CUERVO, N.M. (KRQE) — A grim display of used underwear, pornography and stories claiming the collection is evidence of incest and other crimes has State Police scratching their heads.
An Albuquerque man found the collection in June 2013 in a room in an abandoned church in the northwest corner of Cuervo, N.M — a mostly-deserted shell of a town whose population these days is more acacia, sage, staghorn cholla cactus and crumbling adobe buildings than people.
“I’ve been in a lot of abandoned buildings, ghost towns, and I’ve never really seen anything like this,” John Mulhouse said.
Inside the Getty Memorial Baptist Church, “Welcum to the Church of Fornication” was splashed across the front of the sanctuary in blue spray paint. In a room next to the altar, used underwear was tacked to the barren walls. Above them were short comments offering explanations as to why they’d been placed on the wall. Some suggested incest. Others suggested trading sex for favorable treatment from police. Pornography was spread among the collection.
The display so alarmed Mulhouse and his girlfriend that they stopped their excursion short and headed home. They weren’t certain what they’d found was evidence of a crime. But they contacted State Police just the same.
Mulhouse, a research scientist by day, is one of the thousands of people who trapse across barren landscapes to photograph abandoned buildings and document a dying part of the West. Mulhouse writes the blog City of Dust, where he posted an entry about his trip.
The entry barely mentions what he found at the church, stopping only briefly to warn people about venturing there on their own. He didn’t post any pictures.
“I didn’t want people that were coming to look at the photos and the history to suddenly be slammed with this, um, sort of sordid tale about what was in the Getty Baptist Church,” Mulhouse explained. “At the same time, I didn’t want people to stumble into this situation.”
But within a few days he began to get emails asking about what he saw. Within a few weeks, an email arrived telling him someone else found something similar just down the road.
Linda Scott, a professional photographer who’s drawn to much of the same subject matter as Mulhouse, was out with a friend when they spied a group of abandoned buildings west of Cuervo. The friend went to check out rusting construction equipment. Scott went inside.
“I was just shocked by what I saw there,” Scott said.
She didn’t know it yet, but she was staring at the same display John Mulhouse found.
Piece by piece, the collection had been moved and reconstructed seven miles west of the Getty Memorial Baptist Church — right down to a scarf slung through a pair of underwear that was hooked to a bra. A dirty sleeping bag and a pillow lay at the foot of the display, a hard core pornographic magazine strewn across it.
“This place looked active; like someone is there and using it. I guess that’s what scared me the most,” Scott said. “What kind of person would have to go out and set up this…trophy room? That’s what it looked like; like trophies.”
Scott also told state police.
The pair of explorers have never met, but they connected online more than a year ago. Scott posted her experience in an Internet forum made up of people who examine crimes across the country. The discussion there — and in the minds of both Scott and Mulhouse — focused on why the display had been moved.
“It’s got to have some sort of resonance for him to want to take a bunch of women’s clothes and move them down the road to another place,” Mulhouse said. “And so that’s a red flag, in my mind.”
The post about Cuervo is still one of his most popular. And his warning continues to draw questions from curious readers: “I get probably three emails a week, sometimes three emails a day.”
But is the display a crime? Or a clue? Or simply a twisted fantasy?
New Mexico State Police did eventually check out both locations, though neither one looked like it did when Mulhouse and Scott, respectively, came across the displays. No police report was filed.
Mulhouse hadn’t been back to Cuervo since his grim discovery. Earlier this week, he trekked out along I-40 on a return trip.
It was the first time he’d seen the abandoned home to which the collection had been moved. Most of the clothes — all the underwear — was gone. The pornography had been stolen or scattered to the wind. But the walls were covered with tale after tale of incest and rape.
“The narratives are much more in depth than what I would have guessed from what I saw in the Getty,” Mulhouse said.
As Mulhouse and a KRQE News 13 crew were reading the stories scrawled on the walls, State Police Capt. Matt Broom and Lt. Herbert Hinders showed up. The pair spent roughly an hour documenting names, phone numbers and towns before heading off to Cuervo. They were scouting the location in advance of an interview scheduled with News 13 the next day.
“The writings on the wall can kinda shock you a little bit,” said Capt. Broom. “The other side of it is, I have to throw in both my experience on the criminal side of it, too. Looking at it going: It could just be simple vandalism, Or, it could be something more?”
The writings at the new location for the display have dates. They have recurring characters. And they stop in February of this year.
Captain Broom said there’s no indication that anything’s been moved or that there’s a new location. But it also can’t be ruled out.
“If we look at it from a criminal aspect, we’re on an uphill battle,” Broom said.
Escalating behavior from whomever assembled the disturbing collection is a possibility, too, Broom admitted.
Mulhouse and Scott have been thinking in that direction for months.
“You know, you can let your mind really run away with this stuff,” said Mulhouse. “Like: ‘Where is this all going? Is this just some person who has some problems that they’re dealing with in this way or is this some kind of an escalating situation where, down the road, this kind of thing isn’t gonna be enough?'”
“They go to the next step,” Scott said. “And what that next step would be? That’s what’s scary about this. I don’t know.”