Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kaitlyn Arquette

By Dennis Griffin

At 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 16, 1989, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who had recently graduated from high school and gotten her own apartment, stopped by her parents' home en route to visit a new girlfriend, Sharon Smith. Kait told her parents that Sharon had invited her for dinner and had given her written directions to her house in Old Town. Kait also said that she was breaking up with her live-in Vietnamese boyfriend, Dung Ngoc Nguyen, and if he called trying to find her, not to say where she was.
Kait kept her dinner date with Sharon and left her friend's home at 10:45 p.m. The Albuquerque police think that while driving east on Lomas Blvd. in the direction of her parents' house, she was shot twice in the head.  Her car jumped the median and came to rest against a pole at the intersection of Lomas and Arno Streets.  Kait survived 20 hours in a coma and died the next evening. 

The first officer to arrive at the scene of the shooting was an off-duty Albuquerque Police Department (APD) violent crimes detective, Ronald Merriman, who just happened to be passing by.  He reported that as he drove past he saw two vehicles parked on the sidewalk, Kait's red Ford Tempo and a second vehicle, which is not described in police reports, but which he later recalled to be a VW Bug. He also said he saw a man, later identified as Paul Apodaca, standing next to Kait's car. The detective radioed in to ask if a traffic accident had been reported at that location. None had. He returned to the scene and discovered an unconscious, blood-drenched girl lying across the front seats of the Ford.  According to Merriman, Apodaca explained that he was not involved and  had just stopped to see what had happened.

The first uniformed officer dispatched to the scene, Mary Ann Wallace, arrived within 40 seconds.  Wallace reported seeing only one vehicle on the sidewalk -- Kait's Ford Tempo, with Merriman standing nearby, talking with Apodaca – some years later Wallace “recalls” a VW Bug at the scene.   Wallace said the call had been dispatched as an accident without injury. But when she arrived on scene Merriman told her that an ambulance was enroute.  However, no record has been found of such a call.

Wallace and Merriman dispute each other about what happened next.  Wallace says Merriman gave her the identification information on Apodaca.  Merriman says it was Wallace’s responsibility to get that information.  In Wallace’s report, the identification information includes a name and age - but no address - and an incorrect telephone number. In later interviews, Wallace said that she felt something was wrong with the scene, but Merriman continued to “argue” that it was simply a car accident. Wallace says she called for a supervisor.  Merriman says he called for a supervisor.  The supervisor indicates she was requested by Merriman.  Apodaca later told others that he never saw or talked to Wallace. To this day, no police officer has ever interviewed Apodaca.  Nor have police questioned the disappearance of his VW Bug between the time Merriman saw it parked next to Kait's car and the time Wallace arrived.

In their accounts of what happened at the scene that night, Merriman and Wallace have stated that, accompanied by Apodaca, they opened the passenger’s door of Kait’s vehicle and observed a girl sprawled across the two seats, bleeding profusely from the head.  Wallace noted that the victim was “moaning and crying.”    

Not only are the recollections of Wallace and Merriman sometimes at odds with each other,  their versions are contradicted by responding medical personnel. For example, Merriman and Wallace indicated they were on the scene when rescue arrived. However,  medics with Albuquerque Ambulance, who transported Kait to the hospital, have stated in individual affidavits that they responded upon hearing that an accident had occurred – they were not dispatched to the scene.  As they arrived in the area there were no cops, police cars or bystanders present. They found Kait alone in her car, unconscious and bleeding from two head wounds. If the medics are right, the veracity of a statement made by Merriman that he couldn’t interview Paul Apodaca because he “had to stay with the victim,” becomes an issue.   

Officer Wallace has stated that Merriman told her not to interview Apodaca because he had already done so, and she busied herself “directing traffic.” Yet, according to the rescue team, she was not directing traffic, and in fact was not even at the scene when they got there. The medical team stated that they almost missed the scene due to the lack of a  police presence.

The contradictions of what took place at the scene aside, the police theory of the case in not entirely credible. They believe Kait was chased down on Lomas and shot twice in the head at a stoplight at the corner of Lomas and John streets. Her car then proceeded to travel 719 feet, cross two traffic lanes, go over the median, cross three more lanes, go up onto the sidewalk past the Arno intersection, and crash into a light pole. They say the location of the shooting was defined by a large pile of broken glass at Lomas and John.  However, evidence of that glass was never documented. It was not gathered up as evidence or photographed.

With no suspects and so many unanswered questions, the Arquette family launched their own investigation into Kait's murder. They and their investigator speculate that the crime scene may have been altered before police investigators got there.  The police criminalistics personnel arrived late because they had been busy at a police shooting.  According to their report, they were met at the scene by a Sgt. John Gallegos.  It appears that the initial information about the scene was based upon information from Gallegos rather than personal observations or investigation. Sgt. John B. Gallegos was subsequently fired from the department for burglarizing a liquor store while on duty. 
In 2003, after reviewing copies of APD reports, forensic reports, scene photos, etc., a member of the Bernallilo County Cold Case Squad came up with the following interpretation of the crime scene:
On the basis of review of available material in the matter of the death of Kaitlyn Arquette, the following observations are made (emphasis added):

1) This was not a random drive-by shooting
2) The shooting occurred after Kaitlyn's vehicle had struck the utility pole
3) The accuracy of the shots suggests they were fired at a very close range, at a non-moving target.
4) Had the shooting taken place while the victim's car was in motion, it would have veered to the right of the roadway due to the left-to-right camber of the pavement.  Also, the victim's falling to the right would have turned the steering wheel in that direction if she was grasping the steering wheel at the time of the shooting.
5) Damage to the left end of the rear bumper suggests the rear of her vehicle was struck and pushed to the right by a second vehicle which veered her car across the median and into the utility pole.
6) This shooting was intentional and Ms. Arquette was the specific target

According to Kait's family, at the time of her murder Kait was in a position to have information relating to Asian criminal activity in New Mexico and California, drug smuggling, drug activities involving New Mexico VIPs, and police corruption. They believe that knowledge and her  potential as a whistleblower may have cost Kait her life.

Kaitlyn's murder remains an unsolved cold case over 21 years after her death. Although the  police investigation went cold, Kait's parents, Don and Lois Duncan Arquette, didn't give up their hunt for their daughter's killer. They created the Real Crimes Website - - on which Kait's and many other unsolved cases are posted. And they continued to work tirelessly to develop information.

This case needs to be solved and the responsible person or persons brought to justice. Somebody knows who killed Kaitlyn Arquette. It's time for anyone with information to come forward and help bring this case to resolution. If you know anything at all about who murdered Kait, please contact Crime Wire at

On January 25, the Crime Wire Team talked with investigators and the parents of Kaitlyn Arquette.  You can listen to the interview here:

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