A felon who espouses hatred of women has brought New Mexico authorities closer to answers in three cold case murders, including one described as Albuquerque’s most notorious unsolved crime.
Paul Raymond Apodaca, 53, has thus far been charged with first-degree murder in the brutal stabbing death of Althea Noreen Oakeley, a 21-year-old University of New Mexico student slain in 1988. Albuquerque police officials said Tuesday that Apodaca, who has a long history of criminal violence, was arrested July 20 by university police for a probation violation.
While in custody, Apodaca told the officers he had information about “murders from a long time ago,” prompting them to call Albuquerque detectives. Apodaca allegedly confessed not only to Oakeley’s killing but also to the 1989 shooting death of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Clare Arquette, as well as a third murder and the rapes of three additional women.
The third homicide, a fatal shooting, took place sometime between the killings of Oakeley and Arquette. Details of that crime, including the victim’s name, have not been made public by police.
Apodaca was charged with Oakeley’s homicide Aug. 19, which would have been her 55th birthday. Albuquerque police Chief Harold Medina said at a news conference Tuesday that detectives initially planned to charge him Aug. 18, but that Medina asked them to hold off a day.
“In a way, that was a gift from the Albuquerque Police Department to her on her birthday,” the chief said.
Watch Tuesday’s news conference below, courtesy of KRQE in Albuquerque.
According to police officials, Apodaca, who was homeless at the time of his arrest, admitted to having a deep hatred for women. His criminal history includes violent crimes, including a 1995 conviction for raping his 14-year-old stepsister.
Apodaca claimed he raped the girl to get sent to prison so he could protect his younger brother, who was serving 45 years for murder.
He has the dubious distinction of being the first person in Bernalillo County required to register as a sex offender.
Arquette was the daughter of Lois Duncan, the late teen suspense author behind titles including “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Killing Mr. Griffin.” Duncan, who died in 2016, stopped writing suspense novels after her daughter was slain but wrote two nonfiction books about Arquette’s homicide.
“The Arquette case is one of the most infamous cold cases in Albuquerque history because of her mother’s high-profile books about the murder,” Medina said Tuesday at a news conference.
As of Friday, Apodaca had not been charged with Arquette’s murder. Medina said that cold-case detectives are trying to confirm details Apodaca gave about Arquette’s shooting, the third homicide and the sexual assaults.
“I can’t speak for the facts of the investigation in 1989, but I want to be sure detectives are investigating every single aspect, verifying every piece of evidence and ensuring that we have a strong case before we move forward on charges on the Arquette case,” Medina said.
One of the rapes has been tied to Apodaca through DNA, KRQE reported Thursday. The unnamed victim’s sexual assault kit was part of a backlog of rape evidence that Albuquerque police officials finished testing last year.
It took another six months for the alleged rapist’s genetic profile to be entered into the national database and result in a match to Apodaca’s DNA profile, which has been on file since his 1995 conviction, the news station reported.
Arquette’s family has long criticized the investigation into the teen’s death. In part, their criticism stemmed from allegations that her live-in boyfriend was involved in insurance fraud and a theory that she might have been killed to keep her from turning him and his friends in.
The family also feels that Apodaca — who police found standing next to Arquette’s car minutes after she was shot — was never treated like a serious suspect in her murder.
On a website Gibson created to generate tips on the shooting, she wrote that detectives at the scene did not take a statement from Apodaca, nor did they get his address before allowing him to leave.
“This is one of the things that break our hearts. This man was at the crime scene with the cops,” Arquette’s sister, Kerry Arquette, told the Albuquerque Journal this week. “How obvious did it need to be to look into this guy? They just let him walk away.”
In 1989, Apodaca, then 21, already had a history of violence against women. He was also driving a Volkswagen Beetle, the same make and model of vehicle that witnesses reported seeing near the scene — including before Arquette was shot, according to her family.
Medina told reporters that he could not answer for the original detectives. He pointed out, however, that the technology of the late 1980s would have limited the information investigators had at the scene.
“I’m sure that the officers at the time did their very best job and dedicated their time to try to solve this case,” the chief said. “It didn’t get solved. And it’d be unfair for us to criticize without knowing exactly what they were going through at the time.”
Medina said Tuesday that enough evidence existed at that time to charge Apodaca with killing Oakeley, a Taos native. Like that of Arquette, Oakeley’s case had a high profile because of her status as a University of New Mexico student when she was killed.
Like Oakeley, Medina grew up in the Taos area. He recalled Tuesday how Oakeley, who was a princess on the court of the small town’s 1985 Fiestas de Taos, would drop by his family’s house for fittings with his mother, the seamstress who made the royal court’s elaborate outfits.
A photo of her wearing what appears to be her Fiestas outfit was published with accounts of her murder three years later.
Medina, who was 14 that summer, recalled Oakeley as a friendly, “bubbly” person who always made sure to say hello.
“This arrest means a lot to me, personally, because I knew Althea and her family from Taos,” Medina said. “I was only a teenager at the time, but I remember the impact her death had on our community.
“More than anything, I hope this arrest provides some closure for Althea’s parents and her brother. I will always think about them as we work to bring justice for victims of crime.”
In 1990, Medina was the first recipient of a memorial scholarship that Oakeley’s family had set up in her name, the chief said. He said he drove to Taos last week to personally give Oakeley’s family the news of Apodaca’s alleged confession and arrest.
“It was bittersweet,” Medina said.
‘She said hi and she smiled at me’
Oakeley, who was studying education alongside her mother, spent her final hours June 22, 1988, with her boyfriend, partying at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house on the UNM campus. After the couple had an argument, Oakeley left and began walking to the mobile home she shared with her brother a couple of miles south of campus.
The would-be teacher made it to within three blocks of her home.
As she walked along Buena Vista Drive Southeast around 8:45 p.m., multiple witnesses heard Oakeley screaming, police officials said.
“The witnesses said they heard her scream and looked out into the street,” an Albuquerque police spokesperson told the Taos News later that month. “They then heard her say, ‘I’ve been stabbed,’ and she collapsed.”
Oakeley died during surgery at UNM Hospital, the News reported.
“One person actually saw the offender,” the police spokesperson said at the time. “We got some pretty detailed information.”
The witness, who worked with a sketch artist, described the man as possibly Hispanic and between the ages of 20 and 24. He was about 5 feet, 7 inches to 5 feet, 9 inches and weighed about 140 pounds, with a medium build and short, dark hair.
Despite the description and the sketch, no arrests came. The following month, friends, family members and fellow UNM students marched out of anger over Oakeley’s murder.
Jane Caputi, a professor who knew Oakeley, told the Journal at the time that it was “too overwhelmingly awful” that the well-liked student did not have the freedom to walk home without being attacked.
KOAT, which obtained the criminal complaint against Apodaca, reported that Apodaca told cold-case detectives he worked security at Technical Vocational Institute, now known as Central New Mexico Community College, at the time of Oakeley’s fatal stabbing.
The campus abuts Buena Vista Drive Southeast a few blocks to the north of where Oakeley was slain.
Apodaca told investigators he was in a parking lot at the school when he spotted Oakeley walking by. He followed her, meeting up with her near the intersection of Buena Vista and Kathryn Avenue.
“My intention was just to take her at knifepoint to rape her, but what happened was that I was sitting there and when she walked up, she smiled at me,” Apodaca said, according to KOAT. “She said hi and she smiled at me.
“That’s the worst part. That’s the worst part. I hurt someone that smiled at me.”
Her alleged killer’s description of Oakeley is remarkably similar to one her loved ones give of her personality. Her mother, Louella Oakeley, told the Journal that her daughter was beautiful and exceedingly friendly.
“Ask anyone here in Taos and you will be told the same thing,” Oakeley said in a phone interview. “For example, if she saw someone from Taos, she would run over there and give them a big hug and give them a kiss on the cheek and ask how they were. That’s just the way she was.”
Apodaca told detectives he believes that his hatred of women prompted the attack on Althea Oakeley.
“Growing up, I seen men treating women bad and they, they go for the bad guys,” Apodaca allegedly said. “I try to be nice and be good, and they just didn’t want that. So, I was jealous and had hatred, and I just released it.”
That same supposed hatred was a factor in Arquette’s killing and the three rapes Apodaca has claimed responsibility for, Medina said Tuesday. The rapes took place in the same approximate time frame as the homicides.
‘She is looking down’
Arquette, the youngest of Duncan’s five children, was a recent high school graduate the night of July 16, 1989, when she visited a friend’s home for dinner. Afterward, around 10:45 p.m., as she drove her red Ford Tempo east on Lomas Boulevard, an unknown assailant fired two bullets into her head.
Arquette’s car jumped the median and drifted across the westbound lanes of the road before coming to rest more than 700 feet away, against a utility pole near Lomas and Arno Street. When officers arrived, the teen was slumped over onto the passenger seat of the car.
“Kait survived 20 hours in a coma and died the next evening,” states the Arquette family’s website on the crime.
The first officer to arrive, an off-duty detective who happened to drive by the scene, spotted a gray Beetle parked near the victim’s car.
“He also saw a man, later determined to be Paul Apodaca, standing next to Kait’s car,” according to the site.
The detective initially believed that Arquette had been injured in a traffic crash, Duncan told Buzzfeed News in 2014. When he learned that no crash had been called in, he returned to the scene, where Arquette’s car now sat alone.
Apodaca remained, however, and told the detective he “happened to be passing by” and discovered the car, which he said he also believed had been in a crash.
A patrol officer who arrived noticed the bullet-shattered driver’s side window, however, and realized it was a crime scene.
Six months after the shooting, which authorities suspected was a drive-by shooting, three Hispanic men were charged in connection to the crime. The charges were dropped in April 1991, in part because authorities’ primary witness, a teen who claimed to have witnessed the killing, was in jail at the time and could not have been there, Duncan wrote on the case website.
The Journal reported in 1991 that the dismissal came after details came out about the alleged gang affiliations of Arquette’s Vietnamese boyfriend.
The family and Pat Caristo, a private investigator they hired years ago, have said that the initial investigators assigned to the case never questioned Apodaca after he left the scene that night. Caristo interviewed Apodaca in 1995, as he sat in jail in connection with his rape conviction, she and Gibson told Buzzfeed News.
He remained free until last month when he decided to open up first to UNM police officers and then to Albuquerque detectives. According to the criminal complaint, one of the investigators asked Apodaca why he’d suddenly confessed.
“He said … it was a shame that it took him so long to get to this point,” the complaint states, according to KOAT. “Paul also said he realized what he had done was evil and dark. He said the word of God has helped him overcome this struggle.”
Kerry Arquette, who works as a criminologist in Denver, said that her sister’s killer shattered their family just as thoroughly as his bullets shattered her car window in 1989.
“When Paul Apodaca shot my sister, he murdered my family,” Arquette told the station. “After that, our family was broken.”
Arquette said that ultimately, Albuquerque cold-case investigators had little to do with the break in the case.
“It is only solved because somebody stepped forward and confessed,” Arquette told the station. “That had nothing to do with police investigation, or lack of investigation, over the years.”
Medina said Tuesday that he understands the frustration families feel when a case goes decades without a solution. He said he hopes Apodaca’s confession can help the Arquettes move forward.
Still, there is the question of what, if anything, specifically drew Apodaca’s attention to Kait Arquette, who planned to attend UNM and dreamed of being a doctor, according to her family.
“Why? Why did he murder my little sister?” Arquette asked.
Despite all the unanswered questions that remain, Arquette said the long-awaited arrest of a suspect was “utterly unexpected and fabulous” for the family. The only thing missing from the moment was Duncan, who spent the remainder of her life trying to find out who snatched away her youngest child’s future.
Arquette said she believes her mother is watching over her surviving children as they finally see potential justice.
“A lot of people have told me they had been feeling her presence very strongly in the days prior to me being contacted (about the confession),” she said. “She is here, and she is looking down.”