Twenty years later, woman’s disappearance remains a mystery

Andrew Oxford
Posted 6/28/15

Little seemed amiss when Taos Police Department officers visited the Rosarita Lane home of Barbara Holik June 27, 1995.

Holik’s Ford Fiesta was parked in the driveway and, after letting themselves into her apartment through an unlocked door, …

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Twenty years later, woman’s disappearance remains a mystery

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Little seemed amiss when Taos Police Department officers visited the Rosarita Lane home of Barbara Holik June 27, 1995.

Holik’s Ford Fiesta was parked in the driveway and, after letting themselves into her apartment through an unlocked door, officers found a home reflective of the German woman’s fastidiousness. There were no obvious signs of a struggle. Nor did it appear Holik planned on going anywhere. Luggage was stored beneath a bed and officers found Holik’s purse, keys as well as identification.

But they could not find her.

Holik had vanished.

All that seemed out of place were a pair of work gloves on the floor, one in front of a refrigerator, another near an exterior door.

The only hint of anything untoward was in a recently vacated apartment next door in which a maid found Holik’s shoes, some bedding missing from a mattress and a telephone cord cut.

Twenty years later, though, Holik’s disappearance remains a mystery that has stumped investigators, generated fruitless tips and given rise to a myriad of theories — some simple, some as complicated as the periphery of characters surrounding the case, but all unproven.

A life left in motion

The 33-year-old Holik was last seen a few days before police visited her home.

Numerous witnesses told investigators they saw her Friday, June 23 at El Patio, a bar near Taos Plaza now known as The Alley Cantina.

Holik is said to have frequented the bar, socializing there several nights each week with a group of friends.

The last time she was seen there, Holik is reported to have had her typical order — a couple glasses of scotch and water — before leaving around 11 p.m.

The five-foot-tall brunette presumably made the short trip home on foot, walking as she typically did west on Don Fernando, south a few blocks on Manzanares and west again halfway down the cul de sac that is Rosarita Lane.

After taking off her lavender blouse at home, she is thought to have slipped into bed, later leaving it unmade.

Friends grew concerned when she missed several days of work without notice, which was described as out of character for the meticulous Holik.

Sonny Spruce, the proprietor of a Taos Pueblo shop she tended, reported her missing June 27.

Spruce told police she was typically prompt. When she stopped showing up to work, he went to her residence June 26. After knocking on the door, he tried the knob, found it unlocked and let himself inside. He told police the home seemed well-kept. A handbag was on a table in the living room and a small black bag with what appeared to be a roll of dollar bills was on a nightstand in the bedroom.

Spruce called out for Holik, but there was no response.

Returning the next day around 4 p.m., he again found the home deserted and went to the police station.

What investigators found, though, was not a crime scene, but a life left in motion.

Holik settled in Taos approximately five years before her disappearance. Born in Rödental, Germany, she became acquainted with Taos leading tour groups to the area as a travel agent. She eventually moved to Northern New Mexico, having become by all accounts fascinated with Native American culture. Friends described her as having earned a modest living here making jewelry and painting pottery. In exchange for tending his curio store and gallery, Spruce let Holik sell her wares there.

The arrangement was born in part out of the complications surrounding Holik’s precarious immigration status. Police believed she was living in the country illegally when she disappeared. But it does not seem she was in any particular trouble with immigration authorities. She married and later divorced a man in the early 1990s, which one friend told investigators was a bid to shore up her immigration status.

When Holik disappeared, she was applying for citizenship and seemed to have settled into a happy if austere life in Taos.

It was the consensus among her friends that she would not just up and leave without telling anyone.

And even if Holik would, why do so without her car or keys, identification or cash?

Thousands of dollars were found to have been left in the apartment.

And a friend was due to arrive from Germany by way of Canada in just a few days. Holik had even purchased tickets for a rafting tour ahead of the occasion.

The investigation into Holik’s disappearance began shortly after police visited her home.

Officers fanned out to a few of the bars she is reported to have occasioned, but focused on El Patio. Investigators interviewed the staff, but no one recalled anything out of the ordinary during her last night in the bar. Holik, they said, was a regular. But staff and friends said they never saw her drink to excess. Nor did she frequent the bar to pick up men. It was not that kind of scene, at least not for Holik. Instead, she is said to have usually had two or three drinks with the artists and professionals who made up the social circle in which she mingled.

Holik is not known to have been dating anyone at the time.

When investigators asked about lovers, they did not get very far.

The usual stops in a missing persons investigation didn’t pan out for investigators, either. There had been no sign of Holik at Holy Cross Hospital, for example. Telephone bills did not reveal anything unusual. Border officials did not have any record of her leaving the country.

Canvassing Rosarita Lane, neighbors told police they did not recall anything out of the ordinary around the day of her disappearance. No one really seemed to know Holik, in fact, aside from sighting her once in a while coming to or from her apartment.

So who would want to hurt Holik?

The apartment next door

Suspicions were piqued June 30, though, when police returned to the apartment with a group of Holik’s friends.

A maid told investigators she cleaned an adjacent apartment June 23 after a group of short-term renters cleared out. When she returned June 24, the maid found a pair of black lady’s shoes on a coach that were later identified as belonging to Holik. The mattress cover on the bed had been removed along with a blanket and sheet, she told police. The bedding was nowhere to be found in the apartment.

A chair had been removed from under a dining table and placed elsewhere in the room, the maid added. The cord between the handset and telephone had been cut, too.

The maid thought little of it at the time, though, and thoroughly went about her work, cleaning away whatever forensic evidence might have been left behind.

The discoveries cast suspicions on the four men who had temporarily been residing at the apartment while in Taos on business before clearing out the morning of June 23.

More than a month passed before the men were questioned at their company’s Albuquerque office by the Taos Police Department investigator in charge of the case.

The interviews did not reveal much, though.

None of the men were asked about their whereabouts on the night Holik is believed to have gone missing. Instead, they were mostly asked about their knowledge of Holik. All of them said they never spoke to her. A few said they did not even see her during their stay in the apartment next door. She was said to have been a quiet neighbor. There were a few questions about where the men ate during their time in Taos, perhaps asked to determine whether they might have visited El Patio.

And then the interviews were over, transcribed and added to a case file that is now three inches thick, filled not just with the initial reports but records of tips that led nowhere.

Those interviews were a part of the investigation then-Taos Police Department Chief Neil Curran said he wished had been handled differently. Curran would like to have questioned the men himself.

“Those people could have been the key,” he said recently.

Describing the case as having so many twists and turns, asking Curran about it today still prompts a lot of “what-ifs.” But he maintains investigators ran down every avenue they could given there was no real indication a crime had even occurred.

And there were plenty of avenues — most of them dead ends.

Borrego Crossing in the Carson National Forest was searched in July 1995, for example, on information Holik’s remains had been disposed there. An anonymous tip in August 1995 led police to dig up a suspected grave near Pilar that turned out to contain the bones of a dog.

Another anonymous tipster said they saw Holik alongside two women and three “hippie-type” men driving a vehicle with plates from British Columbia. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police followed up on that one, but found nothing.

Two psychics even sought to aid the investigation. One said Holik was buried alive somewhere near a foul odor. That spurred a search near the waste treatment plant.

Police also seemed to have dug into the pasts of several men who knew Holik, even if they hadn’t seen her for years. At one point, it was noted that a library card was found in her vehicle with the name of a convicted drug smuggler imprisoned in the early ‘90s before Holik’s disappearance. The very mention of his name spurred suspicion, prompting him to later sue Curran for slander.

The man spent approximately two decades in a federal prison following an incident in international waters off the coast of California involving the U.S. Coast Guard and a boatload of Hashish. Released a few years ago, he maintains having no knowledge of Holik’s disappearance.

So goes the case file, leads tapering out and supplemental reports becoming less frequent.

Stumped

“It seems like locally, she’s pretty well been forgotten about,” Curran told The Taos News in November 1995. “We don’t hear from her friends much. She’s missing, but we still have no hard evidence of a crime. Frankly, we’re stumped.”

And so is Taos, or at least those who remember Holik, although plenty of theories emerged amid the absence of any real direction in the investigation.

Some friends believe she might have entered a witness protection program due to her supposed but unsubstantiated involvement with the aforementioned drug smuggler. Others suspect she simply disappeared for immigration reasons.

All these years later, the case’s lead investigator says he is not entirely convinced Holik’s disappearance is a crime to be solved.

“It didn’t look like foul play,” former Taos Police Department Capt. Manny Trujillo said recently. “There was nothing broken. It looked like she just got out of bed and went away.”

The investigation was a big effort, Trujillo recalls, but he also maintains it is possible she merely left town.

That is not to say the case doesn’t bother him.

“Something you never solve stays on your mind,” Trujillo said, but adding, “I’m still convinced she got tired and wanted to go home [to Germany].”

Curran is still suspicious. Now retired, he maintains foul play was involved in Holik’s disappearance. But even today, he seems split between various and disparate theories.

“I always thought in the back of my mind she’d pop up somewhere — either her or her remains,” he said recently.

The case eventually landed on the desk of Detective Barry Holfelder, but there have been few developments since he began working at the department approximately 15 years ago. There are the occasional inquiries from other law enforcement agencies when a body is found. But beyond that, there has been little action.

“There were a couple leads when I started here,” the detective recalled. “One took me out out by Tres Piedras, but we ended up finding animal bones.”

Like Curran, Holfelder also suspects foul play. The investigation was not the strongest, he maintains, but it is clear that Holik disappeared from her home. The opportunity to collect physical evidence as to how that may have occurred has likely passed, though. All that is left is what people know, but have not said. The questions surrounding Holik’s disappearance seem to have haunted her family back in Germany.

In a 2008 interview with the German newspaper Coburger Tageblatt, her brother said his parents “never got really happy again” after Holik vanished. His father, who had recently died, was said to have secluded himself. While Holik’s brother suspected foul play, their mother tried to believe the best while also fearing the worst.

Many who remember Holik — whether as a friend or as the subject of an investigation — seem to waver between the two, as well.

Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Barbara Holik is encouraged to contact the Taos Police Department by calling (575) 758-4656. Information can also be submitted anonymously through Taos County Crime Stoppers by calling 758-HALT.

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