Family seeks answers in death of Wilbert Archuleta

LOS SAUCES — The family of a 39-year-old Aurora man who went missing from Los Sauces on Aug. 14 and whose body turned up 5 weeks later wants answers about the circumstances of his death.

Wilbert Archuleta was last seen in the early morning of Aug. 14 while visiting his father, Anthony. On Aug. 17, Anthony reported his son missing to the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office. Two days later, investigators with CCSO and CBI came to the property, conducting an extensive search which revealed no signs of Archuleta. Their two-day search was subsequently suspended, at which time family members and friends of the missing man continued to search on their own through the following weeks, combing the area surrounding the house and beyond multiple times both on foot and using four-wheelers.

On Sept. 19, five weeks after the last time Archuleta was seen and just thirty minutes into their search that day, 28-year-old Cory Tongen, Wilbert Archuleta’s nephew, discovered his skeletal remains with his clothing, still intact and relatively clean, scattered over roughly a twenty-yard area.

The spot where the remains were discovered was approximately a quarter mile from Archuleta’s father’s house, the last place he had been seen, and in a location that, according to Eli Lucero, Archuleta’s cousin, family and friends had searched many times, including just a few days before.

The remains were identified as Wilbert Archuleta on Sept. 25.

The spot where Archuleta was discovered is also roughly a half mile from where, just two months later, human remains of three other people were uncovered. Two of those individuals have been identified, leading to the district attorney charging Adre Baroz with two counts of First Degree Murder.

On Feb. 12, Conejos County Sheriff Garth Crowther told the Valley Courier that its investigation into Wilbert Archuleta’s death was closed, which came as a blow to the family.

“The case is closed at this time,” Crowther said. “We are always willing to look into new things and if we find a need to reopen the case, we will do so.”

On Feb. 17, Susan Medina, Communications Director with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told the Valley Courier “it is still an active investigation”. Sheriff Crowther subsequently corrected himself. “I misspoke when I said Wilbert’s case was closed. It is still open at this time.”

Medina further states that there is no connection between the death of Wilbert Archuleta and the discovery of the human remains of three people found within a half mile of each other in the remote community with a population of less than 100 people.

“Based on the preliminary investigation, the CBI and the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office can confirm there does not appear to be a connection to the Adre Baroz case involving the human remains in the San Luis Valley.”

The family remains convinced that foul play was involved in Archuleta’s death.

“He called me at 6:30 in the morning on that last day,” says Rita Applegate, Archuleta’s mother who lives in Aurora. “He sounded very shaky and upset and told me he wanted to come home.” Archuleta was scheduled to stay for another four days before returning to Aurora.

Eli Lucero questions the sudden appearance of Wilbert’s remains. “We searched that area multiple times, starting the same day he was reported missing. Somebody was out there every day looking for him. There weren’t ever any birds – the birds are always first when something has died -- and we never saw any birds around. We never smelled anything, either. And then, suddenly, his remains show up? In that same place? And why were his clothes like that, with his boxers still inside his jeans and the material not torn apart or anything?”

“We do not have any information to believe foul play was involved in his death,” says Sheriff Crowther. “I know there has been a lot of talk about Wilbert after the Los Sauces investigation was opened.  But as of right now we do not have any information that ties Wilbert to any of that case.  We are always open to new information and keep an open mind.  If someone feels they have information or witnessed something pertaining to Wilbert we ask that they please get the info to us.”   

Meanwhile, as more than half a year has passed since Wilbert Archuleta was first reported missing, his family continues to hope for closure in a loss that has left them with more questions than answers.