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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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4/9/2012 9:58:00 PM
Old hands bring experience to sleuthing
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Members of the Prescott Valley Police Cold Case Squad led by Detective Ed Bills, front right, gather at the Police Department headquarters Monday morning.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Members of the Prescott Valley Police Cold Case Squad led by Detective Ed Bills, front right, gather at the Police Department headquarters Monday morning.
Lisa Irish
The Daily Courier

On Christmas Eve in 1998, a truck driven by Manuel Dera-Baltazar, 47, of Prescott Valley, crossed the center line on Glassford Hill Road just south of Spouse Drive, crashing head-on into a pickup truck, killing Candace Adamson, 33, a passenger, and injuring her sons and husband, said Prescott Valley Police Detective Ed Bills.

Dera-Baltazar fled the scene as paramedics treated the injured and was never found to face charges of vehicular manslaughter, aggravated assault, and leaving the scene of a fatal hit and run, so the Prescott Valley Police Department's Cold Case Squad is searching for him and hopes someone will call them at 928-772-5143 with information that will lead to his arrest.

The family of the woman who died in the collision still lives in the area, and Dera has been featured on Catch-22 and other most-wanted programs and websites, Bills said.

"The Cold Case Squad sends a message to the community that we never give up on a case," said Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler.

In the past year, the Cold Case Squad of volunteers, retired law enforcement officers, gang task force members, and evidence technicians, have re-examined evidence and followed leads in a variety of cases more than a year old, said Dick Marley, who retired from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department after investigating everything from petty theft to homicide.

"We go back through the case files, look at where the investigation went, examine the evidence, discuss it, and do follow up," said Bud Lathrop, who supervised homicide investigations during his 30-year career in law enforcement in California.

That's where the squad's attention to detail is critical, said Bob Warnke, an evidence technician and retired electrical engineer .

The squad submits evidence for DNA testing often collected before that testing became routine, said John Riley, an evidence technician, who spent 22 years in investigations at the Phoenix Police Department.

For example, the squad recently submitted DNA for testing from a ski mask worn by a suspect in a 1997 home invasion in the 7900 block of Spanish Moss, said Andy Lee, who investigated crime scenes for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for 30 years.

"From my perspective, some of their expertise is unbelievable," said Prescott Valley Police Chief Bill Fessler. "They have extensive contacts nationwide and worldwide. With one phone call, they have been able to get information we need in about five minutes that would have taken us about 10 days."

The squad found Marjorie Archer who was reported as a runaway and last seen in November 1985 on Highway 69 near the Prescott Country Club, said Gary Carriger, a retired Sacramento District Attorney's Office investigator.

"The department followed leads for years, including information that she'd been shot and killed at a lake. About 2001 or 2002, she contacted her parents and said she was fine, but no one told the department," Carriger said. "We found out that she's currently an attorney, married, and has lived all around the world, so we told her parents and closed the case."

Some things that hinder investigations include that Arizona driver's licenses are valid up to 23 years and people can renew their vehicle registrations for up to three years, because often people don't update their addresses, making them harder to find, said Duane Rasure, who retired after 31 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and investigating Natalie Wood's death.

Some people become more willing to talk to investigators about cases after time has passed, said Keith Burley, who served 20 years in the Los Angeles Police Department, eight of them in narcotics. But sometimes the passage of time, means people confuse what they saw with embellishments they've added over time, Carriger said.

For many on the squad, what makes their work so rewarding is finding the person responsible for a crime.

It means so much when we can "identify the guilty party and give the victim's family some closure," said Traci Shelburg, a community services officer and former dispatcher who helps the team with the electronic aspects of their research.

Two members of the Cold Case Squad, Carriger and Lathrop, have also helped Prescott Police investigate some cold cases, said Prescott Valley Police Commander Art Askew.

"We're looking into whether Chino Valley and other local law enforcement agencies would like to use their expertise as well," Askew said.

With budget cuts in this economy, they can be a big help, Fessler said.

The department also is applying for a Solving Cold Cases with DNA grant from the National Institute of Justice to cover costs of DNA testing, training, and equipment for the squad, Askew said.

In the end, what brings the squad the most satisfaction is "to solve a case that others hadn't been able to, and identify the guilty party," said Sherwin White, who served 15 years in the Los Angeles Police Department's gang unit.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012
Article comment by: joe makiba

i looked up cuernvaca on wikipedia,, looks like a comfy place to lay low ,@D SANCHEZ

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012
Article comment by: joe makiba

re dera baltazar ..he is prolly landscaping rite under our noses using someones ten yr old sons social sec number and getting great access care and foodstamps and enjoying new credit at the local chevrolet dealership sportin a new silvarado !

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Article comment by: D Sanchez


Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Article comment by: Sharon Hunter

I remember this manslaughter case well and have thought of the family every Christmas since. The family had been Christmas shopping. Dera had an illegal passenger with him, also intoxicated. The passenger was transported to the hospital then released but not questioned. Why? Illegals were moving into the area by the dozens and this fatal accident was the worst at the time. It still makes me sad to think of the victim's family waking on Christmas morning without their mother/wife - such a tragedy.

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