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Archive for Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Decades later, son discovers how his mother actually died

In this file photo from Sept. 12, 1989, Angelina Guadalupe holds photos of her daughter, Nilsa Sanchez, a Lawrence-area mother of two who was found murdered.

In this file photo from Sept. 12, 1989, Angelina Guadalupe holds photos of her daughter, Nilsa Sanchez, a Lawrence-area mother of two who was found murdered.

April 18, 2012

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Peacefully in her sleep.

That’s how Brian Torres, now 30, believed his mother, former Lawrence resident Nilsa Sanchez, died more than 20 years ago.

But Torres last week found a 2009 Journal-World article detailing his mother’s unsolved murder.

“It was a bit of a shock,” said Torres, a construction worker who lives in Dallas. “I was up all night.”

Torres was 7 years old in August 1989 when his mother’s strangled body was found stuffed into a 36-inch-wide culvert under North 1400 Road near Stull, west of Lawrence. Following child abuse allegations earlier that year, state officials removed Torres from the home he shared with his mother in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Street.

Related stories: Nilsa Sanchez murder

Oct. 20, 1989: Murders continue to stump officials

Oct. 14, 1989: Woman trying to rebuild life

At a foster care home in Lawrence, relatives told Torres that his mother, then 37, died of natural causes. No one then, or ever, told Torres it was a murder, he said.

Shortly after his mother’s funeral, Torres was adopted by relatives in Pennsylvania. He knew nothing more about his mother’s death until last week, when he found the article while searching for information needed for a replacement birth certificate.

Unsolved case

Sanchez was born in New York City, and, after serving nine years in the Army, moved to Lawrence in 1983 with Torres.

Sanchez spent time working at a local Hardee’s restaurant. People said she was an avid walker, and at some point she attended classes at Kansas University.

Dallas resident Brian Torres with friend Bridget Hughes earlier this year. Torres, now 30, is the son of Nilsa Sanchez, who was murdered near Lawrence in 1989. The case has never been solved, and until recently, Torres was unaware of that his mother was murdered.

Dallas resident Brian Torres with friend Bridget Hughes earlier this year. Torres, now 30, is the son of Nilsa Sanchez, who was murdered near Lawrence in 1989. The case has never been solved, and until recently, Torres was unaware of that his mother was murdered.

On Aug. 24, 1989, at least 20 people saw Sanchez walking along U.S. Highway 40 west of the city, where the entrance to the Kansas Highway 10 bypass is now. Eight days later, rancher Heyden Smith found Sanchez’s body, about 10 miles from where she was last seen walking. But what happened to Sanchez in those eight days is a mystery.

Investigators had very little to go on other than Sanchez’s decomposed body, and retired Douglas County Sheriff Loren Anderson said it took authorities several days to determine the basics of the case.

“We don’t know where she came from. We didn’t know who she was,” Anderson said. “I don’t remember anything that gave us a real clue.”

Two days into the investigation, Anderson activated the Capital Area Major Case Squad, or the M-Squad, a unit of law enforcement agents in the region who assist in criminal investigations.

The M-Squad logged more than 4,000 investigative hours, followed more than 500 leads and collected more than 300 pieces of evidence, but made no arrests.

In the years since, it’s not clear what, if any, progress has been made in the case.

Sgt. Steve Lewis, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said he couldn’t release more details because the case was still active. Lewis said evidence from the crime scene had been sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab, but declined to say what items were sent.

Lewis did not have any updates about any possible testing results. The KBI does not comment on the status of evidence testing in specific cases.

In this Journal-World file photo from Sept 5, 1989, Douglas County Sheriff’s officers and heavy equipment operators prepare to remove a 36-inch metal drainage pipe under County Road 1400 west of Stull that held the strangled body of Nilsa Sanchez, a Lawrence-area mother of two found Sept. 1, 1989.

In this Journal-World file photo from Sept 5, 1989, Douglas County Sheriff’s officers and heavy equipment operators prepare to remove a 36-inch metal drainage pipe under County Road 1400 west of Stull that held the strangled body of Nilsa Sanchez, a Lawrence-area mother of two found Sept. 1, 1989.

Local police have said the Sanchez case is the only unsolved murder in the county in the past several decades.

Lingering questions

Torres has spent the past week researching his mother’s case and has been in contact with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. He said he has experienced a range of emotions since discovering his mother’s murder.

“I really don’t know what to think,” Torres said.

He said he worries his mother’s case is “just something that got pushed off” by police, and he wants to bring awareness to the case. Despite the decades gone by, Torres said solving the case should still be a top priority for law enforcement.

“Somebody got murdered,” he said.

Comments

sad_lawrencian 2 years, 8 months ago

Really sad that this man never knew the truth for so many years.

optimist 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah. A seven year old really needs to know that his mother was murdered.

Joe Hyde 2 years, 8 months ago

We can assume that as he grew older Mr. Torres changed places of residence a few times, as do most young adults. Moving would have taken him out of daily contact with "people in the know" who knew how his Mom died.

The folks to feel sad for here are the guardians who knew from the outset that young Brian's mother had been murdered but didn't tell him in hopes of shielding his spirit. What guardian welcomes the responsibility of carrying such an awful truth? And what guardian looks eagerly to revealing such painful information to a victim's child regardless of how many years had passed since the homicide was commited?

Mr. Torres should not worry that state law enforcement people will forget his mother's killing. That ain't gonna happen.

ktbob1954 2 years, 8 months ago

Mr. Torres, I can relate to your feelings....even though this article is erroneous along with the LPD in stating that "...this is the only unsolved murder in the county for several decades...", it is still horrible what you are going through. How do I know this?? Because my father, ROBERT EMMETT CONLIN, SR. was MURDERED at Edgewood Homes in Lawrence, Kansas, in May of 1977....and that MURDER IS STILL UNSOLVED....hell, the LPD has yet to acknowledge that his murder is unsolved, or whatever happened to his case file....POOF, just magically disappeared.... You are absolutely correct in your statement "SOMEONE GOT MURDERED"....yes THEY did. Will we ever get justice???? You tell me....it's been 35 years since my father's murder and I am STILL WAITING FOR THAT JUSTICE....

Flap Doodle 2 years, 8 months ago

Somebody needs to get a popsicle and calm down.

pace 2 years, 8 months ago

You are 100% correct. There are more than one unsolved murder, what a remark to make. Completely disrespectful to victims and family, really stupid to claim that.

parrothead 2 years, 8 months ago

Smitty once again you distort the facts. Chris Bread's death was solved, despite how close it was to the statute of limits (not stature as you wrote) so that is hardly a "serial killer" case and cannot be lumped in with the other cases you mentioned.

As for the drowning victims, I recall hearing back when these happened that at least one of them told people at a bar he was planning to swim across the river. I do not recall what was said about the other poor soul who drowned but unless there is evidence they were forced into the water or held underwater or SOMETHING to show it was anything but an accident it is simply not a murder and therefore not the work of a serial killer.

Also, the fact that a hit and run death is unsolved does not make it a intentional murder. Could be an accident where the driver fled the scene and was simply not caught in which case it could be classified a number of ways.

Lastly, I sat in on the coroner's inquest on the Sevier case and it was thoroughly investigated by the coroner's office and ruled justifiable homicide. The autopsy clearly showed that he had his arm raised over his head while holding a large knife, just as the officers reported, when he lunged at one of them. Tragic situation all the way around to be sure. But for you to sit back and pass judgement on law enforcement professionals who had to make a split second decision to protect their lives is pathetic. You may not like the outcome but it was investigated thoroughly by the appropriate office and the facts were brought forward.

Cait McKnelly 2 years, 8 months ago

I knew and worked with Cecil Dawes. He was a good man and did not deserve the racial profiling that Olin put on him. He was murdered just two months after Nilsa Sanchez. The remarks made in the article by Olin, through Mulvenon, were racist and cruel. One wonders if Kevin Willmot based his character of Sheriff McCoy on Olin.

parrothead 2 years, 8 months ago

Have to respectfully disagree cait. Where is the proof that his drowning was a murder? Without more evidence it could go either way.

shaunepec 2 years, 8 months ago

In the article it states that local police say it's the only unsolved murder. I understand some will argue that some of the cases mentioned are unsolved murders. But police do not consider them so.

The Conlin one is a little trickier. It was investigated as a homicide, according to police. However, there does seem to be some debate about whether Conlin's death was due to the attack or other pending medical issues.

pace 2 years, 8 months ago

The police also have a oddly self serving stand on "who" is considered missing.

ottawaway 2 years, 8 months ago

Smitty, could I ask who this Sandoval person is you are referring to? Although not old there is the unsolved murder of Corey Brown also.

George_Braziller 2 years, 8 months ago

I remember Nilsa very well. She was receiving some services at the social service agency where I worked at the time. After her murder the police contacted us about providing any case files we had.

I personally made the copies and had it in an envelope waiting for them to pick up. After three weeks I called the police department to reminded them the copies were ready. I was told an officer would be by that afternoon.

No one ever came to get it. Called again a few weeks later, still no one came for the file. After almost two years of moving the envelope around my desk I finally shredded it.

parrothead 2 years, 8 months ago

I am sorry for Brian's loss and even sorrier that no one told him the truth after all these years.

As for how serious he thinks the police took the case, the article says "The M-Squad logged more than 4,000 investigative hours, followed more than 500 leads and collected more than 300 pieces of evidence, but made no arrests." I know it may be hard to accept, but the fact is that thousands of hours of work and hundreds of leads do not guarantee a case will be solved. I am confidant that if more leads are developed they will be followed. Wish it could be different, but that is the reality of police work.

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