TAOS, NM — After four hours of deliberation a Taos jury found 51-year-old West Virginia native Ivan Dennings Cales Jr. guilty of the murder of Roxanne Houston and of tampering with evidence. During the investigation as was brought forward during the trial, the state found data and gathered testimonies, suggesting that the accused may have been on a modern day Witch hunt.Houston, a Wiccan practitioner from Colorado, disappeared in July 2014 after moving to New Mexico. Her body was found by a hiker near the “Two Peaks area” in December of that same year. According to a local news agency, “Elizabeth Hagerty said she was walking with her husband, Robert, and their two dogs when one canine began rolling on what appeared to be a burnt part of a brassiere.” Police later identified the body as Houston’s and launched an investigation.
Prior to her 2014 disappearance in New Mexico, Houston’s life was reportedly complicated and unstable. According to her estranged ex-husband George Houston, Roxy, as she was called, was bi-polar and had been off medication for quite some time. She has four children, who all live with adoptive parents, and was frequently moving between relationships.
In June 2015, Mr. Houston, a non-Pagan, laments his own involvement and failures to help his wife. In a public Facebook post, he demonstrates his continued affection for her, despite their past problems. He pledged to fight for justice in the courts.
As the story goes, Roxy reportedly left Colorado in 2013 with a boyfriend, and arrived in Carson, NM. The couple camped for some time and, eventually, moved into a home with several other male housemates. She lived at that location until her death.
Houston was last seen hiking in June 2014, but her body wasn’t discovered for six months. Then, after a long investigation, Cales was found living at a local shelter and arrested Feb 23, 2015. The Taos Sheriff’s office noted that this case was particularly difficult because many of the involved parties were “transients,” including Cales, who had only arrived in New Mexico in April 2014.
In a post on the Rainbow Gathering Family site, Cales described himself as a survivalist, and includes “loves the outdoors. open minded. non drug user. native American beliefs.” In 1999, he renounced his American citizenship in an AIM forum titled, “The American Indian Movement” on the basis that the government was illegal. He reportedly met Houston when he moved into the residence where she was living.
During the March trial, Cales’ cellmate Raymond Martinez reportedly testified that Cales actually claimed “Native American” heritage and connected that fact to his motivation to kill Witches. He reportedly said that he was on a “witch-hunt” and that Houston was a Witch. As the local paper reports:
He testified Cales drew pictures of a witch hunt […] He said Cales told him he was Native American, and that Native Americans believed if a witch cast a spell on them, they needed to kill the witch to break the spell. Artwork that looked like pencil sketches of a witch hunt — done in jail and presumably signed by Cales as “Kwenishguery Manito Lenepe Witch Hunter 2000”— were exhibited in the courtroom as evidence.
Another witness Thomas Thebo reportedly testified that Cales said, “If a Wiccan ever cast a spell on him, he would have to kill the witch to get rid of the spell.” We reached out to the Lenape Nation for a reaction to the testimony, but did not get a response back by publication time.
In a number of media interviews, Cales’ defense attorney Thomas Clark calls the Witchcraft testimony “nonsense.” Before the trial began, he filed a motion to have these documents and the Martinez testimony removed from the case. The motion was denied. All evidence pointing to the Witch hunt was included.
District attorney Donald Gallegos also suggested that Cales was in love with Houston, making the alleged Witchcraft accusations simply a mask. In his public post asking for prayers, Houston’s ex-husband also suggested that there may have been a love triangle. But Gallegos also reminded reporters, “the unrequited love and the witch theories are just that — theories. However, he and his staff are sure that Cales is Houston’s killer.”
Houston was given what was called a “New Age, mystic, pagan service” funeral. Her boyfriend and other roommates did not attend. We reached out to several local Pagans in the region, but did not get a response by publication time.
While Roxy’s mental illness was well-known and led to instability, she was remembered fondly by the few that knew her. As reported in the news, “several local residents […] remembered her for the compassion she is said to have demonstrated towards neighbors. Houston reportedly worked as a caretaker for one neighbor and is also said to have lent a hand distributing food to Carson area residents.”
Upon learning the guilty verdict, Houston’s friend Cheryl Bailey Payne wrote a note to the Taos Sheriff’s office, saying “Thank you from the bottom of not only my, but my daughter’s, and Roxanne’s sister’s hearts – RIP Roxanne – we love you!!”
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Although Houston’s case was not labeled a hate crime, the concerns over such aggression and violence directed at Witches and other minorities do loom in the background for many. Ardanane Learning Center, located in New Mexico, will be running an online two-part seminar dealing specifically with the subject of “Hate Crimes.”
Over those two days, instructor and former investigator Kerr Cuhulain will “share the lessons he learned dealing with hate crimes during the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s and his experiences with educating law enforcement and other public agencies about Pagan religions.” The classes will take place on March 26 and April 2.