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Sifting Through Sands, Looking For More Bodies

April 11, 1988

EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ Parents are sewing identification labels into their children’s clothing. Teen-age girls are heading home early. And volunteers are sifting through the desert sands looking for more bodies after finding six young women buried in shallow graves.

Residents in northeastern El Paso are dealing with the slayings of the six young women, ages 14 to 24, in many ways while the city’s police chief calls on residents to be careful, not alarmed.

In response, far fewer young women can be found loitering around bars, convenience stores and motels, even on warm spring nights.

″(The slayings) brought it home to them that maybe they’re not invulnerable,″ says Rebecca Wylie, head counselor at Parkland High who consoled friends of 14-year-old Dawn Smith, a Parkland dropout whose remains were discovered Oct. 20.

″They’re more careful about walking out by themselves. They’re more conscious about coming home by their curfew,″ Ms. Wylie said.

The killings also inspired a community group to give elementary school children identification cards to be sewn into their clothing or laced into their shoes.

″One thing we’ve noticed in seeing pictures of grave sites or even auto accidents is that there is always a shoe at the scene,″ said Stan Roberts, president of the Northeast El Paso Civic Association, which ordered 10,000 tags for students.

The police investigation centers around the deaths of Angelica Jeanette Frausto, 17; Karen Baker, 20; Maria Rosa Casio, 24; Desiree Wheatley, 15; Ivy Susanna Williams, 23; and Miss Smith.

Frausto was last seen behind a tavern in northeast El Paso. Baker was last spotted getting into a car at a motel on the same street. Her body and Casio’s were found Sept. 4 buried among creosote bushes in the desert 18 miles northeast of El Paso.

Since then, the bodies of the four other young women were found in shallow graves in the same litter-strewn patch of desert. Police are almost certain the women were victims of the same killer but refuse to discuss most aspects of the case.

David Leonard Wood, a convicted sex offender, was described as a possible suspect in the case by a detective testifying at Wood’s rape trial.

Wood, 30, who had been jailed since his Oct. 23 arrest on the rape charge, was convicted last month and sentenced to 50 years for his fourth sex crime conviction.

His victim testified that he kidnapped her last summer, took her to an area near where the bodies were later found, and started digging a hole. When he heard voices, he took the woman across the street, raped her and left her naked in the desert.

About a month after that attack, the first body - that of Casio - was discovered by a utility employee digging at the site. Police searched the area that day and found Ms. Baker’s remains about 50 yards away.

Police scoured a 10-square-mile area with borrowed heat-sensing equipment mounted on airplanes. The Department of Corrections also provided dogs to sniff for more bodies. On Oct. 20, the dogs found the remains of Miss Smith and Miss Wheatley within a half-mile of the first two.

On Nov. 2, police using dogs found the remains of Miss Frausto.

Police gave up searching a few weeks later, saying they were confident they had found all the bodies buried in the area.

But on March 14 - the first day of Wood’s rape trial - a pair of aluminum- can collectors stumbled upon the bones of Ms. Williams.

The last two victims were not among three young women from northeast El Paso and neighboring Chaparral, N.M., who are listed by police as missing.

Last weekend, more than 300 searchers failed to unearth more bodies.Volunteer s carrying shovels and pitchforks included soldiers, jail guards, police officers, sheriff’s deputies and reserves, fire marshals and chaplains.

Deputy Police Chief Gus Massey said although no bodies were found, they may go back and do it ″over and over again″ next weekend.

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