Boneyard’s True Story: West Mesa Murders, Explained

In the crime thriller film, ‘Boneyard,’ the unearthing of 11 dead women in the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico, sparks an investigation led by Detective Ortega of the Albuquerque Police Department and FBI profiler Agent Petrovick. The discovery dredges up a complicated murder investigation that leads Ortega down several routes, including probing the credibility of a member of the department’s undercover team, Tate. While Ortega follows his path, Petrovick has his theories about the killer, using his extensive knowledge of serial killer psychology to identify the type of person they are looking for. Both methods clash as they race against time to solve the case before more people are hurt.

Directed by Asif Akbar, the murder mystery explores law enforcement’s challenges in unveiling the truth behind a killer who leaves no trace. As both local police and the FBI approach the serial killings from various angles, they are confronted with a layered case that doesn’t have a simple solution or an obvious suspect. The identity of the murderer remains the central objective, as his trail of victims leaves behind a sense of dread for those involved in the investigation. Paranoia and emotions cloud everyone’s judgment, propelling the high-stakes narrative of ‘Boneyard’ and forcing a closer look at the details of the murders and their basis in a true story.

A Real Albuquerque Serial Killer Case Serves as the Inspiration For Boneyard

‘Boneyard’ is based on a true crime event that occurred in Albuquerque, New Mexico, named the West Mesa Murders. Drafted by Vincent E. McDaniel, Asif Akbar, Hank Byrd, and Koji Steven Sakai, the film chronicles the discovery of 11 women buried in the elevated desert land of West Mesa and how the Albuquerque Police and the FBI joined forces to investigate the crime. Although the narrative is told through several fictional characters who don’t exist, the backdrop of the events that form the film’s central crux is based on reality. Director Asif Akbar wished to explore these murders through a retelling of events that avoided exploiting the tragic circumstances of the West Mesa killings.

According to reports, the dead bodies of the women were found on February 2, 2009, by a woman named Christine Ross, who was walking her dog near the West Mesa undeveloped land. During the walk, the dog, Ruca, discovered a human bone, leading to the police’s notification. Over the next few days, the remains of 11 women were uncovered on the site, 2 of whom were still 15 years old while the rest were between 22 and 32. All the women and girls had gone missing between 2001 and 2005; one of them, Michelle Valdez, was pregnant before she died. Initially, the murders were treated as the handiwork of a serial killer, but due to a common link between all the women – their involvement in sex work, except for one, Jamie Barela – it led the investigating team to suspect that a sex trafficking ring was at play.

All the leads were followed up with not much to show for. Allegedly, as the girls had been missing for such a long period before their discovery and were estranged from their families before their deaths, the police were at a loss with regard to suspects. Some did emerge in the shape of Lorenzo Montoya, who lived close to the West Mesa and had priors of violence against sex workers. Montoya was shot dead in December 2006 by the boyfriend of a teenage sex worker he allegedly strangled to death. It was noted that after Montoya’s death, the murders had ceased. Another suspect was Joseph Blea, who was in prison during the time of the murders, but his family found a bunch of women’s jewelry and clothing stashed in his house. This matched up with reports of missing jewelry from the victims.

Image Credit:

Blea was a known stalker of sex workers, according to the police. He had all manner of bondage equipment in his car, including tapes and ropes. The man had run afoul of law enforcement reportedly around 140 times between 1990 and 2009. Although he is currently serving a 90-year sentence in prison due to sexual assault charges from the 1980s and 1990s, there wasn’t enough evidence to put the blame for the West Mesa killings on him. Both Montoya and Blea fit the bill in many respects per the authorities but were not identified as the killer. Investigation into the crimes has proven to be challenging for the APD, who have been unable to apprehend the murderer behind the Boneyard deaths of West Mesa yet. The film reflects these investigative difficulties in a faithful manner despite its fictionalized version of events.

Boneyard Explores the Investigation Efforts of the Law Enforcement

Although ‘Boneyard’ bases its narrative on the West Mesa Murders, its real focus lies upon Detective Ortega and Agent Petrovick, who strive to solve the case before more people get hurt. In an interview, director Asif Akbar talked about adapting the true crime story into his fictional recounting. He said, “We were inspired by those events, to retell our own version of a story, to also educate people on these missing persons cases, that happen all the time, and how the investigations can kind of unfold and all the ins and outs that surround an investigation like that. At the same time, it was a fascinating story that I believe, needed to be told, again, for a lot of educational purposes, as well to identify and be aware of predators that are out there preying on young women and vulnerable victims.”

Akbar had been working on the script for the film with his writing and producing partner Vincent McDaniel for a long time. The challenge of depicting a narrative that was based on reality was a draw for him while also a potential access point to something substantial and worth discussing. It allowed the narrative to delve into some of the darker aspects, like the ease with which predators lurk around the corner, ready to pounce. He hoped the film would act as a cautionary tale as well as one that raises awareness with regard to safety measures for everyone. In the case of the Boneyard murders, the director also felt that it was a story that hadn’t been told before and offered an opportunity for deeper introspection.

On the topic of grounding his film in reality, the director said, “It comes with challenges of definitely telling a reality based story, where I have to keep it grounded and realistic and also have that human connection with the real story and what we’re portraying on screen with the characters that we’ve created. There are challenges because again, when I’m making it, I’m looking at it like this is something that has happened and does happen all the time.” The film places its central heartbeat in the characters of Detective Ortega, Chief Carter, and Agent Petrovick. As they forge ahead in the path of discovery, the viewers follow along with them, hoping to find the real truth behind the West Mesa killings. However, like its real-life counterpart, ‘Boneyard’ is a dark reminder that some crimes do not get solved so easily.

Read more: Best Serial Killer Movies on Netflix