a throwaway person.
It’s true her blood family was small. She had a 90 year old Aunt Gert in Brooklyn, and a cousin, Gert’s daughter Carole, in Manhattan. She also had a 75-year-old half-sister, from whom she was estranged, in Florida. But although she was somewhat socially isolated because of ill health, Harriet had three good friends in Albuquerque – Paul, who knew her for more than 26 years; Peggy, who knew her for 27 years; and myself, a friend for over 40 years. Through us she was also included in a larger circle of caring. She had long term relationships with Paul’s sister Joanie, Peggy’s two sons, my husband Rudy, and our three kids.
Harriet’s aunt and cousin did their best to maintain a long-distance relationship with phone calls and letters, but even Harriet realized they were too far away to handle business in Albuquerque. That’s why she named Paul as the contact person to make medical decision for her at UNM hospital, and me as the Personal Representative of her estate. In fact, I was the only person in New Mexico who even knew how to contact Harriet’s relatives.
Yet, police have announced that they will only deal with Harriet’s cousin Carole, who lives 3,000 miles away. When I located Harriet’s half-sister Joanie, and she called APD to inquire about the case, they yelled at her and told her that they would deal with no one but Carole.
In telephone conversations, an Albuquerque detective has virtually convinced Carole that Harriet wasn’t attacked. As Carole said to me, she’d rather believe that. It’s so painful to think of her cousin enduring rape.
Homicide Sgt. Carlos Argueta originally told the media that, if the medical examiner rules Harriet’s death a homicide, APD would “absolutely follow up on this case.” But when OMI did rule the case a homicide, that attitude changed quickly. The police were infuriated by the findings of the Medical Examiner. They have talked about “filing a complaint” about the first doctor who examined Harriet, and tried to convince the Medical Examiner to change her report to mesh with their own speculations.
In November, 2003, when the OMI’s findings were made public, Harriet’s cousin Carole stated in a newspaper interview, “There’s never been any question that this was a brutal sexual assault that caused her death.” But once the police assigned a Detective Jojola to speak with Carole periodically, she felt reassured that APD had performed a full investigation and Harriet’s injuries were self-inflicted. It was only when I told her about the New Mexico Justice Project and this Real Crimes web site that she felt she could bear to keep the case open.
I continued to request information from the police and the Medical Examiner. Finally, on March 4, 2004, I was allowed to meet with APD Detectives Fails and Jojola. They tried hard to convince me, as they had Carole, that Harriet was not attacked. They told me she had three lesions in her vagina, but one was partially healed, which indicated that it was inflicted earlier. They said that indicated that she was involved in an affair that involved consensual rough sex.
Then, on March 11, 2004, I received a copy of the autopsy report, which presented a totally different picture. There was no information about a partially healed lesion. The report said Harriet showed evidence of having been hit over the head or thrown to the ground, and the stroke she suffered was the result of plaque having been shaken loose from her carotid artery. The Medical Examiner went on to state that hemorrhages such as this are very rarely seen in situations other than forceful trauma and that falls from a standing height are not enough to cause so much damage to the neck and throat. The report said the vaginal tears occurred at approximately the same time as the attack and stated unequivocally: "The manner of death is homicide."
Harriet’s cousin loved her, but she hadn’t seen her in nearly 20 years. She is hardly the person the police should have consulted about Harriet’s daily habits, abilities, and disabilities. I am asking APD to change its policy and to also speak to a local contact person here in Albuquerque.
Ironically, on the week of Harriet’s death, I attended a disability conference in Albuquerque. One entire day of the conference was devoted to the theme of violence against the disabled, an unacknowledged and growing problem here in America. A presentation was made by the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc. which echoed the theme presented by other speakers from around the country: the Police need special training and different investigative techniques when dealing with a victim with disabilities. (For more information on the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs contact Ms. Kim Alaburda, 3903 Juan Tabo NE, Suite 6, Albuquerque, NM 87111.)
Oddly enough, most of the focus on violence against people with disabilities was sexual assault. Rape is a crime of power, and disabled people are often vulnerable. I also learned that New Mexico law needs to be changed. Currently, if you report that someone with a disability is being assaulted, victimized, or is living dangerously because she is unable to care for herself properly, the reported victim MUST cooperate in the investigation i.e., must say “Yes, it’s true, and I want help.” You can see how difficult that would be if you relied on your abuser for housing, transportation, or other care. Or, as in Harriet’s case, if you were absolutely determined to preserve your independence at all costs.
As a representative of the friends and family of Harriet Ann Moldov-Taylor, I intend to continue trying to follow-up on what happened to Harriet. I am in the process of asking for all relevant reports and photos. It is also my hope that Harriet’s story will help call attention to the issue of crimes against people with disabilities, and the need for New Mexico police to change their procedures. Finally, I call upon APD to invest the time, energy, money and manpower needed to really investigate Harriet’s death.
Tennise B. Gallegos