‘Hello there, bitch! I’m going to tell you in detail why you have been kidnapped and what’s going to happen,’ the ominous voice announced. As the cassette tape played on the voice continued, ‘Now, you are obviously here against your will, you’re going to be kept chained in a variety of different positions, usually with your legs or knees forced wide apart. You’ll be raped thoroughly and repeatedly in every hole you’ve got. You’re going to be drugged up real heavy with a combination of Sodium Pentothal and phenobarbital. You’re not going to remember a fucking thing about this little adventure or what has happened to you…You’re going to be kept like an animal. As far as I’m concerned you’re a pretty piece of meat. Your pussy and asshole’s gonna get a real workout!’

It had been three days since Cynthia Vigil had heard the recording, having been abducted while soliciting along the highway by a charming middle-aged man and his young girlfriend. Initially claiming to be a police officer, the man and his accomplice had forced the terrified woman into their vehicle and took her to a location that he liked to refer to as the ‘toy-box,’ a makeshift torture chamber where he indulged in his most twisted and perverse fantasies upon his unwilling victims. Having spent several days at his mercy, one morning Vigil awoke to find herself chained to the wall, naked except for a padlocked dog collar that kept her bound like an animal. The man had already left for work, leaving behind his partner to watch over their new sex slave, but when she saw a set of keys placed on a nearby table she realised this would be her one and only chance of escape. Following a violent confrontation with the woman, Vigil staggered from the house and out into the early morning light.

A few blocks away Darlene Breech walked into the kitchen of her trailer home when suddenly a naked woman burst through the back door, the stranger half-conscious and in a delirious state. ”Don’t let them get me!’ she screamed. ‘Please help me!” detailed author Jim Fielder in his book Slow Death: The Sickest Serial Slayer to Stalk the Southwest. ‘Darlene looked at the intruder and couldn’t believe her eyes. Her wrists looked like hamburger meat. Her beautiful long brown hair was matted with blood. There were bruises all over her arms and legs. But even more shocking was the story the woman would tell…it was just the beginning of a horrific account of sexual slavery and brutal torture that became notorious as the New Mexico sex torture murder case.’ When the police investigated the young woman’s claims they discovered a horror show far worse than they could have ever imagined and as they began to search through all the sadistic devices and homemade videotapes they realised that a seemingly respectable member of their small community was hiding a dark secret, one that he would take to his grave.

At the centre of the workplace was a gynaecology chair

When investigators began to search the property they found the chain where the victim had allegedly been held against their will, a bucket close by full of human waste and a variety of sex toys that indicated a predilection for sadomasochism. But it would be upon entering an adjacent utility trailer that they would uncover the true depravity of her captor. At the centre of the workplace was a gynaecology chair with stirrups that would allow a subject’s legs to be spread open wide, while a video camera at the base documented the proceedings in explicit detail. An assortment of surgical equipment were laid out close by and strung up on the wall, overlooking this dungeon, was a homemade sign that read, ‘Satan’s Den.’ A collection of videotapes not only served to corroborate the claims made by Vigil but also indicated that she was only one of countless victims that had been subjected to unspeakable torture at the hands of a sadistic monster. And that monster was soon revealed as David Parker Ray.

‘I get my excitement from making a woman happy,’ he told Albuquerque’s KOB 4 shortly after his conviction. ‘My trailer had numerous sex toys in it; of different types, all different fetishes. I got pleasure out of the woman getting pleasure. I did what they wanted me to do.’ Throughout the subsequent trial Ray maintained that each of the women that were captured on video inside his trailer were willing participants in his role-playing bondage games and that he felt ‘raped’ by the accusations that had been levelled at him in court. But on 22 March 1999, after Vigil’s escape from his home, fifty-nine-year-old Ray, a local mechanic and father-of-two, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and sexual torture. And yet as agents of the FBI began to carefully examine each of the videotapes they witnessed the brutal fantasies of a savage mind and soon thoughts turned to the possibility that many of these women may have been murdered soon afterwards. But without any bodies or missing person cases that could be linked to the suspect, the authorities were unable to build a case.

It was clear from examining the apparatus in Ray’s toy-box that they had been crafted by-hand by the suspect, having used his skills as a mechanic through his employment with the Elephant Butte State Park. The investigators that searched through the property would be traumatised by what they witnessed, one agent allegedly vomiting after leaving the trailer. ‘To see it for the first time just kind of gave you a feeling of sickness. It was remarkable how everything was set up. Everything in here denoted pain, everything in here denied destruction,’ explained Norman Rhoades of the New Mexico State Police in the documentary The Sex Chamber. ‘I’d never seen anything like it in my life. The first thing my eyes focused on was this black chair, which turned out to be a gynaecology chair.’ While they had yet to find evidence of a homicide, the police were convinced that Vigil’s statement was true and that they must now attempt to identify his other victims.

A significant breakthrough in the case would come during an examination of one of Ray’s videotapes, during which he placed duct tape over his victim’s mouth and then stroked her naked body with his fingers. With her legs spread wide, the investigators were able to see a tattoo on the woman’s calf and so sent the cassette to the FBI for the footage to be enhanced. With the identifying marking revealed to be a bird, the image was released to the press and eventually another young woman, Kelli Van Cleave, stepped forward. In 1996 she had been friends with Ray’s daughter Glenda, known among the neighbourhood as Jesse and following a rather unpleasant argument with her new husband Patrick, she had retreated to a local bar to take her mind off her failing marriage. But when she failed to return home her frustrated spouse decided to file for divorce, believing that she had abandoned him.

‘Patrick Murphy, whom the woman married just before the crimes, testified on a videotape statement watched by the jury that his wife walked away from his parents’ home, where they were staying, after an argument,’ stated an article published by the Los Cruces Sun-News. ‘Murphy said she reappeared a few days later; smelly, dishevelled and shoeless, driven home by Ray who said he found her on the beach. His wife claimed not to know where she had been. ‘She was out of it. She wasn’t coherent. I thought she was under the influence of a narcotic or something.’ Angry, he told her to leave. Assuming she had left him, he had already filed papers to dissolve the marriage, Murphy said in his statement. Murphy said his ex-wife was a friend of Ray’s daughter and he figured the three had concocted Ray’s story.’

In the three years since the incident Van Cleave had struggled to recall the events that had taken place during her disappearance and even with a few years having since passed she regularly suffered horrific nightmares involving chains, while also unable to be intimate with her new husband. When she saw her tattoo on the news it soon became all too clear that she had become another one of his victims. ‘They put a dog collar on my neck. I was being pulled by the neck, like they had a leash,’ she later recalled during the trial. ‘I was scared. I didn’t know what they were going to do. I wanted to go home…I have to live with this every day.’

Another shocking revelation that would take the investigation in a new direction was when the authorities discovered that Ray’s daughter had not only been aware of his crimes but had been a willing participant, even drawing her friend into his depravity. Ray would have two further accomplices: twenty-seven-year-old Dennis Roy Yancy and thirty-nine-year-old Cynthia Lea Hendy, a petty criminal who had become romantically involved with Ray. ‘A complaint filed in Sierra County magistrate court charged the daughter Glenda Jean Ray, also known as Jesse Ray, thirty-two, with kidnapping and six counts of criminal sexual penetration,’ revealed the New York Times. ‘It said she and her father David Parker Ray had kidnapped and assaulted the woman over the course of four days in July 1996. The arrest was the fourth since a naked woman was found running down a road in nearby Elephant Butte on 22 March. She told the authorities she had been kept in chains, raped and tortured for three days in the trailer home of Mr. Ray.’

Explore these dark fantasies even further

Upon examining the toy-box the police and the FBI discovered how meticulous Ray had been, both in his design of the torture chamber and his control over the other three participants. Stapled to a wall were a list of instructions and warnings; including many common excuses that women may use to avoid being raped, such as menstruation, pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. This had clearly been something that had been developing inside of Ray for many years and through both his knowledge of engineering and the remote location, he was able to abduct young women and violate them in any way he saw fit. And with Hendy having arrived in his hometown in 1997, he found another disturbed mind that allowed him to explore these dark fantasies even further.

While his daughter remained faithful to Ray throughout the investigation, Hendy soon confessed to her part in the crimes in the hope of reducing her sentence from life imprisonment to as little as twenty years. As she had not met him until a year after Van Cleave’s abduction, she only faced charges for the crimes that had been inflicted upon both Vigil and Angelica Montano, the only other victim to be identified by the authorities. But even as the trial against Ray and his accomplices commenced in the summer of 2000 it was immediately derailed by a mistrial. ‘Prosecutors are regrouping to retry an Elephant Butte man accused of kidnapping and sexually torturing a woman four years ago,’ reported the Albuquerque Journal. ‘Prosecutors filed the paperwork to retry David Parker Ray shortly after a judge declared a mistrial in the case on Thursday. After more than eight hours deliberating over two days, a Rio Arriba County jury was unable to reach agreement on any of the twelve charges. District Attorney Ron Lopez said the case against Ray was damaged when the judge ruled separate trials would be held for each of the three women who accused the sixty-year-old defendant of sexual torture.’

The unexpected death of Montano from pneumonia in May 2000 and the fatal heart attack of Neil Mertz, the judge presiding over the case, would cause further delays in the trial, eventually recommencing the following January with Vigil and Van Cleave as the key witnesses. Due to the publicity that the investigations had gained the new trial was relocated to Estancia in Torrance County, where the previous trial had gained little notoriety in the local news. ‘Let’s face it, there’s not anybody in New Mexico that doesn’t think they know all about this case already,’ claimed Ray’s new attorney Lee McMillian. ‘As long as we’re not in Albuquerque or Truth or Consequences, I suspect anywhere is going to be about the same.’

It soon became clear that while he may have had three willing accomplices, the main focus of the prosecution was to convict Ray and so various plea bargains were proposed. Ray ultimately accepted one that would exonerate his daughter in return for his testimony, while Hendy attempted to distance herself from any responsibility in her actions. ‘The state Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld the convictions of Cynthia Hendy, who pleaded guilty to helping David Parker Ray kidnap and sexually torture women. Hendy was sentenced in May to thirty-six years in prison,’ revealed one newspaper in December 2000. ‘Last year, Hendy pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnapping, two counts of criminal sexual penetration and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping in connection with the abductions and sexual torture of two women. As part of the April 1999 plea, Hendy agreed to cooperate with investigators in exchange for a lighter sentence than life in prison.’ Due to the information that Hendy had provided in court she was eventually released in July 2019 after serving only nineteen years of a thirty-six-year sentence.’

Hendy would not be the only person to turn on Ray. While he would maintain his innocence throughout the trial another of his accomplices would admit under oath that he had commit crimes under the order of Ray, although this time it would be murder. On 5 July 1997 twenty-two-year-old Marie Parker, another friend of Jesse’s, had disappeared after a night of drinking in the same local bar but had failed to return home to her two children. During the investigation into Ray’s criminal activities following his arrest Yancy would volunteer information that would lead to his own conviction. ‘From what I understand he’s had many years of kidnapping, torturing and killing women,’ claimed Yancy to FBI agents. ‘I know he ended up giving me a rope and telling me to strangle her. And she wasn’t dying fast enough. She was struggling. I was told not to tell anybody anything or I was going to be killed and thrown in a ditch.’ Despite providing the authorities with clear details on where Parker’s remains had been discarded, crime scene investigators were unable to locate a body. 

While Vigil’s testimonies would come under scrutiny due to her work as a prostitute, having initially agreed to engage in a sex act with Ray for $30, Van Cleave was the key to the prosecution, having been drugged and abducted by both Ray and his daughter, where her terrifying ordeal had been caught on tape. On 9 April 2001, Van Cleave was forced to relive the nightmare once again when the video footage was shown to the jury, almost a year after her testimony had originally resulted in a mistrial. The victim sat watching herself on the television, bound to the gynaecology chair as Ray played his induction recording before gagging her with duct tape and caressing her naked flesh. ‘Lee McMillian, Ray’s attorney, said in opening statements Monday that the circumstances under which the woman alleges she was held without her consent could have been a harmless fantasy,’ said the Albuquerque Journal. ‘But the prosecutors said she was sexually assaulted and confronted with weapons, handcuffs and a neck chain secured to the floor. ‘She’s being kidnapped. She does as she’s told if she has a weapon held on her,’ said Deputy District Attorney Jim Yontz, who told the state District Court jury the woman was held captive for three days.’

One condemning piece of evidence that threatened Ray’s defence was the initiation recording that he played to each of his victims when they first arrived at the toy-box. ‘Hello there, bitch!’ they would hear from the darkness. ‘You’ll be raped thoroughly and repeatedly in every hole you’ve got.’ While it could be argued that this was said in character and was part of an agreed sadomasochistic sex game, all the evidence was to the contrary. But barely a week after the court viewed the humiliation and degradation of Van Cleave, the jury announced a unanimous guilty verdict after over five hours of deliberation. ON 20 April 2001, almost two and a half years to the day since Vigil escaped captivity, District Judge Kevin Sweazea sentenced Ray to a total of two hundred and twenty-three years in prison for the kidnapping and sexual torture of Cynthia Vigil and Kelli Van Cleave.

Although he had been found guilty of the crimes in which he had been accused, the authorities were convinced that Ray had raped and tortured many more, possibly having even murdered them and disposed of their bodies. Even his accomplices would accuse him of murder but without a body there was no crime. ‘The way he talked, I didn’t feel like this was his first time,’ insisted Vigil a decade later. ‘It was like he knew what he was doing. He told me I was never going to see my family again. He told me he would kill me like the others.’ In 2011 the FBI, in cooperation with the Albuquerque police and the New Mexico State Police, reopened an investigation into the 1995 disappearance of twenty-two-year-old Jill Troia, commencing a detailed search of the Elephant Butte reservoir close to the small town of Truth or Consequences. Whether or not David Parker Ray took a life or was the sadistic serial killer history will remember him as is a secret that he took to his grave, as on 28 May 2002 he passed away at the Lee County Correctional Facility in New Mexico, barely six months after receiving his sentence. ‘I can only be sorry for what I did,’ he said on the day that his sentence was passed down. But the feeling of an entire community was perhaps best summarised by Attorney General Patricia Madrid when she declared, ‘The animal can’t live among us.’

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