The family of a Douglas woman murdered in 1986 continues to search for answers in an unsolved cold case.
Irma Patricia “Pati” Alvarez Almada was found by neighbors in her Coronado Courts apartment the afternoon of Aug. 18, 1986. According to an article that ran in the Douglas Dispatch, the 24-year-old mother of two, had been strangled and stabbed. One of her sons who was just nine-months old, was home when when her body was found. Despite there being several suspects in the case, no arrests have ever been made. Her sister, Cecilia Becerra, said Pati had also been sexually assaulted and was 12-weeks pregnant at the time.
Family and friends were in Douglas on Sunday, Aug. 18 for a memorial Mass that marked the 33rd anniversary of Pati’s murder. The Mass was followed by a graveside memorial. The next day family members met with Douglas police chief Kraig Fullen to discuss the cold case and see what could be done to get it solved. They were informed that the files for her sister’s case had been damaged and are incomplete.
Becerra said she recently began having dreams about her sister which prompted her to request the meeting.
“About a month ago I felt this feeling in my body that I needed to do something for her,” she said. “This is what I believe she would have wanted me to do. This is why I made this trip to Douglas. For me and the family, it makes it more important that we continue with this mission and work together as a family, along with the media and hopefully the police department can also participate and give us some answers so that we all can rest. My mother is getting elderly and she deserves to know what happened to her daughter. I want to know what happened to my sister.”
Becerra says she vividly remembers the day she got the dreadful news.
“I was living in Tucson,” she said. “My brother called me and gave me the news that they had found my sister murdered. I fell to the floor crying. I laid there for hours. We were very close. When I moved away to Tucson, she came and stayed with me a while and I told her I was going to move her here. That was July of 1986. In August of 1986, is when she was murdered so I was never given the chance to move her to Tucson with her two boys. She was a single mom to those boys. I feel guilt about that; that I should have been there more for her.”
At the time of the homicide, the late Alvaro Fragoso was the chief of the DPD, and Becerra was working for a private investigation firm in Tucson. After seeing what wasn’t being done by the DPD, Becerra and her firm came to Douglas and began looking for people to interview.
“We tried to work with the police department and that didn’t work out,” Becerra said. “We were not able to get any answers as to who were the suspects and why weren’t these suspects being interrogated. We went to see Mr. Fragoso who refused to see me. He did send his police officers to escort us out of town. We were not able to come back and ask any questions to anyone otherwise we would be arrested. All I wanted was some answers and for them to work with me and give me some information so we could have a little bit of consolation.”
Chief Fullen, who has been with the department since 1997 and chief since 2012, was 10-years-old at the time, does not remember Almada’s murder.
“This is considered a cold case,” he said. “The family’s call is what revitalized us looking into the case. I was not aware of the case until the call from the family came in. That’s what prompted us to look for information on the case. Unfortunately, that’s when we determined a portion of the case file is missing. The actual case file itself is missing. We did locate items of evidence that were taken in the case. We do have those. I don’t have a definitive answer as to what happened to the case file. I’m told that we had our basement flooded in 1995 and that a number of police records were impacted by that. Unfortunately, to my knowledge there wasn’t a log of what cases were involved. I can’t definitively say that this case was one of those. I just know we have not located the case file.”
The chief says he understands and appreciates the frustration of Pati’s family.
“I’m equally frustrated because I’m being asked for answers that I don’t have,” he said. “I’ve told the family in this case the property in evidence that we do have and the ability to go back and talk to some folks that may have been involved in this case will give us an opportunity to see what from this case that we can salvage without making a promise. I don’t want to commit (to) a promise when I don’t know where this path might lead.
“We’re glad that they called us; that they brought this to our attention. We can take a look at their case for them as well as see what other cases were affected (by the flood). It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances and we’ll do what we can to bring some sort of closure to this family without making a commitment that we can definitively do that. We will follow through on what we have available to us.”
Becerra described her meeting with the chief as “very disturbing, frustrating. I believe there are other cases that were either damaged or destroyed. That’s also news for the community they need to be aware of. We relied on the files to be archived. These should have been transferred on to digital CD’s. Along with my sister’s files I’m sure there are other files that are also missing and that’s very unfortunate.”
Asked about retrieving records in the wake of the flooding of the basement, the chief said by not having a case log it’s hard to say what other case files are damaged or missing.
“It’s going to be an inquiry basis of those families that were impacted by those cases because I don’t know specific case numbers or what time frame for those cases that were involved,” he said. “There could be more. We will go back and do an inventory of our records from our record logs to see if we can make a determination as to what other cases were affected.”
Becerra said, “My mission is to get some answers, to get the lab results from DPS, the coroner’s report, the police report. There is some physical evidence that we might be able to link and connect and work with. I do feel in my heart Pati is with me and that she is going to give me the support that I need to help me go forward with my mission and that is to connect the murderer with the physical evidence hopefully through DNA. And if we have to start over interviewing whatever people we remember then that’s what we shall do. This is a mission that I have and do not plan to stop until we finally get some answers, because we’ve never had any answers”
Roger Rodriguez is now the lead detective on this case. Anyone who may have any information is urged to call (520) 417-7506.