The events that took place on February 10th 1990, in Las Cruces, New Mexico were so horrific, that day has remained a black spot marring the town’s history for over 30 years. It was close to 8 am when Steven Teran walked into Las Cruces Bowl with his two daughters Valerie (2) and Paula (6). Teran was unable to find a babysitter for the day, and instead planned to drop the girls off at the alley’s internal daycare. What he stumbled on that day in the bowling alley would end up costing him and his daughters their lives.
Seeing no one upon entering the alley Teran made his way to Stephanie Senacs (the manager of the bowling alley) office, and unfortunately walked right into a crime scene. By 8:30 a.m. 2 people were dead, and 5 more had been shot. Harrowing witness testimony helped piece together the events that took place in the bowling alley, pointing the police in the direction of 2 nameless suspects.
Although some of the people inside Las Cruces Bowl that day survived the attack, no one involved in the terrifying incident would walk away unchanged by what they experienced. Among the victims were Stephanie Senac (34) and her daughter Melissa Repass (12), and Melissa’s friend Amy Houser (13). Ida Holguin, who also worked at Las Cruces Bowl, was in the kitchen preparing lunch when she heard the men come in. She thought the 2 men were there to help clean, but soon realized they had other plans. Miraculously, after the 2 men fled the scene Melissa Repass, though having been shot in the head, was still able to call 911. Authorities soon arrived on scene and were shocked by what they found. Even though Melissia and Ida were able to provide police with a detailed description of their assailants and multiple agencies joined forces to set up roadblocks on all roads leading out of Las Cruces, the suspects were never caught. Thirty-one years later the case remains unsolved.
“Please hurry, it hurts. I’m the only one conscious … I’m holding my mommy,” -Melissia Repass
According to witness testimonies, the 2 men entered the bowling alley, quickly rounded everyone up, and forced them into Senac’s office at gunpoint. The gunmen then lined up the seven victims on the floor in the office and shot each of them in the head multiple times at close range, firing a total of 25 times. Between $4,000 and $5,000 was also stolen from a safe, and before making their exit the men set fire to the office. At exactly 8:33 a.m. Melissa managed to get to a phone and call for help. In the 911 call Melissa tells the operator that seven people had been shot, quickly gave them the address, and was calm enough to let them know that the victims were in the office engulfed in flames.
(What a bad ass honestly. This girl got shot in the head and was still able to get help for everyone while bleeding out from a serious head injury. I hope she’s doing okay. If you’d like to listen to the audio from the 911 call it’s linked below. Please be warned it’s hard to listen to. https://soundcloud.com/crucessunnews/las-cruces-bowling-alley-massacre-911-call-full-audio/s-UcdOX)
Officers responded to the bowling alley and soon discovered that Amy Houser, Paula Holguin, and Steven Teran were all dead. Valerie Teran was taken to Memorial General Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. Thanks to her 911 call, Melissa was able to save her mother and Ida Holguin. Senac, who initially survived the attack and moved away from Las Cruces, actually passed away 9 years later as a result of her injuries from the shooting.
Chuck Franco, a Detective with the Las Cruces Police Department was one of the first to arrive. Even as a seasoned detective he was immediately overwhelmed by the brutality of the scene. Three of the victims were dead, and the others were in various states of distress. According to Franco, his first thought was “What kind of animal could do this to kids?” . Det. Rose Marquez-Maese, another first responder, initially thought it was a drill. Her illusions were soon shattered when she found the lifeless bodies of the victims, some of which were young children.
“My first thought was what kind of animal could do this to kids” -Chuck Franco
Looking at the evidence we do have detailed witness descriptions of the 2 men. They were described as: 1 young Hispanic man, 29 or 30, 5-feet- 10-inches tall, weighing 170 pounds, with dark wavy hair, light-colored eyes and no accent when he spoke. And 1 older Hispanic man described as 45 or 50, 5-feet 7-inches tall, weighing about 140 pounds, with thinning salt and pepper hair, a dark complexion and a slight Spanish accent. Sketches of the 2 men were rendered in both 1990 and again in 2005 to show age progression. They were also said to be driving a tan or green van or utility vehicle, though it was never found. There was one other witness that came forward, who was across the street on a ladder painting a building at the time. He told police that he saw two men crossing Amador Avenue and running south. Detectives were able to lift some fingerprints from the bowling alley but no DNA was recovered at the scene. The gun used to shoot the victims was a .22-caliber pistol, it too was never recovered. Police received hundreds of tips, but unfortunately none of them have panned out. Even with the help of helicopters and planes from the U.S. Customs, Army, and Border Patrol, the suspects were never located. There was some discussion surrounding compromised evidence as a result of the fire extinguishers that were used to put out the fire. It’s also been said that by dragging the bodies out of the alley, to see if anyone was still alive, the first responders may have degraded evidence inadvertently, even if it was clearly the right thing to do at the time. They needed to save anyone they could and needed to act fast.
In the case of the Las Cruces bowling alley massacre there’s really only one theory, with a few variations. We know that there were 2 suspects, we know the 2 stole money from the safe, and we know they murdered 3 people in cold blood before setting the bowling alley ablaze that cool saturday morning. Because we have eyewitness testimony little has been left to the imagination. The motive for these crimes however, remains open to speculation. Some have proposed that the crime could have been motivated by revenge against Ronald C. Senac, Stephanie’s father, who owned the bowling alley at the time. But from what I could find the only evidence that points to this theory is that Senac wasn’t very cooperative when questioned by police. Franco believes the gunmen were professionals based on the type of weapon they used, how the victims were shot, and because the suspects tried to get rid of evidence with fire (a common practice of professional criminals). Franco also thinks the shooting was possibly meant to send a message. At first it was thought that the shooters were from Las Cruces, but based on evidence the detectives working the case came to the hypothesis that the 2 men were actually from out of state, and were brought to Las Cruces for a job.
Where We Stand Now
Despite new evidence the case remains unsolved. Detective Franco hopes, along with everyone else involved, that this horrible crime will one day be solved. Last year Las Cruces police detectives announced a $30,000 reward for information and have since received dozens of new tips related to the crime. This is the largest reward of it’s kind in U.S. history and will hopefully go a long way towards helping police apprehend their suspects. Detective Martinez, who is currently the lead detective on the case said he has spent countless hours on this case, exploring every lead and pouring over the evidence, even sending new evidence to the crime lab in Santa Fe on a regular basis. Marquez-Maese who was also on scene the day of the massacre, says she thinks about that day often and knows it still affects the other detectives as well. Ida Holguin, who survived the attack that day, remained skeptical when asked about the crime on the 30th anniversary of the shooting.
"Do they really have the case open? That's what I want to know.",. -Ida Holguin
In a 2016 interview Anthony Teran, (Steven Terans brother, who died in the shooting) told the Las Cruces Sun-News that he doesn’t understand how this crime has gone unsolved for so long. He thinks someone must have seen something, and hopes that they will come forward eventually.
“In this day and age, things like this don’t go unsolved. How did we not get these guys? That’s the question I ask myself every day.” -Anthony Teran
Last year for the 30-year anniversary of the case, Las Cruces Crime Stoppers announced a $30,000 reward for information that helps them identify the men responsible for this crime. You can even provide tips anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at 1–800–222–8477, going online at NMCrimeStoppers.org, or through the Crime Stoppers app, “P3 TIPS.”
My Final Thoughts
This case is truly horrific. Whether it was professional or not, this is the definition of a senseless crime. All of that bloodshed for $5,000? I know that’s nothing to sneeze at, but it hardly seems worth 4 people’s lives. Does it seem like it might have been a professional hit made to look like a robbery? It’s possible, but if that were the case why not ensure that everyone was actually dead? Or stay and make sure the place actually burned to the ground to destroy evidence? Something just seems off there. My initial thought is that this was just a poorly executed robbery, and the perpetrators were lucky enough to get away with it. I don’t know if I can get on board with the whole “sophisticated hitmen” angle, but it is a possibility. Either way this was a tragedy that changed the lives of many and I hope the authorities can eventually get justice for the victims and their families.