BETHANY — Investigators in this Oklahoma City suburb say they are frustrated with the lack of leads in the case of a 19-year-old woman found dismembered in a duffel bag behind a grocery store, but they aren't giving up and have assigned nearly one fifth of their department to find her killer.
Complicating their efforts is a strange circle of friends and potential witnesses, including some involved with drugs and many who have no permanent phones or addresses.
Police Detective Angelo Orefice said police have interviewed between 50 and 60 people since Carina Saunders' body was found Oct. 13. Detectives said some are friends of Saunders who dabble in drugs, are known only by their street names and do not have permanent jobs, homes or telephones.
Orifice said Saunders, a 2010 graduate of Mustang High School, was known to use methamphetamine, marijuana and Ecstasy. Police have been unable to determine whether she had a job or where she was living at the time of her death.
“She ran with a rough crowd,” Deputy Police Chief John Reid said. “She hung around a lot of different people. And that's what makes this case so hard. We're dealing with people who don't want to have anything to do with the police.”
Residents are on edge, and police continue to look for suspects two weeks after the beheaded body was found near a grocery store.
“It's the worst thing I've ever seen,” Orefice said. “People are nervous.”
Orifice and other Bethany police detectives will not discuss the gruesome details of the case, including the manner and extent to which Saunders' body was dismembered.
They've enlisted the help of state and federal investigators, and while they had no suspects Friday, they pledged the case will be solved.
“It's going to turn out with an arrest eventually,” Reid said. “All we can really say is that we are following up all leads.”
Other agencies helping
Authorities said Friday they are not looking for specific persons of interest, but Bethany police Detective Austin Warfield said investigators believe at least two people were involved in Saunders' death.
“The nature of the crime is not such that I think one person could do this,” Warfield said.
Bethany police said six of the department's 31 officers are assigned to the case full-time.
Investigators from other law enforcement agencies are assisting, including the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which helped at the crime scene, and the FBI, whose Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Va., has been asked to create a psychological profile of possible suspects and suggest leads and investigative techniques.
Police said the state medical examiner's office has not yet ruled on the cause of Saunders' death. It's not clear where Saunders was killed, but authorities said there's no evidence she was slain where her remains were found in Bethany, a community of about 19,000 residents founded in 1910, three years after Oklahoma became a state.
Monica Zyzak, who works at the American Cleaners laundry across the street from a makeshift memorial near the grocery store where Saunders' body was found, said customers have seemed anxious since.
“Everyone who comes in talks about it. It's kind of like one of those: This could happen to anyone,” Zyzak said.
“It's kind of weird to be here and know that someone was found.”
Rick Kiser, a pharmacy technician at the grocery store, said the incident has made employees more vigilant.
“I've even noticed customers seem to be a little more cautious,” Kiser said. “This is just unreal for this area. There's been other murders here, but nothing like this.”
But Warfield said he believes Saunders' slaying is an isolated case committed by people she knew who shared her lifestyle.
“I don't think that anybody else is in danger,” he said.
Reid said Saunders was last seen alive on Oct. 8 or 9. A missing person's report was filed by family members on Oct. 10. Animal welfare workers who were trying to catch feral cats found the duffel bag that contained Saunders' remains. Police believe the bag had been there for at least a couple of days.
Friends of Saunders have put up a memorial next to an entrance to the parking lot of the Homeland grocery store near where her body was found. A small cross is surrounded by plastic flowers and candles and adorned with necklaces, a baseball cap and the handwritten sentiments from friends.
“I will always love you,” one wrote.
“You will always be missed,” wrote another.