Suspect in cold case homicides linked to 1988 slaying of 13-year-old girl

·5 min read

Oct. 15—In the early morning hours of Sept. 9, 1988, 13-year-old Stella Gonzales was walking home with a friend near Central and the river when she was shot in the back of the head.

She died a couple of days later.

The case received scant media attention at the time.

On Friday, police announced that Paul Apodaca — who is charged in one cold case murder and suspected in a second — had confessed to killing Gonzales.

Apodaca, now 53, is charged with murder in the 1988 stabbing death of 21-year-old Althea Oakeley. Police say he also confessed to fatally shooting 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette who was driving east on Lomas near Downtown in 1989. Apodaca has not been charged in the deaths of Gonzales or Arquette.

Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock with the Criminal Investigation Division said Apodaca couldn't tell investigators Gonzales' name but did provide a lot of details about the crime.

"The other two cases received, from what we can find in our research, a high amount of media attention, which would have made it quite easy for him to learn the names of the people he killed," Hartsock said. "In this case, he didn't know, but he was able to describe the time of day, the exact location of it and the method which he killed her ... and the way he describes it matches this crime scene nearly perfectly."

He said there is no indication that Apodaca knew Gonzales but investigators think she was targeted because she was "a female who was in a vulnerable position."

"In fact, we've talked with the FBI, and they're going to be helping us look into him more in terms of how he picked his victims," Hartsock said. "Based on the fact that his victims were picked, really, for characteristics that they held as opposed to any prior interactions with them we believe that Paul Apodaca was a serial killer."

He said investigators couldn't divulge details yet, but they have also linked Apodaca to a non-fatal shooting that same day Gonzales was killed.

"It matches the MO, again, of how he would seemingly randomly shoot women in vulnerable positions," Hartsock said.

Apodaca's attorneys declined to comment.

Other cases

Apodaca has a violent criminal history — including a 1995 conviction for raping a family member. He was the first person in Bernalillo County sentenced under a new law requiring sex offenders to register with the sheriff's office.

Apodaca has spent his life in and out of prison and jail, and, more recently, seemed to be homeless. Then, in July, University of New Mexico police arrested him on a probation violation and he began "making statements regarding murders from a long time ago," according to court documents.

One of those murders was that of Oakeley, a UNM student who was walking home from a birthday party in June 1988 when she was brutally stabbed to death. According to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court, Apodaca said he saw Oakeley and wanted to rape her but instead stabbed her to death. He said he attacked her because of "all the hatred I had for women."

He was charged in that case in August and is being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center pending trial. Days after Apodaca was charged in Oakeley's death, police announced he had also confessed to killing Arquette, the teenage daughter of author Lois Duncan. The case earned the national spotlight after Duncan wrote a book about it called "Who Killed My Daughter?"

Hartsock said detectives expect to turn over the completed investigation into Gonzales' case to the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office in the next week or so but he said he didn't have a time line of when Arquette's case would be turned over.

Police say Apodaca also told them he committed rapes in the 1980s and 1990s as well.

"Sex Crimes detectives have also been investigating Apodaca's claims that he raped women," said Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman. "Detectives are attempting to corroborate details provided by Apodaca about each crime, and verify whether any of those details were available to the public since the crimes occurred."

In February, DNA from a rape kit that had been stuck in the rape kit backlog was discovered to be a match to Apodaca, Gallegos said. He hasn't been charged in that case.

'A lot of relief'

Gallegos said Gonzales was walking with a friend on Central, east of Tingley Drive around 1:15 a.m. when they were "confronted by someone in a car."

"An occupant in the car fired shots, hitting Gonzales," Gallegos said. "She later died at the hospital."

The shooting was included in a brief in the Albuquerque Journal. At the time, a police spokeswoman said the girls "were confronted by three men in a gray Chevrolet Chevelle."

Hartsock said they have since learned that car was not used in the shooting.

"We feel confident that that car was uninvolved with the murder of Stella Gonzales," Hartsock said. "And that Paul Apodaca was the sole actor who fired his gun out and killed her."

In the days after Gonzales, a student at Washington Middle School, was killed her family ran an obituary in the Albuquerque Journal listing her parents, sisters, brother, and numerous aunts and uncles.

The Journal could not reach anyone on Friday.

Hartsock said police have been in contact with Gonzales' family since July when they put it together that her death was the one Apodaca was talking about.

"I think they have a lot of relief," Hartsock said. "You know, this is just like the other two families involved. This has been that itch that just couldn't get scratched for three decades. But in Stella's case — it's no more tragic but it's much different — that it was a 13-year-old girl who was in middle school..."

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