Skeletal remains found in October 2002 north of Ruidoso, NM, were recently identified as the body of a Weatherford man, Leve “Wayne” Dewayne Lee, reported missing in April 2002 after taking a trip to New Mexico.
His death was ruled a homicide and the cold case reopened in the last several weeks, according to law enforcement officials.
New Mexico investigators, assisted in the investigation by the Parker County Sheriff’s Office, have filed the case with a prosecuting attorney and are pursuing criminal charges on two suspects, investigators involved with the case reported Tuesday.
Leve Dewayne “Wayne” Lee, then 39 years old and a resident of Western Lake Estates in Weatherford, was reported missing in early May 2002 to New Mexico State Police by his mother, Beatrice Walker, of Arkansas.
Lee, who lived with his common-law wife, Betty Ingle, and her grandson, had gone with the two to Ruidoso, NM, in late April 2002 to take the child to visit the boy’s father and Ingle’s son, Robert Jason Langley, according to Kenneth Cramer, Commander of the Lincoln County Major Crimes Unit. Langley reportedly lived in Ruidoso at the time.
During that trip, around April 20, 2002, Lee went missing.
“He was a very sweet young man,” Lee’s mother, Beatrice Walker, said. “He had three kids that he worshiped.”
Lee called his mother two to three times a week, until he went missing, Walker said.
When Walker reported her son missing in early May, the state police officer looking into the missing persons case contacted Ingle, who reportedly told him that Lee had disappeared from a gas station in Hope, NM, in late April, Cramer said.
They had been driving in the May Hill area and were going to Roswell when they stopped to go to the bathroom at a gas station in Hope and Lee disappeared, the truck still sitting at the pump, Ingle reportedly told the police officer.
“There’s nowhere for him to go in Hope,” Cramer said, adding the Staked Plains stretch for miles around and Lee wouldn’t have known anyone in the area to get a ride from. The officer didn’t pursue it, however, Cramer said, and the case essentially lay dormant for about nine years until he recently received a call from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.
Though the missing person case progressed very little in nearly 10 years, Lee’s mother didn’t let it go.
Walker said she has talked about her missing son for ten years though no one wanted to listen.
Walker said she contacted the Democrat at the time her son went missing, but no story ran.
According to information posted on several missing persons websites, the circumstances surrounding Lee’s disappearance were unknown, but Ingle reported that when she woke up April 20, Lee and his clothing were missing.
New Mexico State Police reportedly broadcasted an “attempt to locate” throughout the state but did not locate him.
Last year, Walker and Lee’s oldest daughter and son, now 17 and 16 years old, provided DNA to the FBI for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
About three weeks ago, Walker said she received a call from Cramer, who told her that her son had been identified.
Cramer said Lee’s remains were found in a skeletal state in an wooded area near Squaw Valley Trail north of the city of Ruidoso in October 2002.
“That area is not remote, but it doesn’t get a lot of traffic,” Cramer said, describing the area as quasi-residential. “It’s off the beaten path so to speak.”
Investigators initially thought the remains might belong to another man who had recently disappeared from the Ruidoso area, but the dental records didn’t match and the bones remained unidentified.
The death of the then-John Doe was ruled a homicide due to sharp force trauma, according to Cramer.
There appeared to be sharp force trauma in the rib area and trauma to the skull, as well as a stab wound to the eye socket, Cramer said.
Investigators could not answer why officials sought to compare DNA from the unidentified remains to DNA provided by Lee’s family nearly nine years after the discovery of the skeleton. A call to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
Case comes to Weatherford
Investigator Patrick Snell of the Parker County Sheriff’s Office said Cramer contacted him Nov. 3 for help with the cold case.
Snell said he was asked to locate several people thought to be living in the Weatherford area, including Ingle and her son.
Though he found that both are currently living in Las Cruces, NM, Snell said he was able to locate other people associated with Lee and conducted several interviews.
New Mexico investigators joined Parker County investigators Nov. 9 - 11 in Weatherford and began talking to relatives and friends about the case, particularly regarding a suspect reported to have told others about killing Lee.
Snell said they also found out during the recent investigation that James Rutledge, then an investigator for the Parker County District Attorney’s office, had interviewed Lee’s family in Weatherford when the family returned.
“[Rutledge] delved into the situation, started asking questions,” Cramer said.
Cramer said a family member provided authorities with the names of two different cities where Lee reportedly vanished but the person soon moved to New Mexico.
“Your investigator couldn’t do anything because he didn’t have a body,” Cramer said.
The case file is now about eight inches thick, he said, adding that they wouldn’t be where they are with the case without the help of the Parker County Sheriff’s Office.
Though there is a little physical evidence (a pocketknife was recovered from the scene, but no fingerprints were recovered after six months lying in the weeds), Cramer believes they have built a case based on circumstantial and testimonial evidence against more than one suspect.
The case has been submitted to a New Mexico district attorney for consideration of prosecution, though no suspects have been formally charged.
The Democrat does not typically name suspects before they have been charged. The Democrat did attempt, unsuccessfully, to reach the suspects for comment Tuesday afternoon.