Lisa Baughman: My experience as a FBI Crime Scene Processor

Lisa Baughman entered the Albuquerque, New Mexico Federal Bureau of Investigation Division in 1997 as support staff. Her workdays included drafting subpoenas and conducting legal research but within six months of being hired, her work ethic and attitude were recognized by her leadership who, as a result, offered her the opportunity to join the evidence response team with which she became a crime scene processor. She has since worked on some of the most challenging criminal cases in the history of 20th century New Mexico.

The Learning Curve: Becoming A Crime Scene Processor

“It sounded fun,” said Lisa.

We met for a beer at a local Albuquerque brewery to talk about her career experiences. That was her answer to why she took the offer by the FBI that sent her on two weeks of specialized training where, among many technical teachings, she learned how to use tape in the fingerprinting process and conduct crime scene entry and exit photography for shocking crime cases.

“Sure, some of the processing equipment we use isn’t very technical but everything we do is important and it’s part of the protocol,” said Lisa.

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 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 when explaining that we do what we do because it’s our protocol,” said Lisa.

After training, Lisa and her colleagues became invaluable consistent elements 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 and the support staff usually stays,” said Lisa.

In fact, two members of Lisa’s team, including Lisa, have been on the team for 21 years as of 2019.

Crime scene investigation and processing require a team leader to evaluate the scene. Then he or she permits their team to begin entry photography that illustrates how the crime scene looked upon the FBI’s arrival. Processors “bag and tag” (i.e. collect) trace evidence, dust for fingerprints, 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 to show how the place looked when we got there and how it looked after we left. So, no, we don’t mess up people’s homes,” said Lisa.

The Toy-Box Killer

In the span of her 21-year career and counting, Lisa has worked high profile cases, including the David Parker Ray (a.k.a. the “Toy-Box Killer”) case and 21-year-old murderer Reehahlio Carroll’s The Nun Case.

“My first call was the David Parker Ray case,” said Lisa, “in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to a scary little trailer located on his home property.”

Toy-Box Killer David Parker Ray's torture chamber Toy-Box Killer David Parker Ray’s torture chamber (2018)

David Parker Ray was an alleged American serial killer. He was known for his gruesome fetish for sadomasochism and torturing his women victims for hours in a fully soundproof trailer where he used sedation to knock them out, and roused them again and again to his haunting voice that played loudly on a tape player. These are facts of the case because David Parker Ray filmed his crimes and the FBI has these video in evidence.

His torture chamber was a fully soundproof $100,000 homemade trailer that he equipped with a gynecologist table with leg straps and a mirror mounted on the ceiling. He wanted his victims to bear witness to everything he did to them. Other tools he had in his trailer were 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.

Beginning in the 1950s to March 22, 1999, David Parker Ray tortured many female victims with accomplices. These accomplices were women he dated. On March 22, 1999, his last victim, Cynthia Vigil, escaped after a three-day torture calamity. David Parker Ray was subsequently arrested and sentenced in 2001 to 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 and Lisa Baughman gave me a tour of it.

The toy-box 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 as if put on display in a twisted depiction of what his victims actually went 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 I expected. It was so unsuspecting from the outside that it’s no wonder David Parker Ray was able to abduct and abuse his victims for as many years as he did.

As we left the toy-box, Lisa said, “You know what? We never traced a single drop of blood in here.”

“Couldn’t he have doused this place with bleach and erase all evidence?”, I said. 

“No. Even still, something would have come up. We’ll just never know everything that happened in this toy-box torture chamber or the full story of the Toy-Box Killer.”

After witnessing extreme crime scenes, the FBI will send the crime scene investigation team a psychologist with whom to speak about the scene; it’s a method practiced for the sake of psychological stability and decompression.

“When asked how I was after witnessing the toy-box crime scene, 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, fast,” said Lisa.

The Nun Case

One of Lisa’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 – also known as “The Nun Case”. One Halloween night, a US Attorney called Lisa’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,” said Lisa.

That Halloween there was a local bingo game that Sister Marguerite Bartz attended. It is unknown whether she won the night’s winnings but 21-year-old Reehahlio Carroll broke into the nun’s home with the notion that she had. Through crime scene processing, it was determined that Sister Marguerite Bartz heard her intruder and confronted him. At this point, the two got into a lethal scuffle where Reehahlio Carroll bludgeoned her to death with a flashlight and then kicked her in the back for good measure; this was determined by Carroll’s bloody footprint on Sister Bartz’s back. Thinking he would find the bingo money in her home, Reehahlio Carroll left trace evidence all over the trailer, including filing cabinets and dresser drawers in search of the cash he never found. In 2013, Reehahlio Carroll pleaded guilty to murdering Sister Marguerite Bartz, which required a 40-year prison sentence.

“He evaded the death penalty. One attorney once told me that 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 Lisa.

Along with homicide, missing persons, and search warrant cases, Lisa and her team 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.

“The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act 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. RICO is a bigger case in which we can get the death penalty for certain charges brought to court. Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico – a prison gang that formed in 1980 – puts out guys that are really bad news. Not only do they conduct organized crime within our state penitentiary, they are highly organized outside of the prison and they do a lot of murdering,” said Lisa.

The FBI has jurisdiction in Mexico and works with the Drug Enforcement Administration on cartel criminal organization cases. The New Mexico FBI division works on cartel cases within the state, having already 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 Lisa.

Indian Country

The New Mexico FBI branch covers the entire state and includes the territory’s Indian Country. The organization has jurisdiction for major crimes such as assaults, murders, and rapes. Furthermore, 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. Lisa said 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,” said Lisa.

Abandoned Big Chief Gas Station, New Mexico Indian Country (2018) Abandoned Big Chief Gas Station, New Mexico Indian Country (2018)

She argues that many of those in Indian Country don’t have much of a voice because nobody really knows the everyday happenings on reservations.

“I feel very close to these people. We go out on Indian Country a lot and I sit and look out of the car window and see how beautiful it is, yet think about 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,” said Lisa.

For one particular case on Indian Country, which involved two women stabbed to death and then suicide by their male killer, Lisa recollected processing the scene and then coming out of the home to a large community 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 felt very happy that we could be there and that they look at us, the FBI, as people who are trying to help,” said Lisa.

Abandoned Big Chief Gas Station sign, New Mexico Indian Country (2018) Abandoned Big Chief Gas Station sign, New Mexico Indian Country (2018)

Built On Intuition

Over the years and working on dozens of cases, Lisa has developed her intuition when processing crime scenes.

“When I go to a movie, I’m so stupid. I won’t understand 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 comes down to a lot of intuition over the years,” said Lisa.

Called to a homicide case in Santo Domingo, Lisa arrived at a scene with human bones scattered everywhere on a large residential property. Immediately, she and her colleague Tammy Peters began to look for evidence that would identify whose bones they belonged.

“Usually, we’re looking for teeth with which we can match victims via the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System,” said Lisa.

Along with human bones, the scene was also evidence of large packrat holes.

“Being from New Mexico, I have experience with pack rats and I know they collect random items, so I started digging,” said Lisa.

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, Lisa 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 who digs packrat holes,” said Lisa.

The CSI Effect

Despite the many challenges that Lisa has faced throughout her 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 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,” said Lisa.

If the FBI does have DNA, though, they will get an answer.

“Our team leader, who retired two years ago, was working on missing persons’ cases in which all she had were collections of victims’ bones and DNA swabs from their relatives. What she did was take the DNA samples of both the victims and missing persons’ relatives and put their results in the Combined DNA Index System. Through that process, our team leader was able to match up the identities of many victims,” said Lisa.

Moreover, technical advancements such as CODIS and digital photography have 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 left the crime scene and developed the film. Now, working with digital film reassures us that we have captured all aspects of the crime scene. There has never been a case in which we’ve missed something that’s cost us the case,” said Lisa.

Reflecting On The Journey

According to Lisa Baughman, her career as a crime scene processor has demanded more from her than she ever thought capable. She often buckles at the knees from the weight of our human choices and how they result, but it’s made her more attentive to all of the details because they truly are a matter of life and death.

It’s no easy job but Lisa 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.”

What wild stories do you know about crime scene processing? Share them with me in the comments below!

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