SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s a missing persons case that’s haunted Santa Fe police detective Tony Trujillo for more than a decade.
For the first time in nearly 16 years, he’s talking about the possible link between a missing traveling nurse and the infamous “Texas 7,” convicted murderers, rapists and a child abuser.
The seven escapees pulled off what’s been dubbed the biggest prison break in Texas history from the J.B. Connally Unit in Kennedy, Texas in December 2000.
For years, detectives have been wondering if the convicts had anything to do with the disappearance of Carmen Gonzalez.
Letty Gonzalez, the sister of Carmen, is still holding onto hope she will be found.
“That we miss her very much,” Gonzalez said via Skype. “That her parents are still alive.”
Gonzalez and the rest of Carmen’s family lives in Puerto Rico. Gonzalez said she still remembers when police called about her sister’s disappearance.
On a missing flyer, the date Carmen was last seen was December 31, 2000. Trujillo said the traveling nurse would check into the Days Inn motel on Cerrillos. She paid for two days.
But on the day she was supposed to check out, detectives would uncover something bizarre. Everything Carmen was traveling with was stuffed inside her motel room to include, end tables stacked on one another, her clothes and even her purse.
“Even to the point where her contacts were still on the counter,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo said Carmen and her rented van were nowhere to be found. Not long after, the van popped up in an isolated area of Santa Fe County. Police file video shows the van is broken down in feet of snow. Detectives would only find blankets inside.
Detectives said despite any traces that a crime had been committed, they did suspect foul play. The case of Carmen’s disappearance was about to get a whole lot stranger.
Trujillo said on the same day of Carmen’s disappearance, police got a call from a woman at a local restaurant. The caller told detectives she just saw two of the escapees.
“A woman who was eating at this restaurant was watching a newscast and noticed that two of the “Texas 7″ were almost right next to her at the next table,” Trujillo said.
A few days later, another woman would call detectives with information about the missing nurse.
Trujillo said she saw a woman, who she believed was Carmen, sitting in the passenger side of a van with her head down.
She said it was the same van on the missing person flyer. The woman also told detectives that she saw two men with her and one looked like an escapee.
Trujillo said they showed the woman pictures of the convicts on the run.
“One of them was positively identified as Larry Harper,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo said the women believed the other man in the van was Michael Rodriguez. In a few weeks, the nationwide manhunt would come to an end in Colorado.
Six of the fugitives were recaptured. Harper committed suicide.
“He definitely was the one link we needed to solve the case,” Trujillo said.
However, it wasn’t exactly case closed.
For the next few years, detectives sent cadaver dogs to the mountains and kept tabs on Carmen’s bank accounts. They also followed up on different accounts of the possible path the escaped prisoners took.
A man associated with the RV park where the inmates were caught believed they went through New Mexico.
He told reporters, including KRQE News 13, that one of the men claimed they had been stuck in a snow storm in Santa Fe.
Detective Trujillo and a fellow detective hopped on a plane to Texas. They sat down and interviewed each one of the recaptured escapes who were still alive but on death row.
George Rivas, the so-called mastermind behind the escape was the second one to be questioned.
“Mr. Rivas, how are you doing?” Trujillo said. “This is involving a case of the disappearance of a woman in 2001.”
KRQE News 13 listened to each one of the recorded interviews. Each of the escapes told detectives they didn’t know anything about the vanished nurse.
However, just before Joseph Garcia was to be executed he made a call to Santa Fe detectives. In his recorded interview he changed his story.
Detective Trujillo: Are we dealing with a murder case here?
Detective Trujillo: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you?
Garcia would not elaborate to give detectives enough to pay him a second visit.
Detectives aren’t sure if the nurse’s disappearance and the sightings of the “Texas 7” are simply a coincidence.
However, they’re not giving up on finding the Puerto Rican woman who once dreamed of becoming a nurse for the U.S. Military, loved her two playful pooches and moved to New Mexico to care for others.
Her sister is hoping someone will come forward and help bring her sister home.
“That we can know what happened, good or bad,” Gonzalez said. “It’s important to close this chapter.”
Garcia has yet to be executed and remains on death row. Trujillo said he has not called detectives back. Trujillo said none of the “Texas 7” have ever been named persons of interest in the missing persons case.
If you know anything about Carmen’s disappearance you’re asked to call the Santa Fe Police Department.