Authorities searching Missouri business, homes in investigation of 11 bodies in NM desert

Federal agents and police in two states on Tuesday were searching a Missouri man's business and homes in connection with the discovery of 11 women found buried in the Albuquerque desert.

Police searched a business and two homes owned by a Joplin, Mo., man, according to the Joplin Globe.

Ron Erwin, 57, owns a health food store and photography business in the southwest Missouri town, near the state's border with Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. His mother, Bulah Erwin, said her son, who previously owned a used book store and collectible shop, regularly traveled to Albuquerque for the city's famed hot-air balloon festival but had not done so for at least six years.

"It doesn't make any sense why they would focus on him," his mother said. "That's the silliest thing I ever heard of."

The newspaper quoted Albuquerque detective Tod Babcock as saying the man was a person of interest, but police spokeswoman Nadine Hamby denied that the detective specifically named Erwin.

Hamby said she could not discuss the warrants because they are sealed, as were about a half dozen others served previously. She would not specify the locations for the searches.

Hamby also stressed that the Missouri warrants were for searches, not arrests.

The remains of the women and a fetus were unearthed in February 2009 after a hiker found bones in a 92-acre area that had been cleared for development.

Authorities have said nearly all the women worked as prostitutes before they disappeared between 2003 to early 2005.

Albuquerque police Chief Ray Schultz had said that his department was investigating men who hired prostitutes and were prone to violence. He had said the killer was mostly likely a man who acted alone, but would not elaborate.

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Associated Press writer Alan Scher Zagier contributed to this report from Columbia, Mo.

(This version corrects spelling of Erwin and mother's first names.)