Today marks thirteen years since the victims of the West Mesa Murders were discovered on the desolate corner of 118th and Amole Mesa Avenue on the west end of Albuquerque.
Reports regularly describe the West Mesa victims as eleven women and one unborn child who put themselves in harm’s way via prostitution and drug use.
However, not all of the victims were known drug users or sex workers. Two of the victims, Jamie Barela and Syllania Edwards, were just fifteen-years-old. Syllania was not a prostitute; she was a victim of human trafficking. Per the Albuquerque Police Department, Jamie was not involved in sex trafficking or drugs.1 Other victims did have connections to sex work and drug use, but that hardly makes them more deserving of a death the government won’t even award to serial rapists. In 2022, we would hopefully recognize the adult victims as sex workers instead of drug-addicted prostitutes as they were first described, if it was even mentioned at all. Hopefully we would regard the victims with the respect and importance they deserved, back when they first went missing.
Some public perception connects the West Mesa murders to Mexican drug cartels, thanks to the clustering of the bodies, but there is no evidence to support that theory. Many victims of serial killers have been buried or left in clusters, and are always nearly attributed to a serial killer or multiple killers operating alone in a single area. Why are the West Mesa victims perceived differently? Is it because some of the victims were believed to have lived a life of crime? Is it because all of the found victims with exception of Syllania were Latina? Because of Albuquerque’s proximity to Mexico? While the theory is worth consideration, questions persist about why a cartel group is linked in public minds to the West Mesa victims but not to the Long Island Serial Killer victims or the girls and women found in the Texas Killing Fields, despite the similarities in all three cases.
Today we will remember the victims and hope for justice.
Monica Diana Candelaria
21-year-old Monica Candelaria was last seen in May 2003 near Atrisco and Central in Albuquerque.
Monica was born on June 20th, 1981.12 She loved to laugh and enjoyed taking care of babies. Monica had had a baby daughter, Reina, who was born and passed away when she was just 16. She left behind a son, her mother, and a brother, as well as her grandparents, and many nieces, nephews, and friends.
Doreen disappeared when she was 27 years old, last seen in October 2003 either by Calvary Christian Academy or in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque. Doreen’s sister reported that Doreen had only been involved with drugs in the last year of her life. She had no arrests for prostitution.
Doreen was born on August 31st, 1976. She attended West Mesa High School, where she was a cheerleader. She is described as a beautiful, happy woman who loved dressing up and throwing her children grand birthday parties. Doreen is survived by her mother, father, stepmother, two daughters, three sisters, and a brother.9
Cinnamon Andrea Elks
Cinnamon was last seen in July 2004. She was 31 years old when she was reported missing, after her mother, Diana, didn’t hear from Cinnamon on Diana’s birthday. Cinnamon was the third victim to be identified.
Cinnamon was born on October 24, 1972 and spent all her life in Albuquerque. She is remembered by her mother and her two children.
Veronica was reported missing on Valentine’s Day of 2004. A few weeks shy of 5 years later, her grave was discovered on the mesa.
Veronica was born on July 19th, 1976. She was 27 at the time she disappeared, and is survived by 5 children, her parents, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins.8
Jamie Yvonne Catalina Barela
Fifteen-year-old Jamie disappeared with her cousin, Evelyn Salazar, on March 26th or April 2, 2004. The pair were heading to Wilson Park in Albuquerque. “I still remember what my daughter was wearing,” said Jamie’s mother, Jayne Perea, told KUNM. “She was wearing blue jeans with high top shoes and a t-shirt and her curling iron was on, and she said ‘I’ll be back, mom, later,’ and she never came back. To never see your daughter again…”2
Jamie was born on September 28, 1988. At the time of her disappearance, Jamie was a student at John Adams Middle School. She loved Tejano music, especially Selena.3 She is remembered by her mother, her siblings, and her large extended family.
Evelyn disappeared with her little cousin, Jamie. Evelyn has been reported as being 27 or 30 at the time of her disappearance. Court records state that Evelyn was born in 1978, which would make her 27, but her obituary stated that she was 30 at the time of her death.
Evelyn was born as Evelyn Jesus Maria Salazar on November 27, 1978. She was a graduate of New Futures High School in Albuquerque. Evelyn had taught her oldest daughter to roller skate and she enjoyed cooking and camping. She is remembered by her mother, two daughters, and a large extended family.4
Syllania Terene Edwards
Syllania is the youngest of all the victims found on the West Mesa, at fifteen years old. She was also the only known black victim, and the only victim from outside of New Mexico. She was reported missing from Lawton, Oklahoma, in May of 2003. APD’s Nadine Hamby told KOAT, “What we have found was Ms. Edwards was possibly prostituting in the area on East Colfax Avenue she was seen in that area in a hotel.”6 Syllania was not prostituting herself; she was likely being sex trafficked. She was thought to be have gone by the names Mimi and Chocolate, and was possibly known to a Ty, Lucretia, or Diamond from Colorado.
Syllania was born on November 26th, 1987, in Harris County, Texas. Her mother was a convicted murderer, whom Syllania had not seen since she was just five years old. Syllania had reportedly never met her father, who was convicted of sexual assault offenses against a minor, and thus she ended up in the foster system. She ran away from a Lawton group home in May 2003.7 A websleuth member reported that Syllania was thought to have gone to Texas, looking for her recently released birth mother, but was rejected by her.
After all this time, I’ve not found one report of a family member or friend remembering Syllania. Heartbreakingly, it is quite possible that Syllania has nobody remembering her other than those following the West Mesa murder case.
Victoria Chavez was reported missing in March of 2005 after she had not been seen or heard from in over a year. She was 26 when she was last seen, and was the first victim to be identified.
Victoria Ann Grace Chavez was born on May 20th, 1979.5 Victoria was 26 at the time she was reported missing. She is survived by two children, and her grave stated she was a beloved mother, sister, and daughter.
Julie was last seen in August 2004, when she was 24 years old.
Julie was born Juliean Cyndie Nieto on August 28, 1980. She enjoyed sewing, cooking, and listening to music. Julie had attended Job Corps in Albuquerque. She is survived by her son, her mother, her grandparents, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins.10
Virginia Cloven was last heard from by her family in June of 2004. She had called to tell her father that she was engaged, but after not hearing from her again, her father reported her missing in October 2004. She was only 23 at the time.
Virginia grew up in Los Chavez, just outside of Los Lunas. She was reportedly a good student with a great sense of humor, but she began struggling after her brother was killed. Tragedy touched her life once again when her boyfriend was put into a coma after being hit by a car, which lead to her working the streets and turning to drugs to cope. Virginia’s father passed in May of 2019, and she is now survived by his wife, her brother, two nephews, and her grandmother.
Michelle was the last of the deceased women to go missing, in September 2004, at 22 years old. She was reported missing in February 2005 by her father. Investigators found that Michelle was pregnant when her remains were recovered; early reports stated that she was 3 or 4 months pregnant, but the city memorial park states she was six months pregnant.
Michelle was born Gina Michelle Valdez on August 1st, 1982. Michelle’s mother told the Albuquerque Journal, “Everybody has faults, and hers was drugs. But she was still a human being. She was a good big sister; she always looked out for her sisters. And she was a mom who cared about her kids’ accomplishments.” Michelle also had a daughter and son that survived her, as well as her mother, and two siblings. Her father passed away in 2015.11