ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Albuquerque police are investigating whether bones discovered Tuesday in an area where 11 women were found buried nearly a decade ago are human remains — a development that has sparked fears that there may have been more victims in an unsolved serial killing that has haunted the city.
Construction workers building a park discovered the bones on the city's West Mesa, less than a mile from a mass grave where human remains, including those of a pregnant woman, were unearthed in 2009, police said.
The area will be excavated and bones and other remains will be analyzed and tested — a process that could take months, police Chief Michael Geier said.
"We're not 100 percent sure that this is related but at this point we're treating it as if its similar, to the first round," Geier told reporters at a news conference.
Mayor Tim Keller said crews working at the site had been trained to look for remains and immediately contacted authorities when the bones were discovered.
"This has been an archaeological area as well," Keller said. "So, we certainly understand and are very concerned this might be one of the missing six to eight women from the original West Side group. However, there's no way we can confirm that at this time."
In a statement, Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña said the bones were found at a park being built near the site of a memorial for the women and unborn child found buried on West Mesa.
"I am saddened at the tragic loss of human life, and at the thought that yet another family has had to endure years of uncertainty and pain not knowing where their loved one was," Peña said.
In 2009, a woman walking her dog discovered a large bone protruding from the dirt, leading police to excavate the area. The case remains unsolved, with no arrests.
Authorities have said nearly all the dead women worked as prostitutes before they disappeared between 2003 and early 2005.
The victims include Jamie Barela, a 15-year-old who was last seen by her family in 2004. Buried with her were Syllannia Edwards, 15, a runaway from Lawton, Oklahoma, and Michelle Valdez, 22, who was pregnant.
The killings are called the "West Mesa murders" because the bodies were buried on the west side of Albuquerque.
Police have received federal grant money to update their technology systems to cross-reference information they get from tips about the serial killings.
The city maintains a website about the case and a company has printed cards featuring all 11 victims and encouraged businesses to pass them out to keep the case in the public's eye.