(The drainage tunnels near where Abel Bolanos died in March 2007 contain several distinct graffiti tags, including two "Smiley Faces," in a monkey's nose and in the letter "D," but nothing about the symbols was overtly referential to Bolanos or any of the other drownings.)
'Smiley Face' detectives investigated Bolanos' death; Local officials and FBI dismiss the serial killer theory
By Luke Jennett , Staff Writer
The drainage tunnels near where Abel Bolanos died in March 2007 contain several distinct graffiti tags, including two “Smiley Faces,” in a monkey’s nose and in the letter “D,” but nothing about the symbols was overtly referential to Bolanos or any of the other drownings.
A group of retired detectives and academics who have suggested that 40 drowning deaths in 11 states are the work of a group of serial killers had previously been in Ames investigating the death of Abel Bolanos.
Bolanos drowned in March 2007 in Lake LaVerne on the Iowa State University campus. Reports say Bolanos was last seen at a party on North Hyland Avenue on March 31, which he left at 4 a.m. He was found April 3 by a dive team after a three-day search.
It's unknown whether Bolanos is one of the 40 names on the list of supposed drownings the group claims are "clearly homicides and linked to each other," according to a press release. However, according to ISU's Department of Public Safety Police Division, the same group was in town a few weeks ago to speak with a patrol supervisor about the case, which one of them last year told The Tribune fit the profile of the supposed serial killings.
Local police and county officials have rejected the idea Bolanos' death was anything but an accidental drowning and say the group has never spoken to the local investigator in charge of the case or seen any of the primary investigative materials collected by police.
On Monday, the group, "Nationwide Investigations," appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and held a press conference in New York City with several of the victim's families, asking for help from the FBI to investigate the suspected murders.
The group's theory is that a gang of organized killers murder college-aged men and stage drownings to avoid capture. The group recently announced it believes the alleged gang leaves graffiti tags near the locations of the bodies, often a "Smiley Face" insignia.
The drainage tunnels near where Bolanos died contain several distinct graffiti tags, including two "Smiley Faces," but nothing about the symbols was overtly referential to Bolanos or any of the other drownings.
Following the Nationwide Investigations media appearances this week, the FBI issued a press release saying its investigators had reviewed the evidence presented by the group and not found anything connecting the deaths or indicating the involvement of a serial killer or killers.
Nationwide Investigations is made up of two former New York Police Department detectives, Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte; a professor from St. Cloud State University, Lee Gilbertson; and a graduate student from the same college, Adam Carlson. The group has claimed to have uncovered evidence connecting 40 alleged accidental drownings in 11 states. It reportedly has asked the FBI to investigate the matter.
Bolanos is thought to have drowned while highly intoxicated - a trait the group says is common among all the victims.
Abel Bolanos' sister, Marivelle Bolanos, said she has never spoken to any of the investigators but has heard about the story on television. However, the family does believe there are unanswered questions related to Abel Bolanos' death and has offered a reward for information about the case.
Marivelle Bolanos said she plans to contact the investigators in the future and would like to donate money to their investigation. News reports mentioned that the group had "run out of money," after financing the investigation itself.
"I was just making notes yesterday of the things we still have questions on," she said. "We are not 100 percent sure of what happened."
From a police perspective, however, the case has been closed on Bolanos' death. Gene Deisinger, the ISU police captain who acted as the case agent in charge of investigating the incident, said the evidence in the case points firmly to an accidental drowning, a conclusion based upon the results of the state medical examiner's investigation.
"You always have to be driven by the evidence in a case like this, and it was the observation of those of us in investigations that worked the case that there was nothing about the situation or Abel's body that indicated that he died as a result of an intentional attack," Deisinger said. "I cannot say that he was not assaulted. I can only say that there was no evidence to indicate that he was assaulted."
Moreover, Deisinger said, if the group had investigated Bolanos' death, it had done so without speaking to him or reviewing any of the primary investigation materials. And if it had uncovered any gang signs or tags connecting Bolanos' death to the others, it hadn't shared them with police.
Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes said he also was aware of the group's theory and had heard it as connected to Bolanos' death, but had dismissed it as nothing more than a stretch for sensationalism's sake.
"I think it's terrible to tout this kind of thing," he said. "To me, this is junk science or sensationalism. It's not real police work."
A Tribune reporter accompanied the group around Ames last summer was it knocked on doors, walked the path around Lake LaVerne and even entered a drainage pipe to look for strange tags or symbols. At the time, Gilbertson was quoted as saying Bolanos was a perfect fit for the profile of a victim of the alleged serial killer group.
According to Tribune reports, the two detectives spent more than an hour in the drainage tunnels near Lake LaVerne searching for tags.
Phone calls and e-mail messages to the group this week have not been returned.
Luke Jennett can be reached at 232-2161, Ext. 343, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(this picture was also taken, by one of the investigators, at the same scene in the same tunnel)