Evidence testing hits snag

Private investigator gets creative tracking leads in case of missing Taos woman, Holly White

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A wallet, a purse and a cell phone left on a bedside table; a blue Ford Escape deserted near the Río Grande Gorge Bridge; and later, a shoe found bobbing in the river below – these may be just a few of the personal belongings that Holly White, the former office manager for the Taos Center for the Arts, left behind when she went missing May 6, 2016.

But after a year-and-a-half without answers, none of White’s possessions have been tested for forensic evidence, which could provide clues in a case that only seems to grow colder and colder.

Elaine Graves, a private investigator who grew up in Taos, took up White’s case in August 2016 after she met with White’s father, Ray Alcott, who recently visited Taos to check on the status of the investigation into his missing daughter.

“It’s very difficult when someone disappears,” Alcott said. “Holly was always a happy, take-care-of-business kind of person. And that’s what makes this case so difficult. It just doesn’t make sense that she would disappear.”

Dead ends

On the morning she went missing, White was scheduled to take a walk with a close friend, Cynthia Arvidson, who operates the Habitat for Humanity Taos branch. White was about to make a move to Albuquerque, where she would take a new job and where her husband, Jeff White, waited for her. A farewell party was scheduled for her at the Taos Center for the Arts.

With Alcott, Graves has continued to review everything that has been compiled in the case to date, including multiple searches conducted around the gorge bridge parking lot, where White’s car had been discovered on May 5.

In the days immediately following White’s disappearance, New Mexico State Police and cadaver dogs fanned out into the sage-covered desert to search for White. Dive teams and river raft guides scoured the river and its banks, where suicide victims who have jumped from the gorge bridge have always been recovered, according to authorities.

But, save for the discovery of a woman’s shoe similar to a pair White was known to wear, none of the searches have led to a breakthrough in the case.

Graves has also covered a huge swath of Taos County conducting additional searches in suspicious areas – most recently a joint search on Taos Pueblo land to look for both White and Frankie Martin, an Arroyo Hondo man who had gone missing two weeks before White. Martin’s remains may have been discovered last month. (See related story, Page A1).

Searches for White have turned up possible clues, and Graves said that she is following a few leads, some of which are publicly known.

A black Toyota Solara with Colorado plates, for example, was allegedly spotted near White’s driveway on May 4. Graves has put out the call to find the vehicle. But none have led to a body or other piece of case-changing evidence.

As time has moved forward, however, Graves continues to eye the several pieces of evidence that have been there since the beginning, and according to her, could potentially change the case – if only she and Alcott can find a way to test the evidence.

Testing troubles

Graves has already made several attempts.

She encouraged the submission of some of White’s personal items to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety Forensic Lab to test for DNA or fingerprints. While fingerprint testing was conducted, her efforts to have items tested for DNA have been continually rejected based on a lack of probable cause to indicate that a crime was committed in the case, she said.

“It’s a brick wall that I’ve hit,” Graves said. “It’s extremely frustrating to both Ray and I, but that’s the law and there’s nothing that can be done about changing that.”

Lt. Elizabeth Armijo, a state police public information officer, said that any piece of evidence can be submitted for testing, but is either accepted or rejected by the lab “based on its relevance.”

“The case agent has been asked to check on certain things which will include DNA testing,” Armijo said. “We will check with the crime lab again to see if they will accept the items.”

While they wait, however, Graves and Alcott have begun vetting private testing facilities that have a similar ability to perform forensic tests, albeit at a much higher cost. “Any swab that’s taken, say, from a personal belonging – a car or something like that,” Graves said, “costs about $2,000.”

“There’s a lot of research to do,” Alcott said. “We’re not yet sure who we are going to go with.”

They have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for White’s case, including private forensic testing. The page can be accessed at bit.ly/2zovr0C.

Both Alcott and Graves are committed to finding White, and even after their professional relationship ends, Graves said she will never give up until she finds out what happened to her.

“If I have to, I’ll look for Holly for the rest of my life,” Graves said.

A $5,000 reward is still being offered for White’s safe return.

Information regarding the case can be submitted to State Police at (505) 454-5010.

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