DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR
TAOS, New Mexico — Though Naomi Chaney’s apparent death occurred almost 700 miles from the Highland Lakes, its impact wasn’t lost over the distance.
“She was a smart, very intelligent girl,” said Buster Hopkins, who graduated with Chaney from Marble Falls High School in 1998. “She was kind of a free spirit, but she was a really sweet person. It’s terrible what happened to her.”
On May 4, New Mexico State Police charged Albert Gene Hunsaker III, 32, with the murder of Chaney. He is one of two men authorities have implicated in the 36-year-old woman’s death. But investigators have not found her body as of May 10.
Friends reported Chaney missing as of Feb. 1, and nothing has surfaced from her since that date. An April 29 murder in California of another woman from the area in Taos County known as the Mesa actually turned investigators’ attention to Hunsaker and his alleged accomplice in Chaney’s disappearance.
Imperial County (California) investigators arrested Clayton Vincent Jones, 40, within minutes of him allegedly shooting to death Shalon Lee Gheen, 39, in Slab City, an off-the-grid community outside Niland. Authorities said Jones and the woman were arguing according to witnesses when Jones allegedly shot and killed Gheen.
While interviewing Jones about the shooting, he confessed to murdering Chaney, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The document also stated that Jones named Hunsaker as his accomplice in Chaney’s murder.
On May 4, New Mexico State Police searched a rugged area southwest of Taos, which is in northern New Mexico, for Chaney’s body. Jones drew a map of where he recalled leaving her body, according to a New Mexico arrest warrant affidavit.
Authorities were unable to find the woman’s body, but investigators did locate Hunsaker that day and took him into custody.
During an interview conducted by New Mexico State Police agents Jessie M. Whittaker and William Terrazas, Hunsaker admitted to playing a part in Chaney’s murder, according to the affidavit.
Hunsaker told investigators that Jones arrived at his house on Jan. 30 in the Carson Estates area located southwest of Taos. Chaney was already in Jones’ vehicle at the time. The three apparently had drinks before Jones drove the three of them to an area near the Petaca River, where Jones first allegedly tried to kill Chaney. Hunsaker told investigators he had stayed in the vehicle at this point, according to the affidavit.
Hunsaker told the investigators Jones hadn’t been able to kill the woman, returned with Chaney to the vehicle and drove the three of them down into some sage brush. This time, according to the affidavit, Jones coerced Hunsaker to help him kill Chaney by choking her with a “wench wire” from the Jeep.
The two men left Chaney’s body in the sage brush, the affidavit stated.
Hunsaker told the two New Mexico investigators that Jones told him if he didn’t help him kill Chaney then Jones would kill him and his family.
“He continued and stated he was thinking about himself at the time and that he should have stopped Clayton Jones,” agent Whittaker wrote in the arrest warrant affidavit for Hunsaker.
Hunsaker took investigators to the area he believed Chaney’s body was, but authorities still could not locate it because it was getting dark.
Jones and Gheen apparently traveled together from Taos County to California. Chaney and Gheen knew each other through their Facebook pages.
Jones is being held in the Imperial County Jail on charges related to the killing of Gheen. As of May 9, New Mexico authorities hadn’t filed charges against Jones, but the investigation is still underway.
Hunsaker is being held in the Taos County Jail on murder and tampering with evidence charges.
In Marble Falls, Hopkins admitted he hadn’t really heard much from Chaney since graduation, but when he did, it was still the same Chaney he recalled from high school.
“You know, she did post some nice comments about a picture of my family,” he said. “That’s just the way she was — very sweet and nice. She definitely didn’t deserve what happened.”