One man was beaten to death with a baseball bat in May. Another was fatally stabbed about six weeks later. A third man died July 30 by gunshot wound after confronting an armed man in his backyard near Herb Martinez Park in the south-central part of the city.
That makes three homicides in Santa Fe in 2018—roughly the city's annual average for the past decade, according to figures provided to SFR by the police department.
None of the three has been solved yet.
Turns out that's not terribly unusual, either, the figures show. And Paul Joye, the recently minted lieutenant overseeing the Santa Fe Police Department's Criminal Investigations Bureau, wants city residents to know there's nothing cold about any of the three cases.
"Nothing's gone stagnant," Joye tells SFR, "and everything is still moving forward."
He says potential witnesses are still cooperating with detectives, lab techs are still processing evidence gathered in at least two of the cases, and SFPD has two "persons of interest" in one case. (It is not clear whether either of those people is a suspect; Joye says there are no suspects in the other two cases.)
Joye, a former homicide detective himself, also wants people to know there's no indication that any of the three crimes is connected. He hopes that might tamp down any potential fears Santa Feans might have about the possibility of a serial murderer on the streets.
Still, solving murders is an inexact corner of police work that requires tireless reviews of evidence, help from residents and, in many cases, a lucky break or two.
SFPD has historically had its share of all three when someone is killed in the city.
Since 2008, the department has investigated 41 homicides, according to figures SFR requested. Twenty-seven of those cases have been closed. In SFPD's book, that means one or more people was arrested on suspicion of murder, a letter of referral for charges against one or more people was forwarded to the District Attorney's Office, or both, Joye says.
That gives the department a 10-year-average clearance rate of 66 percent.
Some years have been better than others. In 2008, for example, the department closed three of four homicides—or 75 percent. In 2011, Santa Fe detectives closed all three homicides they investigated. In 2010, eight people were murdered in the city; just three of those cases have been solved.
A 10-year clearance rate of 66 percent compares favorably to police departments around the country. According to statistics compiled annually by the FBI, the average clearance rate for murder cases at American police departments was just shy of 60 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available.
"We do pretty well," Joye says. "We've had a lot of success with solving these." He says the department's well-publicized officer shortage has not impacted the Violent Crimes Division, which has four detectives and is working to seat a fifth. That's the same number of officers assigned to the division as 2012, when Joye worked there.
Of the 27 cases detectives have closed in the past 10 years, the length of time it took to collar a suspect has ranged from a single day to six months. On average, among cases closed, two and a half months have passed from the date of a murder to the date the case was closed on the police department's end, the figures show.
That means the murder of 45-year-old James Babcock on May 5 is outside the average window for solved cases. The case was originally listed as an "unattended death," Joye says, but deeper investigation revealed Babcock had been beaten to death. Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward in the case.
"During the course of the investigation, two persons of interest have been identified, and the case is currently awaiting lab results and analysis of other forensic evidence," he says, noting there are some details about the evidence he can't reveal.
He is equally tight-lipped about the two more recent murders in Santa Fe.
On June 21, Michael Willms, 58, was stabbed to death at his midtown apartment.
"What we can say is that he had an active lifestyle in terms of social media and dating sites," Joye says. "And we do believe he knew the perpetrator in some form or fashion."
Robert Romero, 52, was shot in his backyard on Las Casitas, according to police reports. The case has generated some heat: Members of Romero's family omitted their names from an obituary published earlier this month in The New Mexican.
"Due to the circumstances of Rob's death and safety of the family, their names have been kept from this obituary," the item reads, in part.
Joye says SFPD could still use the community's help in all three cases. Earlier this month, the department asked residents to review their home security footage for "unusual or suspicious individuals" at the time of the killing. He wouldn't say whether any of the images have been helpful.
"We've had good success with the community, because I think they want these solved as much as we do. These people know the victims, they're friends with the victims, they're neighbors. … People take it personal, and we take it personal. … We're spending a lot of hours on these cases, we appreciate the involvement from the community, and we hope that continues."
Violent Crimes in the City Different
- Santa Fe city police have investigated 41 homicide cases since 2008, for an average of about 3.9 per year.
- In 66 percent, or 27 cases, charges were filed with the district attorney and arrests made.
14 cases remain open.
- Of cases considered closed, the average time between the discovery of the crime and its clearance is 2.5 months.
- There have been three suspected homicides in 2018. Investigations are still underway. The first was May 5.