Investigators have said little about how or why the remains of a 33-year-old woman ended up in a shallow grave near Carson but Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe says a drifter from West Virginia has the answers.
Now, the search is on for Ivan Dennings Cales, 50, charged Feb. 12 with first degree murder in the death of Roxanne Houston, 33, in what appears to be a case of two complicated lives entangling in an unlikely place.
With the affidavit for Cales’ arrest warrant sealed until his capture and facts only slowly emerging about Houston’s time in Taos, it remains unclear how her life ended or why investigators believe he was involved.
Cales, who friends of Houston said resided at the Carson Estates home she shared with a boyfriend and others, appears to have been under suspicion for weeks.
Hogrefe confirmed he was interviewed early in the investigation and that a Jeep Cherokee seized Jan. 29 for forensic testing once belonged to Cales. By that time, the vehicle had already been sold to another local resident and the sheriff said Cales is unlikely still in New Mexico.
“We do not believe that Cales is still in the Taos area and have asked the U.S. Marshals Service to take the lead for the manhunt,” Hogrefe said Feb. 12, indicating the search is stretching across state lines.
The sheriff characterized Cales as a drifter. He is originally from West Virginia. Information which appears to have been posted by Cales to an online forum indicates he moved to Taos early in the summer of 2014.
In one online community for Rainbow Family Gatherings, Cales said he was heading to Taos in hopes of starting a new life, introducing himself as a “survivalist but not the nut job hoarding food and ammo type” and touting experience in construction as well as gardening.
Law enforcement records as well as a series of posts to online message boards describing a child custody dispute suggests the life he left in West Virginia was a troubled one.
Law enforcement there confirmed Cales was jailed for several months in 2009 for violating the terms of a restraining order.
It remains unclear when Cales and Houston might have met, however, or how long they may have known each other.
But like Cales, she left behind a complicated life in moving to Taos.
Houston reportedly arrived in the Carson area with a boyfriend in 2013. The couple is said to have camped before moving in with friends for several months and then into another home they shared with several men.
A criminal complaint filed in Eighth Judicial District Court by Detective Robert Salazar alleges Cales murdered Houston on or about June 13, which is around the time she was last seen by many friends, according to a missing persons report filed with New Mexico State Police July 24.
In that report, Houston’s boyfriend described her as leaving without notice. It seemed unusual, he told police, because Houston was employed locally as a caretaker and left behind a beloved dog. She did not have a vehicle, either, and was presumed to have left the area on foot.
The missing persons report indicates state police contacted friends of Houston but that none of them knew her whereabouts. Attempts to contact her via telephone were unsuccessful, too.
Months later, on Christmas Day, hikers found remains later identified as Houston’s in a shallow grave near Carson.
However she arrived there, friends and neighbors from Carson agreed it was an inglorious resting place for a woman embraced during her short time in their community.
Remembered for her compassion, Houston worked as a neighbor’s caretaker and was also said to have lent a hand distributing food to Carson area residents.
The life and, in particular, the children she left behind by coming to Taos seemed to weigh heavily on her.
Houston is originally from the Colorado Springs area, where her four children reside with her adoptive parents.
Friends who knew her in Carson said Houston often spoke of being a mother again.
Houston was described as highly educated with an organized, regimented demeanor.
Characterized as strong and remembered by friends for sometimes wearing military fatigues, neighbor Sunshine Harper nonetheless described Houston as seeming innocent.
“I wouldn’t say naive because she was a very intelligent, smart woman,” she said. “But she had no inkling what evil is out there.”
Harper said she last saw Houston in June while driving down a dirt road. Houston was walking towards town with a backpack. Harper said she stopped to speak with her.
“Roxanne said she’d be back,” Harper said.
How Houston disappeared is expected to become clearer when Cales is arrested.
Until then, the affidavit for a $500,000 warrant issued for his arrest remains sealed by a motion based on what Hogrefe described as a need to preserve evidence and protect witnesses.
“When Cales is captured and arraigned we will not oppose the affidavit being unsealed and made public,” Hogrefe said. “But until then I believe it is the appropriate thing to do to protect those involved and the integrity of the case.”
Andrew Oxford can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.