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SPECIAL REPORT: Cold cases of the Desert Southwest

News 11’s Samantha Byrd dives in and uncovers unsolved murders that happened in the City of Yuma

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - Over the years, cold cases in the Desert Southwest have left many locals with no answers.

The oldest unsolved crime is the shooting death of a 20-year-old woman in 1969.

A cold case is an unsolved crime no longer being investigated.

There have been 16 cases that have gone cold in Yuma from 1969 to 2009.

“The oldest now we have on file is from 1969 Rhonda Fortney," stated Sgt. Lori Franklin, Yuma Police Department.

November 4th, 1969 was the last time 20-year-old Rhonda Fortney was seen alive.

She was dropped off at her apartment on Orange Avenue near Downtown Yuma after having dinner with her parents.

“She had taken her stuff inside the apartment, came out, and was killed," said Sgt. Franklin.

Sgt. Franklin said some witnesses saw a man running down Orange Avenue and First Avenue who got into a green Pontiac vehicle and drove south.

“It’s just one of those we’ve just never been able to solve and it’s the oldest one we’ve got and it would be so cool if we could, but you know, she was shot one time," explained Sgt. Franklin.

Another cold case is the killing of 52-year-old Dorothy Smock on September 29, 1979.

“She and her husband owned a solar engineering system at 201 W 17th Street and she was in there it was a Sunday, she was doing some work," said Sgt. Franklin.

Police say she was found dead in the building and had been suffocated.

“She had been duck taped, her whole face had been duck taped duck tape on the hands and on the feet, she was found in the bathroom area," explained Sgt. Franklin.

Sgt. Franklin stated she was supposed to have a haircut appointment but she never made it to the salon.

Police recall another cold case.

74-year-old Evelyn Halsey who was killed on April 16, 1984.

Police say Evelyn was found in her house with signs of sexual assault, and said she was dragged inside after suffering from a broken back.

“She was located by a meals on wheels person because she was an elderly person, in her 70’s," said Sgt. Franklin.

This cold case was the closest one to being solved.

“Sometimes you’re just missing that one little piece that can tie everything together," expressed Sgt. Franklin.

Because after 32 years, police caught a break.

Sgt. Franklin revealed, “We did have DNA that came back to a subject."

It was tied to someone in the military stationed in Yuma at the time Evelyn was killed.

“But then wound up getting out of the military and moving to Texas, so again we had a hit but still not able to follow through with any more of the investigation part of it," explained Sgt. Franklin.

But it was too late.

"The problem is… By the time we finally located where he was, he was deceased," said Sgt. Franklin.

And one of the most chilling and memorable cold cases is that of 10-year-old Amberly Mendoza who was killed on March 8, 1996.

The next morning, her mother found her lifeless body.

“It’s a young girl, taken way too young she was found, she had been sexually assaulted, she was found in the bedroom of the residence," explained Sgt. Franklin.

Yuma police said her family was home when she was killed and abused.

“They had actually had a party that day, but she had gone into bed and the next morning she was located in the bedroom," stated Sgt. Franklin.

Amberly’s Place Advocacy Center is named after the young victim.

Even though these cases are considered cold, forensic evidence improves over time, leaving hope that someday they will be solved.

“Our detectives do go back through and they look if there’s any DNA, what has dna come to nowadays, is there something we can do? Can we send it off for new test results?” stated Sgt. Franklin.

Even though it's been decades since these crimes were committed, it’s not too late to submit a tip to the Yuma Police Department at 928-373-4700 or call 78-CRIME to remain anonymous.

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Samantha Byrd

Samantha Byrd joined the KYMA team in February 2022 and is a reporter and anchor for Fox 9.

You can reach out to her with story ideas at sammy.byrd@kecytv.com

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