Twelve months and still no answers.
One year ago, three people were found brutally slain in their home in the rural community of El Rancho -- population 1,200 -- located just outside Pojoaque, 20 minutes north of Santa Fe.
On Father's Day.
Police initially believed that Lloyd Ortiz, 55, his wife, Dixie, 53, and their adopted son, Steven, 21, had each been shot in the head.
But two days after the murders, autopsy reports showed the trio had died from blunt force trauma.
Steven Ortiz had been struck 17 times, Lloyd Ortiz, seven, and Dixie Ortiz, two.
The same day the autopsy report was released, police found a bloody, 5-pound pickax in a nearby vacant field. Investigators had noticed it the night the bodies were found, but they were looking for a gun and did not examine it or take it into evidence.
Since then, according to state police Chief Robert Shilling, his investigators have conducted more than 120 interviews across four states, collected more than 50 pieces of evidence and executed 10 search warrants, but no arrests have been made. No suspects have been named. And police still have no real motive.
"As it stands today and has been since day one, when we responded to the scene, this homicide is the No. 1 priority case for our Investigations Bureau in the northern half of the state," Shilling said last week at a news conference on the status of the case. "But we are still asking for the citizens' help that if they know anything, saw anything, no matter how innocuous they think it is, to please call."
Lloyd and Dixie Ortiz's daughters, Cherie Ortiz-Rios and Angela Spinks, fear that people in the small community and the state might forget about their family and are frustrated by the lack of progress in solving the crime.
Cherie Ortiz-Rios and her husband, Jesse Rios, said they had spent the day cleaning a doctor's office and wetting the stucco of a building that Jesse had worked on the previous week. They got home at about 3:30 p.m., and Ortiz-Rios began preparing a Father's Day dinner for her dad.
"My plans were to make a big enchilada dinner with Spanish rice and corn and beans, I mean everything. A complete meal," she said.
The couple, who have been together 20 years, live on her parents' property with their children, Robert, 16, and Catalina, 17.
Ortiz-Rios said she sent Robert to tell his grandfather that dinner was almost ready. Minutes later, he returned, saying the doors were locked. Ortiz-Rios then went over to check herself. The newspaper was still at the front door, which was bolted from the inside. "Right away, a weird feeling covered my body," she said.
With tears in her eyes, Ortiz-Rios described how she opened the door with a spare key, and the family's two dogs came running to her. In her parents' bedroom she saw her mom, clutching a pillow. "As I started getting closer, I saw dried blood [on] her face."
In the kitchen, she saw what she thought was her father lying facedown on the tile, then she turned and ran out of the house.
Police later said it was the body of Steven Ortiz.
About 14 hours later, after police had searched the house, a representative of the Office of the Medical Investigator handed Ortiz-Rios a card with the names of three companies that clean up crime scenes. She called the first, Aftermath Inc. of Denver, which was advertised as the most expensive but the best.
"I never wanted any of my kids to be exposed to any of that," she said. "I just didn't want even my sister to have that in her mind because of the things it does to me."
According to a receipt from the company, Aftermath crews arrived at the house about 5:30 p.m. the Monday after the murder and came back again the following morning. They were there when state police, now aware of the results from the autopsy, returned to look for the murder weapon. Several items, including carpeting from the bedroom, were already in a biohazard bag, according to Agent Bryan Waller's report.
Jesse Rios said he believes the house should have been sealed for three days until the weapon was found. "They could've found a lot more evidence," he said.
A police report filed by Agent Paul Chavez said the pickax was found about 10 feet west of a barbed-wire fence on the Ortiz property in a field belonging to San Ildefonso Pueblo. His report said there were "suspected blood stains" on it.
Asked whether the crime scene was turned over to the family too soon, Shilling said last week, "In the final analysis, we don't think we lost any forensic evidence or any lead opportunities as a result of that."
Was there a motive?
State police have not made any statements about a possible motive for the crimes, but money does not appear to be one.
According to Ortiz-Rios, her dad's wallet, which contained some cash, was still on the kitchen counter after the killings. And two safes, one containing about $4,000 and another containing about $80,000, which was hidden in a floor compartment in the master bedroom, were undisturbed.
Shilling said he could not comment on who police believe to be the primarily target, even though Steven Ortiz absorbed more blows. "It was a very violent attack on all three victims, and to single one out and say they were possibly a target, I don't have any specific information on that," Shilling said.
A police report documenting an interview with an unnamed female said someone "mentioned that Steven was killed over five thousand [$5,000] of methamphetamines which were unpaid for."
Later in the same report, however, police wrote that the source was changing her story.
Other reports claim that the Ortiz family sold drugs out of their house. Ortiz-Rios, however, denies her brother was involved with illegal drugs, although he had a prescription for medical marijuana. A police report said 17 marijuana plants were found at the home after the slayings.
The case file contains numerous reports -- many heavily redacted -- about events preceding the crime that could relate to it.
• On June 18, a 21-year-old man, identified only as Christopher, said he went to a party at the home of a friend whose mother was out of town. After drinking and smoking marijuana, he left at about midnight to go steal his own mother's car, he said.
Although police reports say Christopher changed his story several times, in one account he said he returned to the party at about 1 a.m. "all dirty" and told the host of the party that he "got his car stuck in the arroyo across from [redacted] house."
A 43-year-old neighbor told police that he saw a gray Honda sedan in that arroyo on Father's Day morning and towed him out. The driver, he said, "looked like a mess." He later described him as a "person that was always getting in trouble robbing houses and stealing from the community."
In another interview, however, Christopher gave a different timetable of events, saying he got stuck about 6:55 a.m. on Father's Day.
¨• Several days after the slayings, a woman told police she received a telephone call from someone saying that he was at the Ortiz residence when Steven Ortiz was killed.
"[Redacted] told [redacted] that he had been at the residence, using drugs with Steven, when Steven and his parents were killed," a police report says.
• Police reports also refer to a boy who lived with the family for a period of time before being kicked out after being accused of stealing marijuana from them.
In an interview, the 16-year-old, reportedly affiliated with the South Side Sureños gang, said he "had lost contact with Steven and his family after he got blamed for stuff he did not do."
About one month before the slayings, the report says, the boy was in the area and told police he heard Steven Ortiz playing loud music. He said he jumped the fence and entered the backyard, and then heard Lloyd Ortiz and someone else come outside.
The boy told police he lay on the ground behind a bush before he "jumped up and roared." The report says the elder Ortiz had an angry look and asked the boy what he was doing in his backyard. When a police officer asked him why he was hiding in the backyard, "[Redacted] said because he did not want them thinking he was stealing."
• Three weeks prior to the crime, Ortiz-Rios' daughter, Catalina Rios, said her life was threatened at a local softball game.
According to a police report, Catalina Rios told police that someone at the game said "he swore he would shoot her house."
Ortiz-Rios told police that two boys, one known as "Playboy," had threatened her daughter. "Playboy had allegedly displayed a pistol to Catalina threatening to kill her family," the report on the interview with Ortiz-Rios said.
Although Ortiz-Rios said her daughter is not involved with any gang, police reports indicate Playboy is believed to be a member of a Nambé Pueblo gang and has a bunny tattoo under his eye.
Still feeling victimized
One year after the death of her parents and adopted brother, Ortiz-Rios said she is fighting to keep the house that her parents worked their entire lives to build. To do that, she said, she needs the proceeds of her parents' life insurance policy, but the underwriter refuses to pay until the police submit a written statement stipulating the beneficiaries are not suspects in the case. She said the family doesn't have access to the cash found in the safes at the home.
"They've told us that we're no longer suspects, they've released us as suspects, but they won't send that documentation to the life insurance company," she said.
Shilling denied ever naming Ortiz-Rios or her husband as suspects, but said last week, "There is a group of people we have not been able to completely remove from the investigation."
Ortiz-Rios said her family had last seen her parents and her brother the Friday before Father's Day. She said she and her husband were at Cities of Gold Casino on Saturday and returned early Sunday. Her son was away on a camping trip that night, she said, and her daughter was at a sleepover.
But Ortiz-Rios said police interviews with family members, neighbors and friends have centered on her and her husband from the beginning.
She said when officers arrived at her parents' house on Father's Day, one agent approached her and "asked me what I did with the gun used to kill my mom, my dad and my brother." Jesse Rios was asked the same thing, he said.
To make matters worse, Angela Spinks contacted the psychic and author Sylvia Browne, who was visiting Albuquerque months after the homicides. Spinks asked Browne who had killed her parents and brother. In front of a large crowd that included Pojoaque and El Rancho residents, Browne said it was Rios.
State police Agent Kraig Bobnock told the family to disregard Browne's answer because the show was rigged and that it was a stunt.
"I do know the police have asked a lot of questions about my sister and Jesse because they've done that to me, they've asked me a lot of questions about them," Spinks said. "I do think a lot of the community is looking at them in a negative way right now."
The couple said they're also victims in the case. "I feel that if [police] would've done a thorough job, they could've eliminated us that first day," Rios said.
The couple said they asked to attend the news conference last week at which Shilling gave an update on the investigation, but they were told not to. Shilling denied this and said, "We've made a very concerted effort over the last year to remain in constant communication with family members in trying to address concerns or questions."
Ortiz-Rios said police have not returned her calls for more than six months.
Spinks said she only talks to police once a week now and gets every few answers from them. "I do feel we have to give them more of a chance to see where they are on this," she said. But "I do know the longer it takes, probably the worse it gets. I don't know what evidence they have. They have not shared that with us, and I don't know if they can or if they are just lying to me."
Meanwhile, Ortiz-Rios said, "Everything my dad worked for is going to be repossessed, foreclosed, because of this, because of their mistakes."
A break on the horizon?
At his news conference last week, Shilling alluded to a possible break in the case next month, but he did not provide details. "We have some issues on the burner involving this case coming up in July," he said.
Ortiz-Rios said the only thing she knows is that the family is planning a memorial service at Casa del Rancho at the entrance to El Rancho on July 14.
Efforts by her and her sister to help police have produced few results. "The family did put up a billboard [on U.S. 84/285] asking for information and posting the CrimeStoppers number," Shilling acknowledged. But, he said, "Based on the information I have to date, nothing has been generated as a result of that as far as leads involving the case."
Spinks said she repeatedly put up posters at a Pojoaque grocery store, but she later found they had been torn down. Both sisters expressed frustration that the community has been unable or unwilling to turn up evidence to help with the investigation.
Someone did alert police about two other pickaxes found in a shed on a property in El Rancho, but police have yet to link them to the slayings, and Ortiz-Rios said they have been there since the 1980s.
Police remain hopeful, however, that sometime down the road, someone will recall something.
"One thing we've learned throughout modern-day policing," Shilling said, "is that a year from now, two, three years from now, one piece of critical information may come up that breaks the case wide open."
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.
Please note, the comment system has been temporarily suspended. Comments will return with the launch of our new website on March 11, 2013. Please direct questions or concerns to web editor Natalie Guillen at
Thank you for your patience.