Sadie Holmes has never given up hope that one day she will see her sister, Anthonette Cayedito, again. “If you love somebody, you hope for the best. You don’t expect the worse,” she said.1
On the 6th of April, 1986, 9-year-old Anthonette disappeared from her home in Arnold Circle in New Mexico where she lived with her mother, Penny, and her two sisters. Anthonette’s father, Larry Estrada, and her mother had split up and he didn’t live with the family any longer. When Penny awoke at 7AM, she found Anthonette to be missing. She initially presumed that she had joined a large group of neighbourhood children who were helping search for a missing dog. When she asked the search party, the children said they hadn’t seen Anthonette at all. At 8PM, Penny reported her daughter missing.
Penny told police that she had been out until 1AM that night at a local bar as a babysitter looked after her children. She said the last time she saw her daughter was at around 3AM, when the mother and daughter sat up in bed chatting. By 7AM, she was gone. Penny initially told the police that she believed her daughter was abducted. She said that Anthonette may have answered a knock at the door that night, adding that she wouldn’t have left with a stranger. Anthonette’s sister, Sadie, who was 8-years-old, said that she and Anthonettte had heard somebody knock on the door in the early morning hours. Neither girl recognized or responded to the man outside and both went back to bed. “Anthonette wouldn’t have opened the foor for someone she didn’t know,” said Anthonette’s father, Larry.
Sadie said she wasn’t sure what time it was at, but she heard another knock at the door later on. She said that Anthonette got up out of bed to see who was there but said that she went back to sleep. She was unable to describe the man who knocked at the door the first time and didn’t see who knocked at the door the second time. Could Anthonette have opened the door the second time and been abducted? It wouldn’t be until years later that this question was finally answered.
A search party was assembled and they searched across the city. Police brought in sniffer dogs but they were unable to pick up a scent. The first lead came the very next day when several neighbours said they saw a brown truck or van pull up in front of the house at around 3AM.
Missing person posters with Anthonette’s face were plastered all across the town. They were taped to cash registers and shop windows and included a photograph of Anthonette and a description of her physical appearance. Crimestoppers announced that they collected a $1,000 reward for anybody with any information into the girl’s disappearance and this reward fund would gradually increase as time went by.
While questioning children from the neighbourhood, one name kept resurfacing: Welsley Daniels. Several children relayed disturbing stories regarding Daniels and some neighbourhood boys. Daniels was arrested and charged with 12 felony sex crimes against four boys between the ages of 9 and 11. He was said to have been in the neighbourhood at the time Anthonette disappeared. He denied any involvement in her disappearance and investigators couldn’t find any evidence to indicate otherwise.
Larry, felt frustrated with the investigation early on and considered borrowing money to hire a private investigator. “I’ve got street people that aren’t friendly with the law. I figure I can get more information from the street right now. Maybe they can bring something to me. The word’s out.”2 Feeling as if they were gaining no traction, Penny hired a medicine woman to perform a psychic ceremony intended to elicit information about Anthonette’s fate. The woman told the family that she got the sense that Anthonette had been abducted and was being held again her will.
Christmas came and went with no fresh leads. The festive period was particularly hard on the family as Anthonette was born on Christmas day. They placed a photograph of Anthonette towards the top of the tree.
Almost a year to the date of the disappearance, police received a phone call from a girl who identified herself as Anthonette. She told the operator that she was in Albuquerque but before she got a chance to give an exact location, a scuffle could be heard in the background before a man swore into the receiver and asked who gave her permission to use the phone. In the background, another voice –possibly that of an elderly person – can be heard asking who is on the line. Afterwards, the line abruptly went dead.3
The phone call was automatically recorded and played to Anthonette’s family. All agreed that it was her voice. “I would know my baby’s voice anywhere,” her mother said.4 This gave the family hope that Anthonette was still alive and was being held against her will somewhere. “I don’t think they mean to harm her, I think they just don’t know how to give her back without getting into trouble,” said Penny. While the phone call was a glimmer of hope, investigators still didn’t have much evidence to go on. There were no demands or ransom and no contact other than that one phone call…
At around the same time as the phone call, police publicly stated that they hadn’t yet ruled out any family members as suspects. “My gut feeling is that some family members may not be telling us all they know,” said Gallup Police Detective Amon Hinshaw. They also revealed that police originally didn’t know that a number of people had been in and out of the Cayedito household the night before Anthonette disappeared. He also said that police had gathered other pieces of information that could have been provided by the family earlier.
Over the forthcoming years, local police and the FBI looked into hundreds of reported sightings of Anthonette filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “They come in every month from Florida, California, Nevada, Utah, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania…” said Gallup Police Detective Amon Hinshaw.
One promising reported sighting of Anthonette came from Nevada. According to a waitress, a man and woman came in with a young girl who she described as “unkempt.”5 As she was serving them, the young girl seemingly intentionally dropped her fork. When the waitress picked the fork up and placed it back on the table, the young girl grabbed her hand and squeezed it. After the man, woman, and girl left, the waitress went to clean the table and found writing on a napkin which read: “Please help me. Call the police.”6 By the time police arrived, the trio were long gone and they were never able to determine who the girl was.
It wouldn’t be until 1991 that some ground-breaking evidence came to light when Anthonette’s sister, Wendy, who was just 5-years-old at the time of the disappearance, told police that she remembered a man coming to the door that night. She told police that this man claimed he was an uncle and urged them to open to door. She said when Anthonette opened the door, she was grabbed and forced into his vehicle. Presumably, this was the second knock at the door that Sadie had heard as she lay in bed.
Over the past 32 years, investigators have tracked down every lead and reported sighting. As the years passed, the sightings became less frequent, probably in part because Anthonette would have aged significantly. Every couple of years, a more recent composite sketch showing what Anthonette could look like was progressed. They show what Athonette could have looked like as a teenager, a young adult and a woman well into her 40s.
Nevertheless, the whereabouts of Anthonette still remains unknown. While the case does still remain open, police confessed in 2017 that they haven’t received any new leads to pursue in years. They have long suspected that foul play was involved as now believe that Anthonette is likely dead. Her sister, Sadie, however likes to “imagine her being somewhere secluded with a sense of happiness. Maybe she has kids. She’s just trying to go on.”
In 2016, police announced that they believed Penny may have had more information into her daughter’s appearance than what she confessed. While police never revealed what made them come to this conclusion. They, did, however reveal that Penny had taken and failed a lie-detector test. If it was true that Penny knew more about her daughter’s disappearance than she let on, she took this information to the grave when she passed away in 1999.
Anyone with information regarding Anthonette’s case is urged to call the Gallup Police Department at (505) 863-9365.
- Gallup Independent, 5 April, 2014 – “After 28 Years, Girl’s Abduction Still a Mystery”
- Albuquerque Journal, 11 April, 1986 – “Police Have Leads”
- The Santa Fe New Mexican, 22 January, 1989 – “Broadcast Brings Leads in Abduction”
- Albuquerque Journal, 13 December, 1987 – “Anthonette, Where are you Now?”
- Albuquerque Journal, 6 April, 2016 – “Holding Out Hope for Girl who Vanished in Gallup 30 Years Ago”
- The Gallup Independent, 6 April, 2015 – “26 Years Later, Hope Remains Girl is Alive”