28 Mar FBI Crime Scene Processor Speaks Unvarnished Truth
Lisa Baughman, a crime scene processor, joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1997 with the Albuquerque Division. This was the only branch to cover the entire state. She was super excited to join as a support staff of the agency; in other words, not as an agent carrying a gun, but as a member of the legal unit where workdays include drafting subpoenas and conducting legal research.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking… mundane, right? Not even.
Recognized for kicking ass just six months into her new job, Baughman was invited by the FBI to train as a member of their Evidence Response Team through which she became a very special piece to some of the most challenging crime cases in the history of 20th century New Mexico.
“It sounded fun,” Baughman said with a most serious face.
The Federal Government then sent her off on two weeks of basic and specialized training where among many technical teachings, she learned how to use tape in the fingerprinting process and how to do proper crime scene entry and exit photography.
“Ok, some of the processing equipment we use isn’t very technical, but everything we do is important and it’s part of protocol,” Baughman laughed.
She’s right. After the O.J. Simpson Trial, which caused a lot of scrutiny to the crime scene processing operation, FBI protocol drastically changed, requiring support staff to partake in a developed system of processing that requires everyone to wear gloves, perform proper photography, etc. and do this every single time without fail.
“Our protocol is important because if we’re called to trial as a witness, the defense attorney is going to try to break us down, but when we do the same process of operation over and over again, we’re confident on the stand explaining that we do what we do because of our protocol,” explained Baughman.
After training, Baughman, along with her support staff colleagues, became invaluable elements of consistency for the local agency. They learned the ways of the land and peoples and became familiar faces to residents of New Mexico Indian Country (a term used for any self-governing Native American community throughout the USA).
“Agents rotate, the support staff usually stays,” said Baughman.
In fact, two members of Baughman’s team, including Baughman herself, have been on the team for 18 years as of 2016.
Crime scene investigation and processing requires a team leader to evaluate the scene. Then he or she permits their team to begin entry photography (illustrating how the crime scene looked upon the FBI’s arrival). They “bag and tag” (i.e., collect) trace evidence, fingerprint, and finish the crime scene process with exit photography that illustrates how the crime scene looked upon the FBI’s exit.
“A lot of people claim we mess up their homes during processing, but our argument is that we have pictures of how the place looked when we first got there and how it looked after we left. So, no, we don’t mess up people’s homes,” said Baughman.
Furthermore, in the span of her 18-year career and counting, Baughman has worked on high profile cases including that of David Parker Ray (a.k.a. the “Toy-Box Killer”), and 21 year old murderer Reehahlio Carroll (The Nun Case).
“My first call out was on the David Parker Ray case; the Toy-Box Killer,” began Baughman, “in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (called “T or C” by locals), to a scary little trailer located on the same property as his home.”
David Parker Ray was an alleged American serial killer. He was known for his gruesome fetish for sadomasochism. He would torture women for hours, using sedation to knock his victims out, only for them to awake to his haunting voice on tape-recorder playing in the background. His torture chamber was a fully soundproof $100,000 homemade trailer that he equipped with a gynecologist-type table with leg straps and a mirror mounted on the ceiling. He wanted his victims to bear witness to everything he did to them- everything! Other tools he was fond of using included: chains, leg spreader bars, saws, surgical blades, whips, and pulleys, and most profound was his mockup of clinical intake forms listing his victim’s name, where the victim was abducted, whether or not she handled pain, cried, screamed, or was quiet during his shocking torture operations.
For many years (a span from the 1950’s to March 22, 1999), the Toy-Box Killer tortured many women and with many accomplices by his side. These accomplices were women he dated.
The year 1999, however, changed his course of evil, as one of his victims, Cynthia Vigil, escaped after a three-day torture calamity conducted by Ray and an accomplice. Ray was subsequently arrested and sentenced in 2001 with a lengthy sentence: 224 years imprisonment. He died in 2002 at age 62 from a heart attack while incarcerated at the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs, New Mexico. What died with him were the truths in the cases of 14-60 suspected victims. David Parker Ray’s Toy-Box remains on the FBI property in Albuquerque to this day.
“As my colleague and I were processing the trailer, the lights suddenly went out. I wasn’t scared, but afterward I remember thinking to myself, “how was I not scared?” Looking back, I think I was so focused and trying to do my best that I didn’t realize how bad the scene truly was,” recalled Baughman.
Baughman took me to the Toy-Box. It was cluttered with sex toys, blades and most disturbing were various masks, one with a phallus for a nose, and a clown wig. Dolls tied in rope were collected in an incubator-type device, as if put on display in a most twisted depiction of what his victims may have gone through. There was an electric machine with a five inch diameter phallus stuck to the end that read “800 rpm” and “max speed” with a dial arrow indicating to turn right. There was a glass medical cabinet that presented a variety of oils and liquids in recycled bottles reading, “For enhanced sexual pleasure” or “in case of emergency, break open”.
Walking into the famed Toy-Box was nothing like I had expected. It was disturbing and so unsuspecting from the outside, it’s no wonder David Parker Ray was able to abduct and abuse for as many years as he did.
As we were leaving the Toy-Box, Baughman told me, “And you know what? We never traced a single drop of blood in here.”
Shocked, I asked, “But couldn’t he have doused the thing with bleach that would erase all evidence?”
Baughman wisely smirked, “No, even still, something would have come up. We’ll just never know what really happened in this torture chamber, and most of all, we’ll never know the full story of David Parker Ray, the Toy-Box Killer.”
NM FBI Headquarters later sent Baughman and her team a psychologist with whom to speak about the scene; a method practiced for the sake of psychological stability and decompression after witnessing extreme crime scenes.
“When asked, I told the psychologist I was fine, but our team leader- she broke down. I thought, “should I feel more?” Then I had my first homicide, and that’s when things got serious and fast,” recollected Baughman.
One of Baughman’s most daunting homicide cases was that of Sister Marguerite Bartz of the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Gallup, New Mexico; a.k.a. “The Nun Case”. On the night of Halloween, a US Attorney called Baughman’s team in for a crime so terrible that it spooks her to this day.
“This was a really interesting case, because when we first got the call and were told it involved a nun, being Catholic myself, I was like “Oh my God!” I pictured an altar; it was terrible. When we arrived on the scene, which was her trailer, the poor Nun was in her room; it was so sad because she was strangled, kicked, beat and you could tell she put up a fight,” remembered Baughman.
That Halloween there was a local bingo game that Sister Marguerite had attended. It is unknown whether she won the night’s winnings, but 21 year old Reehahlio Carroll, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, New Mexico, broke into the Nun’s home with the notion that she had. Through crime scene processing, it was determined that Sister Marguerite heard her intruder and confronted him. At this point, the two got into a lethal scuffle, where Carroll bludgeoned the poor woman to death with a flashlight and then kicked her in the back for good measure (as determined by Carroll’s bloody footprint on Sister Marguerite’s back). Thinking there would be the winning bingo money in her home, Carroll left trace evidence all over the trailer including filing cabinets and dresser drawers in search of cash he never found.
In 2013, Reehahlio Carroll pleaded guilty to murdering Catholic Nun Sister Marguerite, which required a 40-year prison sentence.
“He evaded the death penalty. One attorney once told me, “We do our job so well that criminals on trial don’t want to mess with us.” When we say “we’ve got evidence on you”, they believe us and so they plead for a lesser sentence,” said Baughman.
Along with homicide, missing persons, and search warrant cases, Baughman and her team also work on cases involving racketeering influenced by corrupt organizations.
In December 2015, the FBI did a colossal raid on the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang which is known for its members participating in a highly organized, violent and murderous racketeering enterprise.
“RICO is a huge type of case where we deal with a lot of suspects from the organized crime ring. For example, from the Cartel, which is now more or less used as a generic term. It’s a bigger case when we can get the death penalty for certain charges brought to court. SNM guys are really bad news. Not only do they conduct organized crime within our State Penitentiary, but they are also highly organized outside of the prison and they do a lot of murders,” said Baughman.
The FBI has jurisdiction in Mexico and works with the DEA on Cartel criminal organization cases. But the NM FBI branch also works on Cartel cases within the state, having done a few raids on Sinaloa Cartel members who traffic for the Cartel internationally.
“Sometimes I think it takes a crazy person to do this stuff and not get messed up by it. But, at the end of the day, I’ve got a job to do,” said Baughman earnestly.
As stated, New Mexico’s FBI branch covers the entire state, which includes the territory’s Indian Country. The organization has jurisdiction for major crimes such as anything from assaults to murder and rapes. Furthermore and by law, any crime on Indian Country must involve at least one Native American in order for the FBI to have jurisdiction of the case.
“So, if you,” Baughman says as she points to me (I am not Native American), “and I”, continued Baughman as she then points to herself (Baughman is also not Native American), “get into a fitsticuffs on Indian Country, then the FBI doesn’t have jurisdiction of the case. But say I am Native American and you’re not and we beef it out over there, then the FBI has all of the right to get involved.”
Baughman says that in Indian Country a lot of people live very simple lives with no running water, electricity and often in homes with dirt floors.
“One thing that I’ve always found interesting about Indian Country is that nobody really knows what’s going on out there. I really feel for these people; they’re just trying to exist the way they have for hundreds of years,” expressed Baughman.
She argues that many of those in Indian Country don’t have much of a voice because of the fact that nobody really knows the everyday happenings on reservations.
“I feel very close to these people. We go out to Indian Country a lot and I sit and just look out [of the car window] and I think of how beautiful it is, yet how hard life must be. They’re up against a lot of challenges with drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and they don’t have a lot of opportunities,” Baughman conveyed.
For one particular case on Indian Country, which involved two women stabbed to death and then a suicide by their male killer, Baughman recollected processing the scene and then coming out of the home to a large gathering.
“A man from the crowd walked up to me and gave me the biggest hug and said “thank you…thank you for what you do.” I just felt very happy that we could be there and that they look at us [FBI] as people who are trying to help,” expelled Baughman.
This type of acceptance by the people is what fuels Baughman’s fire to continue to do her job to the best of her ability.
Over the years, having covered dozens of cases, Baughman has also fostered a keen sense of intuition when processing crime scenes.
“When I go to a movie, I’m so stupid. I won’t get the story. Everybody around me is already knowing what’s going on, and I’m like, “Omg, I didn’t see that coming!” But at a crime scene, I can kind of figure it out; it’s come down to a lot of intuition over the years,” said Baughman.
Called to a homicide case in Santo Domingo, Baughman arrived to a scene with human bones scattered everywhere on a large residential property. Immediately, Baughman and her friend/colleague Tammy Peters began to look for evidence that would identify whose bones they were.
“Usually, we’re looking for teeth with which we can match victims through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System,” explained Baughman.
Along with human bones, the scene was also evident of large packrat holes.
“Being from New Mexico, I have experience with packrats and I know they collect random items, so I started digging,” said Baughman.
She noticed that one packrat hole in particular had a shoestring coming from it, which matched the victim’s shoestring. After pulling out a shotgun shell, a coke can and all the while listening to her partner call her crazy, Baughman finally pulled out a mandible with one tooth and a filling.
“They ended up being able to identify our victim with his dental records because of that mandible. And yeah, now I’m kind of known for being that one processor that digs packrat holes,” chuckled Baughman.
Despite the many challenges that Baughman has faced throughout her fast-paced and demanding career, one of the most difficult has been dealing with juries that have succumbed to the “CSI effect”.
“People expect us to solve cases within the hour. Every jury expects us to come through with all of the evidence and a next-day turnaround with results, but that’s not how the real world works, even despite our advancements in technology. We have to explain to the jury that, “Look, not every crime scene is going to foster determining evidence.” We can’t just plug something into the computer and bam, someone’s picture comes up,” explained Baughman.
If the FBI does have DNA, however, then they will get an answer.
“Our team leader, who retired two years ago, was working on missing persons’ cases, where all she had were collections of victims’ bones and DNA swabs from relatives of missing persons. What she did was take the DNA samples of both the victims’ and missing persons’ relatives’ and put their results in CODIS. Through that process our team leader was able to match up the identities of many victims,” told Baughman.
Moreover, technical advancements (such as CODIS) have been a big plus to the FBI. Other advancements in photography technology have also changed the pace and impact of crime scene processing.
“There was a time when we worked with film photography and so when you messed up on a photo, there was no way of telling until after you had left the crime scene and developed the film. But now working with digital film creates a reassurance in our work that we have captured all aspects of the crime scene. There has never been a case where we’ve missed something that’s cost us the case,” said Baughman assuredly.
By and large, as evident of the unvarnished truth spoken by Lisa Baughman, the life of a crime scene processor requires a type of attention to detail where no ounce of human error is accepted. Despite this pressure and the brunt of her often shocking and overtly demanding work environment, Baughman insists that the privilege is all hers,
“The fact that the FBI has let me be a part of an amazing evidence response team and in the making has spent thousands of dollars training me, goes to show that this organization trusts me and I sincerely appreciate that. Most of all, I know that the way I do my job could mean life or death for somebody and that’s what keeps me bound and determined.”
Read updates on pertinent cases conducted by the FBI in New Mexico by visiting their official website.