In July of 1981, a young woman begins work for the Odessa Police Department Traffic Division as a meter maid.  She played varsity volley ball in 1979 for Ysleta High School in El Paso, Tx where most of her family is from.  She had only been on the job with the police department for four months when she was found murdered, still partially clothed in her meter maid uniform.

On November 8th, 1981, the nude body of Elida Salmeron, just 18 years old, was found strangled to death with a mans sock, still wrapped around her neck, in a remote area north of Interstate 20, nine miles east of Monahans.  She was also beaten on her face and head, leaving her with a broken nose.  Elida’s body was found about 200 feet from a van bogged in the sand up to it’s axels near the interstate.  Her body was located in a clump of bushes north of the railroad tracks.  The van did not belong to Elida, it belonged to a roommate, Joe Leos, who has allowed her to borrow to van to go visit her family in El Paso for the weekend.  Leos was in San Antonio at the time of the murder and was quickly ruled out as a suspect.  The death certificate lists multiple contusions and abrasions, multiple locations, most severely about the head and face, fracture of the nose, pulmonary edema, alcohol intoxication as the cause of death. Pulmonary Edema might not be a term you hear often in association with a strangulation murder but it does make sense.  It was likely a negative pressure pulmonary edema, which is an edema that can develop after a blockage in the upper airway causes negative pressure in the lungs from intense efforts to breathe despite the blockage.  The alcohol intoxication was unlikely to have been a main contributor in Elida’s death but it is interesting detail.  Investigators learned that the van she was driving was seen about 1:15 a.m. Saturday by a family member on a nearby ranch. Witnesses told investigators that the dome light was on in the van when they saw it.  According to the medical examiner Salmeron had been dead for about one day when she was found, which was Sunday afternoon.  The last person to have seen Elida was a friend who drover her home after work on Friday.

Ok, let’s get some armchair detective questions out before we keep going.

If she’s driving to see family in El Paso then why didn’t she leave on Friday after work? Is it safe to assume that she was on her way to El Paso? Probably since the van was found on a route one would take if they were going to El Paso.

If the medical examiner was accurate about Elida’s time of death it would mean that whomever was in the van that night was her killer. Was the van moving or stopped on the nearby ranch with the dome light on?  If the dome light was on did the witness see who was inside?  Again, just thinking out loud, if someone saw the van on a nearby ranch (I’m assuming they mean near the location her body was found) at 1:15 a.m. and Elida’s body is found sometime before 12:37 p.m. on Sunday, wouldn’t that mean that she was already dead when the witness saw the van she was driving on that nearby ranch? I may not have told you guys earlier but the Ward County Deputy Sheriff Joe Stapp was notified first at about 12:37 p.m. Sunday.  This investigation was handled by more than one counties, more than one departments and there were just too many names wanting credit for me to include them in this story that really isn’t about them at all.  Anyway, if the sheriff is notified around 12:37 in the afternoon it’s safe to say her body is found a little before that.  The medical examiner said she was dead for about a day when she was found.  There are 24 hours in a day, which means she was killed around 12:30 in the afternoon on Saturday the day before her body was discovered.  If Elida was dead at 12:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, then who was driving that van around at 1:15 a.m. on the ranch that was near the location her body was found? It’s also noted that there were parts of her meter maid uniform found scattered from the van to the death scene.

A family member is said to have been the one that saw the van driving on the ranch, who’s family member? Family of the owners of the ranch or one of Salmeron’s family members? Sometimes I really think I should be working freelance for the police department or at least as a contract forensic genealogist…..I got super nosey and the only ranch in the area of 9 miles away from Monahans between there and Penwell is the “Lazy R Ranch” which at the time belonged to owners who’s names were listed as confidential on the records before 9/29/2009.  Not something I have ever seen while I’ve been nosing around property records but there’s a first for everything.  Anyway, the point is I was curious if the name was one that could be connected to Salmeron.  I get hung up on the smallest things I guess but are we talking about family of Salmeron that sited the van on this ranch or the family that lived on this ranch? If her family is from El Paso then what family of hers would be in the area of a Monahans ranch? Let’s assume the witness the paper was talking about was one of the family members that owned the ranch just for my own OCD sanity.

We could go on and on but let’s get back to the story and just interject as we go.

So a friend drives Elida Salmeron home from her job as a meter maid for the Odessa Police Department Traffic Division on Friday, November 6th, 1981.  She’s wearing her uniform on the ride home, we can almost be sure of that.  The next night, Saturday, November 7th, the van she borrows from her roommate is spotted on a ranch about 9 miles outside of Monahans, between there and Penwell at 1:15 a.m.  Elida’s body is found in a clump of bushes north of the railroad tracks and 200 feet north of the van near the interstate.  There are parts of her meter maids uniform scattered between the van, that’s stuck in the sand up to it’s axels, and the body.  I’ve seen it reported that she is found nude, and that she’s found partially clothed, which could mean she’s wearing socks who knows.  When she is found she has a men’s sock wrapped tightly around her neck that is believed to have been used to strangle her. The death certificate makes note of alcohol in her system at the time of death among the other information related to her cause of death.

The van that was on the scene was one she borrowed from her roommate at 609 W. 31st street in Odessa.  His name is Joe Leos, he let her borrow the van and was in San Antonio at the time of her death and ruled out of the investigation.

The investigation leads them to a man named Jose Monje, 28,  also known as Jesus Jose Marquez Villarreal,  a Mexican national from Zaragoza, Mexico whom law enforcement suspected was an illegal alien at the time.

Screenshot of Jose Monje
Screenshot of Jose Monje

He’s employed by a local well service company in the area and has been here for a while according to investigators.  Information gained from investigators in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico indicated that Monje and Salmeron had been together the night of the murder.  Monje was in a pickup along with three other individuals on the evening of November 19th in the southern 700 block of West County Road in Odessa when it’s pulled over and Monje is arrested.  He’s charged with Salmeron’s murder and held on $250,000 bond.

A Crane County Grand Jury capital murder indictment is issued mid December of 1981 for the murder of Elida Salmeron.  The family of Jose Monje retains Odessa lawyer Richard Alvarado to represent Monje.  A trial date is set and then pushed back and motions are filed ect… What’s important is that a motion to dismiss is filed based on lack of information and granted.  On May 10th, 1982, capital murder charges are formally dropped against Jose Monje who was jailed for more than six months based on lack of evidence.  Newly appointed Crane County District Attorney Mike Fostel is the one who made the request to District Court Judge James Clack that was granted.

Although no indication of rape was cited, (even though she’s unclothed and just wait till I tell you the rest) an autopsy revealed what appeared to be human bite marks on Salmeron’s right upper back.  A state crime lab is sent pubic hairs that are found on Salmeron’s body.  Pretty sure there was some kind of sexual assault people….

The teeth marks are talked about as being the main piece of evidence that swayed the decision to dismiss the charge due to lack of evidence.  A New Mexico odontologist’s findings noted that the dental model of Monje’s teeth proved “totally inconsistent” with the bite mark on the victims body (forensic dental odontology has since been debunked).  A lab supervisor for the crime lab in Austin said that the pubic hairs found on Salmeron were impossible to link to Monje.

Jose Monje doesn’t go free just because the charges linked to the murder of Elida Salmeron are dismissed.  No, this man who dodges a murder trial based on since debunk methods is transferred immediately to Lea County, in Hobbs New Mexico.  I used to live in Hobbs, in fact I went some elementary and all of my junior high years there in Hobbs.  I went to Broadmoor in case anyone else went to school there as well.   Anyway, so our friend is transferred to Lea County because he has warrants for his arrests in the murder and attempted murder of two men.  Allegedly Monje told Pablo Gonzales and Carlos Orosco that he was interested in  buying a pickup truck from one of them.  After directing the men to a remote ranching area five miles east of Lovington, he fired one shot with an unknown caliber gun into Gonzales’s head and then attempted to shoot and kill Orosco as well but the weapon misfired. Orosco was injured, however, when he jumped from the pickup.  A bullet was lodged underneath his scalp and he was treated by a nearby hospital.  Monje stole the vehicle and $1,000 as well from the men.

Just like he did in Elida Salmeron’s case, Monje plead innocent to the charges.

I don’t know if he ever went to trial for the case in New Mexico but I do know that no one was ever held accountable for the murder of Elida Salmeron.  She’s was taken home and buried in the Mt. Carmel Cemetery there in El Paso, Texas.  Her tombstone is a little mysterious to me, it’s the kind that’s made for husband and wife but her name is the only one on it, at least as of the date that the picture of it was taken, March 4th, 2020.  It is also inscribed with the words “JUNTOS SIEMPRE” which mean together forever.

Screenshot of grave marker
Screenshot of grave marker

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