Reasonable Doubt: Part II

The following is part two of a series involving a 2014 New Mexico double murder trial. I look forward to your responses to this case and discussing the court system process in America. –

Ella Mentry

Find me on Twitter @EllamentryMDW

Reasonable Doubt

Part 2

The police descended upon Dover Court, Albuquerque, New Mexico on a Tuesday morning August 2005. No one was allowed to leave the cul de sac, nor was anyone allowed near the area, including the Vigil family. Bernadette Ohlemacher was one of eight Vigil siblings and the youngest child of Dora Vigil. Racing to Albuquerque from Santa Fe, they assembled by the crime tape, unable to get word to Renee or any information from APD.

Later that morning, Renee was photographed then transported from the mobile crime van (more like an RV) to police headquarters where she handed over her pajamas and robe in exchange for a white paper “bunny suit.” This is the building Renee would be interrogated that day and several other times during the investigation. She admitted years later she hated that building. She was none too fond of APD either.

Later that day, frustrated by a complete lack of communication with the police, a family decision was made to hire an attorney for their niece. It was time to circle the wagons and protect Renee. Bernadette and Greg would want the extended family to care for their only living child. An attorney was contacted and any further interrogation of Renee halted.

Greg and Bernadette eloped 20 plus years prior to their deaths. Both members of the Air Force, they were stationed around the country – Hawaii and Alaska among other locations. Over that time span, they saw very little of their families in Santa Fe, NM or Columbus, OH where the small Ohlemacher family resided. Renee had sparse communication and even less face time with her close knit cousins throughout her life.

When the Ohlemachers retired from the military, they settled in Albuquerque’s west side around 1998. The main contact with the bulk of the Santa Fe relatives consisted of birthdays, particularly mother Dora’s and holidays although the cities are only separated by an hour drive. The last time sisters Jessica Montoya, Antoinette Curran and Bernadette Ohlemacher got together was their mother’s birthday, less than two weeks before Bernadette died. The ladies had a celebratory brunch and went shopping.

Years before returning to the southwest when Renee was about six or seven years old, the family suffered the loss of their infant baby girl. It is reported Renee and Bernadette grew incredibly close, almost too close according to some family members. By all accounts, their now only child was over indulged, disrespectful and demanding by the time she became a teen. Discussing Bernadette’s parenting skills was not a welcomed subject, though the sisters openly did not approve of Renee’s behavior. Almost a decade later, Jessica and Antoinette would testify for the defense as to their opinions of their niece. But first APD had to pull the pieces together in hope of honing in on a suspect.

While waiting for a search warrant to reenter the Ohlemacher home, Flores held briefings with all the original first responders to gather information on what they did and saw in the dimly lit, potentially dangerous situation as they searched for a shooter. There were two bodies, an open balcony door and four bullet casings on the master bedroom floor. No wait, five or six. The count varied and this information would prove problematic years later. The fact remains when crime scene unit (CSU) Detective Shawna Aragon was finally allowed to enter the premises and photograph, there were indeed four casings. Three found on the floor and one sat on a waist high dresser to the right of the French door entryway.

No weapon was recovered, but the casings were sent to the FBI and the possible firearm was narrowed down to a handful, including a Ruger 9mm, P-85 series.

Any fingerprints discovered held no viability. No DNA swabs were collected. There was, however a ladder leaning on the house that lead to the unfinished master bedroom balcony. A single footprint the FBI later identified as created by a Nike Air Mobilizer was found in the soft sand near the ladder. Beyond that, the cops were left scratching their heads. It would be nearly a year before they got a break in the case from the most unlikely of sources, the Secret Service (SS).

On June 12, 2006, SS agent Brian Nguyen was at the Albuquerque office when a curious thing happened. Ronald Santiago, a 40-year old mortgage assistant from Albuquerque stepped across the threshold of the downtown office. Most white-collar crime bandits don’t waltz into the workplace to chat, never mind confess.

Santiago had a story to tell that involved check fraud. Beyond protecting POTUS and other high-ranking officials, the USSS handles money fraud and counterfeiting, etc. The man standing in his office fell into the second category. Santiago explained he had messed up at work, taking it upon himself to illegally fund a refinance for an Albuquerque couple named Howard because the stress load was too much for him to keep up legitimately.

According to the Howards, Santiago told them their refinance had been approved but had yet to deliver a dime in what is known as a “cash back refi.” What the couple expected to happen within a reasonable period dragged on for weeks with no money in their pockets. Finally, their mortgage loan point man called to tell them he had two checks to deliver if they wouldn’t mind meeting him at Starbucks for the exchange.

The couple took separate cars to the meeting with Catherine Howard arriving at the pre set time while her husband Mathew experienced car trouble on the way. He stopped to have the car checked out, only to discover his brake lines had been cut. Not “you ran over a piece of metal on the highway” kind of cut, but a clean, someone purposely sliced your brake lines. Mrs. Howard was convinced Santiago had tried to kill them. Meanwhile, Santiago knew the bank would soon discover he had forged the checks handed to the Howards and chose to turn himself in to the Secret Service.

Agent Nguyen had never experienced anyone turning himself in prior to being accused of a crime and certainly never dealt with a criminal who claimed to be in such a state of anxiety and depression to request the SS agent take him to a local psychiatric hospital shortly after admitting to forgery. Nguyen drove Santiago to Kaseman Hospital where he was admitted into the psychiatric ward. At this point, Nguyen went back to work investigating Santiago’s past and hit pay dirt.

What did this seasoned SS agent discover and will a turn of events get Renee Ohlemacher off the hook? We’ll get into that next time in Reasonable Doubt.

1 Comment

  1. Steven Haase

    Disgusting how Renee”s Aunt,would sue her niece after what she had been through,Renee could not walk upon leaving home with police after incident,through shock.No matter that they consider her to be spoiled and unappreciative of them or her parents,this has nothing to do with them being killed.She has lost her parents in appalling circumstances and was left on her own.For members of her family to gang up on her, at a time like this, is appalling.It looks like some of her extended family members are more bothered about the money side of things than caring for their sister,daughters child.


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