Kaitlyn Arquette

Kaitlyn Arquette, 18, was murdered in Albuquerque on July 16, 1989. Albuquerque police dubbed the shooting a “random drive-by” and refused to investigate any other possibility.  The case has never been solved.

Kait’s family believes she was killed because she was a potential Whistle Blower.  In the months directly preceding her murder, Kait was in a position to have gained information about a number of illegal activities involving dangerous and corrupt individuals.  Among those activities were the following:

          Asian Crime in New Mexico and California

          Drug Smuggling

          Drug Activities Involving New Mexico VIPs

          Police Corruption

At 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 16, 1989, Kaitlyn Arquette, 18, of Albuquerque, NM, who had recently graduated from high school and gotten her own apartment, stopped by her parents’ home en route to visit a new girlfriend, Sharon Smith. Kait told her parents that Sharon had invited her for dinner and had given her written directions to show the route to take to her house in Old Town.

Kait also said that she was breaking up with her live-in Vietnamese boyfriend, Dung Ngoc Nguyen, and if he called trying to find her, not to say where she was. When Kait left Sharon’s home at 10:45 p.m., driving east on Lomas Blvd. in the direction of her parents’ house, she was shot twice in the head.  Her car jumped the median and came to rest against a pole at the intersection of Lomas and Arno Streets.  Kait survived 20 hours in a coma and died the next evening.

Kait left Sharon Smith’s house at about 10:40 p.m., driving east on Lomas in the direction of her parents’ house.  There are so many contradictory accounts of the scene that all anybody seems to know for certain is that she ended up with two bullet holes in her head.  There were no exit wounds, and the bullets were not found in her body.  There was also a bullet hole in the door frame of her car.  That bullet was never found either.  Her car crossed the median and came to rest on the sidewalk east of the intersection of Lomas and Arno Streets.

Map Of Crime Scene

The first officer at the scene, violent crimes detective Ronald Merriman, (not in uniform–just passing by) observed two vehicles parked on the sidewalk, Kait’s red Ford Tempo and a second vehicle (later determined to be a VW Bug). He also saw a man (later determined to be Paul Apodaca), standing next to Kait’s car. Merriman drove past the vehicles while he radioed in to ask about an accident (none reported).  He called in a report of an accident with no injuries and returned to the scene to investigate.

It was then that he discovered an unconscious, blood-drenched girl, lying across both front seats of the Ford.

The first officer dispatched to the scene, Mary Ann Wallace, arrived within 40 seconds.  Wallace observed only one vehicle on the sidewalk — Kait’s Ford Tempo, with Merriman standing behind it, chatting with Apodoca.  Merriman told her the driver of the Ford had been injured in a traffic accident and he had called for an ambulance.  (No record has been found of such a call.)  Wallace took one look at the bullet-shattered driver’s window, recognized that this was a crime scene, and radioed the station for back-up.  Neither Wallace nor Merriman took any information from Apodaca other than his name and an incorrect phone number.  To this day, no police officer has ever interviewed Apodaca.  Nor have police questioned the disappearance of his VW Bug between the time Merriman saw it parked next to Kait’s car and the time Wallace arrived.

Merriman and Wallace have stated that, accompanied by Apodaca, they opened the passenger’s door of Kait’s vehicle and observed a girl sprawled across the two seats, bleeding profusely from the head.  Wallace noted that the victim was “moaning and crying.”

Merriman, Wallace, and Apodaca, then, left the scene.  The medics with Albuquerque Ambulance, who transported Kait to the hospital, have stated in individual affidavits that they responded to a routine 10-44 call to find no cops, no police cars, no bystanders, just Kait alone in her car, unconscious and bleeding from two head wounds.

Reports by Merriman and Wallace indicate that they were there when rescue arrived.   Merriman has specifically stated that he couldn’t interview Paul Apodaca, because he “had to stay with the victim.”  Yet, according to the rescue team, he did NOT “stay with the victim.”  Officer Wallace has stated that Merriman told her not to interview Apodaca, because he had already done so, and she busied herself “directing traffic.” Yet, according to the rescue team, she was NOT directing traffic.  The medical team has stated that they almost missed the scene, because there were no police cars and there was nobody there to wave them over.

Police maintain that Kait was chased down on Lomas and shot twice in the head at a stoplight at the corner of Lomas and John streets. Her car then proceeded to travel 719 feet, cross two traffic lanes, bump over the median, cross three more lanes, go up onto the sidewalk past the Arno intersection, and crash into a light pole.  They say the location of the shooting was defined by a large pile of broken glass at Lomas and John.  However, there is nothing to document the existence of that glass.  It was not gathered up as evidence, nor was it photographed.

The Arquette family and their investigators speculate that the crime scene may have been altered before investigators got there.  APD criminalistics arrived late because they had been at a police shooting.  According to their report, they were met at the scene by Sgt. John B. Gallegos. Much of the content of the criminalistic report apparently was based upon information from Gallegos rather than personal observations.  Sgt. Gallegos was reportedly one of the rogue cops who partied at the chop shop on Arno one-half block north of the crime scene. He has since been fired from APD for burglarizing a liquor store while on duty.

Since bullets and casings were never found, there is no way to determine if the small caliber bullets that shattered in Kait’s head were of the same caliber as the bullet that struck the door frame of her car.  The size of the hole in the door frame seems to suggest otherwise.

A Second Opinion:

In 2003, after reviewing copies of APD reports, forensic reports, scene photos, etc. a member of the Bernallilo County Cold Case Squad, (not to be confused with the APD Cold Case Squad who have no interest in the case), came up with the following interpretation of the crime scene:

On the basis of review of available material in the matter of the death of Kaitlyn Arquette, the following observations are made:

1) This was not a random drive-by shooting

2) The shooting occurred after Kaitlyn’s vehicle had struck the utility pole

3) The accuracy of the shots suggests they were fired at a very close range, at a non-moving target.

4) Had the shooting taken place while victim’s car was in motion, it would have veered to the right of the roadway due to the left-to-right camber of the pavement.  Also, the victim’s falling to the right would have turned the steering wheel in that direction if she was grasping the steering wheel at the time of shooting.

5) Damage to the left end of the rear bumper suggests the rear of her vehicle was struck and pushed to the right by a second vehicle which veered her car across the median and into the utility pole.

 6) This shooting was intentional and Ms. Arquette was the specific target.

The day after the shooting, while Kait’s family was at the hospital, waiting for her to die, one of Kait’s friends informed them that Dung was a member of an Asian crime ring that Kait was in a position to expose.  This now has been confirmed.

One of the many activities this group was involved in was car wreck insurance fraud.  Dung and his friends from Albuquerque would fly to Orange County, CA, rent or steal cars, and then stage wrecks, claiming fake injuries.  The participants would be paid $1,500; doctors, lawyers and paralegals would rake in the Big Money.  Dung has confessed to staging two such wrecks, one of which Kait witnessed, and told investigators that he knew of up to 20 other people in Albuquerque who were also involved.  APD did not even take the names of those people and did not inform the insurance companies or law enforcement in California.

Several members of Dung’s group have also been identified as interstate drug dealers and participants in a racket to steal and sell computer chips.  No statements were ever taken from any of those suspects.

Dung has since identified An Quoc Le, his alibi friend for the night of the shooting, as a participant in the car wreck scam.  He has also identified the insurance fraud capper in California as An Quoc Le’s cousin, Bao Tran, housemate of a convicted arsonist, Hong Phuc Duy Van.  Both men were employed at the law office of Minh Nguyen Duy/ aka Minh Bui Nguyen/ aka Duy Minh Nguyen, an attorney in Orange County who specializes in auto accident and personal injury cases. His partner was Scott Gentilly. Kait’s final phone bill showed calls to Bao Tran, made from her apartment as soon as she was pronounced dead.


The John Cooke Insurance Fraud Report, a national trade paper for fraud investigators, responded to Kait’s story with a full-page article titled “The Case That Will Not Go Away”:

Sept.-Oct., 1996: “Kait’s web site offers a tremendous amount of information that has been painstakingly gathered by the Arquette family during their unrelenting seven-year search. It asks tough questions and points a finger at a potential cover-up that extends far beyond what was originally thought possible.

“Recent investigation has turned up evidence that the staged auto accident players may also be involved in drug trafficking, stolen cars and stolen computer chips. Connected insurance fraud activity has turned up in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, Albuquerque, El Paso, Houston, Dallas and Kansas City.”


Kait Arquette had recently been promoted to clothing manager at Pier One Imports at Fair Plaza in Albuquerque.  Kait’s new job entailed placing orders for and unpacking clothing from the Orient.  Kait’s boyfriend, Dung Nguyen, and his Vietnamese friends would routinely stop by Pier One, and Dung would run in, allegedly to speak to Kait.  He would also sometimes stop to speak to Sharon Smith, (the woman who invited Kait to dinner on the night of her death), who ran a snow cone business in front of Pier One.

A co-worker has contacted Kait’s family with information that heroin was being channeled through Pier One in shipments of merchandise.  Those shipments arrived by UPS and did not come through the warehouse in Texas.

The heroin shipments apparently were being intercepted by someone at Pier One before the boxes left the back room.  However, on one occasion a shipment slipped by and was accidentally set out to be unpacked by employees who were stocking the shelves.  Kait’s co-worker discovered that shipment and reported it to the FBI.

Example of Asian Heroin

This information was not made public.  However, shortly thereafter, the manager was fired and replaced by someone from the home office. Two weeks later, Kait was murdered.

Kait’s family wonders if the smugglers thought Kait was the person who reported the heroin and that she would be on the lookout for future shipments.

Right after Kait’s funeral, Sharon Smith applied for Kait’s job.  Sharon’s boyfriend, Ray Bowes, (who has since spent time in prison), also applied for a job there, unpacking boxes.  The pair worked for a couple of weeks and then abruptly stopped coming to work.  They didn’t even pick up their paychecks.  Kait’s family wonders if they were there to receive one final shipment.

Kait’s next door neighbor told the APD case investigator that he saw Kait followed from her apartment by a VW bug.

The first person on record as having been at the crime scene was a man named Paul Apodaca.  Apodaca was driving a VW bug.

When Violent Crimes Detective Ronald Merriman and Officer Mary Ann Wallace arrived at the scene, Apodaca was already there, standing next to Kait’s car.  His VW Bug was not in evidence.  Apparently someone had taken off in the VW and left him there when they realized police were arriving.

Police did not take a statement from Apodaca and allowed him to leave the scene without even getting his address, despite the fact that Apodaca had a long record of violent crime, including several vicious attacks upon women.

In 1995, the Arquettes’ private investigator was able to locate Apodaca and interviewed him in jail where he was awaiting sentencing for kidnapping and raping his 14-year-old stepsister.  His stated reason for doing that was to get sent to prison so he could protect a younger brother who was serving 45 years for murder.

Apodaca admitted to being at Kait’s scene that night, and told the P.I. that he was driving a VW bug, the same make car that witnesses saw fleeing the crime scene.  When the P.I. asked him who drove the VW away, he became very nervous and insisted that nobody was with him.

Apodaca stated his reason for being in the neighborhood that night was to buy drugs from his dealer, Lee Padilla.  Lee Padilla is the brother of an APD undercover narcotics officer, who was a friend of Mary Ann Wallace, the first officer dispatched to the scene.  The following year, when Apodaca was arrested for shooting a victim from his VW Bug, he tried to get off by presenting ID that showed him to be Lee Padilla.

Apodaca lived next door to – and hung out at — a Mom and Pop convenience store and launderette that was frequented by An Quoc Le, (the Albuquerque control man for the Vietnamese car wreck scam and Dung Nguyen’s alibi for the night of Kait’s shooting.)

Witnesses on Arno Street, one block north of the crime scene, reported hearing gun shots  and looking out their window to see a beige VW bug with more than one person in it come tearing up the street and pull into the lot next door to their house.  Then, the driver turned off his headlights and, after a few moments, drove slowly back down Arno in the direction from which he had come.

That lot next door was the location of an auto body shop, which was an alleged chop shop for stolen vehicles.  According to a private investigator who had the shop under surveillance for an unrelated reason, many of the people who supplied those cars were Vietnamese. It was also a hangout for rogue cops who partied there after hours.  One of those cops has been identified as APD Officer Matt Griffin, the “Ninja Bandit,” who was arrested one week before Kait’s death and found guilty of multiple bank robberies and the murder of a witness. His accomplices were never identified.  A mole in the Police Department has told a private investigator that two members of Dung’s  Vietnamese group were stealing get-away cars for Griffin.

Other APD officers who partied at that shop have since been convicted of other felonies.  One of those cops was the supervisor of Internal Affairs.  That particular cop was a field officer involved in the investigation of Kait’s shooting.

That same automotive body shop was later raided, for an unrelated reason, by the F.B.I.; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; APD; and the Department of Public Safety. Guns were confiscated, and the owners’ son was arrested for drug dealing.  The owner has stated that he knew Kait.

Why is the information about the VW bug important?  Because the people in that car were fleeing the crime scene and probably trying to take refuge in the fenced area behind the chop shop.  (The gate was locked that night, and they couldn’t get in.)  Paul Apodaca, the first person at Kait’s scene, was driving a VW Bug.  Dung’s alibi friend, An Quoc Le, owned a VW Bug.  And neighbors at Kait’s apartment complex reported Dung and his friends spray painting a beige VW bug black in the parking lot of the complex the day after Kait died.  (They reported it to the apartment manager, because the black paint was spattering their cars.)  The investigating officer’s field notes identity a witness who saw Kait followed from her apartment that night by a VW Bug. (That information was withheld from the case file.)

A witness, who drove past the scene immediately after the shooting, saw an unidentified uniformed officer in a marked car, standing at the open driver’s door of Kait’s car, at a time before Det. Merriman, the first officer at the scene, ever got there.  Merriman, who was off duty and out of uniform, has stated that he did not go to the driver’s side of Kait’s car.

Kait’s family wants to know the identity of this “mystery cop,” what he was doing at the scene, and why he didn’t report the shooting?