Unsolved cases focus of crime unit

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson The case of Ernestine “Tina” Servantez has gone unsolved for more than 35 years.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

While investigations may stall or go stale, the Major Crimes Unit is working to ensure unsolved homicide cases never truly go cold, according to District Attorney Matt Chandler.

At the request of law enforcement agencies, the unit’s team of investigators reviews cases, searching for new angles and ideas, he said.

A consortium of law enforcement agencies serving in Curry and Roosevelt counties, the unit brings together the best expertise each department has to offer, he said, and makes it available to all members of the unit.

“One of the benefits of having the Major Crimes Unit review a cold case is that a new investigation brings a new set of eyes to review an old case,” Chandler said.

Last year investigations conducted by the three-year-old unit led to the December arrest and indictment of Lorenzo Chavez.

Chavez, 56, is awaiting trial for first-degree murder in the 1998 shooting death of 47-year-old Daniel Jose Lopez.

Keeping cases under scrutiny and continually reviewing them is a necessity, Chandler said.

“Every unsolved case is a priority to not only the victim’s surviving family members but also to law enforcement,” he said.

The passage of years doesn’t erase pain for a victim’s family, but it can cloud memories and create more opportunities for evidence to be lost.

It is for that reason Lt. Roger Grah, supervisor of the Clovis Police Department’s detective division, keeps the case file of Ernestine “Tina” Servantez at hand.

Hers is one of a dozen unsolved Clovis and Curry County cases spanning more than 35 years, the commander of the Major Crimes Unit keeps in his office. But there is a sense of urgency to solving her death, he said.

Servantez’ body was found April 29, 1969 by two boys from Lovington who, while traveling on U.S. 60 with their families, wandered into a culvert off the highway during a rest stop.

“I want Tina Servantez’ (case reviewed most),” Grah said. “It’s from 1969. It’s the oldest we’ve got right now.”

Police estimated Servantez’ badly beaten, partially clad body had lain in the culvert three days or more. Blood on the concrete walls indicated she was killed at the scene, a story in the CNJ archives reported.

The 42-year-old married mother of four had been reported missing 10 days before when she failed to return from an errand.

Countless witnesses were interviewed and evidence was collected but the case stopped moving forward, Grah said.

When no arrests were made, some suspects in the case, along with the victim’s family members, moved away.

Now, almost 40 years later, the clock is ticking and the passage of more time will only make it worse, he said.

Grah said like most cases, witness testimony could lead to an arrest.

“We just need somebody to come forward and we got it,” Grah said. “We think we know what happened in this case.”