4 Investigates: Family believes priest may have played a role in boy's death
February 27, 2019 10:41 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- The pain of the death of a child never goes away. There is a New Mexico family grappling with the death of a little boy that happened more than 40 years ago. Officially, records show 12-year-old Vaughn Bishop froze to death while trying to escape a boys’ ranch for troubled teens in Northeast New Mexico. Now, his family is coming out to say they believe something more sinister may have happened to him and they are asking New Mexico State Police to make a bold move.
The Hacienda de los Muchachos Ranch
Vaughn is buried in a small cemetery outside of Farley, New Mexico. His headstone reads that he died on January 27, 1976. In the 43 years since his death, some of his family members have been filled with questions and doubt.
“It's been something that I have thought about every single day of my life,” Yvette Goldsmith, Vaughn’s younger sister, told 4 Investigates.
With Vaughn, there were eight kids in the Bishop family. Yvette is number seven, Vaughn was number six and Alan was number five.
“We were poor,” Yvette explained. “We were poor just like anyone else. Alan and Vaughn had a bad habit of stealing.”
Yvette doesn’t remember if Alan and Vaughn were sent away on judge’s orders or if her single mother voluntarily let them go. Either way, Alan and Vaughn were forced to leave their home in Roswell and move to the Hacienda de los Muchachos Ranch in the tiny northeast New Mexico community of Farley.
Catholic Priest Ed Donelan opened the Hacienda in the 1970s and ran it with donations from Catholic parishioners.
Donelan died in 1994, but his legacy of horror has endured. A year ago, a former volunteer at the ranch told 4 Investigates of what the boys there endured.
“He said that on occasion Father Ed would put his mouth on him, was going to give him oral sex,” Pierre Nichols told 4 Investigates during an interview in February 2017.
Through court filings, 4 Investigates learned Father Donelan chose the remote location so that he could have unchecked access to the dozens of boys he took in.
Court records state Donelan raped the boys and enacted cruel and strict punishments on them. Life inside the Hacienda with Father Ed was torture. While Alan and Vaughn endured abuse inside the Hacienda, Yvette and the other siblings were unaware of it all while living back in their family home in Roswell.
“I thought it was my mother screaming, just this piercing scream,” Yvette recalled. “It wasn't. It was my older sister Eldora. We went all the way into the house and that is when my mom told us Vaughn had passed away. I don't remember how she said it; I just remember he was gone.”
A newspaper clipping from January 1976 described Vaughn’s death as exposure after running away from the Hacienda.
The article states that Vaughn ran away with another 14-year old boy who survived.
“I've had so many questions because it doesn't make any sense,” Yvette explained. “It was a blizzard.”
Yvette and some of her other family member have doubted the story of Vaughn’s death. For one, he was found 50 miles away from the Hacienda.
“We're talking about 1976; what kind of clothing or shoes would they have had? I just don't see how Vaughn would have been able to make it that far. Even if someone gave them a ride, why in the middle of a blizzard would they kick them out of a car,” Yvette said.
And Yvette doubts Vaughn, who was younger than Alan, would try to escape the Hacienda without him.
“Alan was always the leader. Alan led everything and Vaughn didn't do anything about Alan. Nothing. I could see Alan running away without Vaughn, but I could never see Vaughn running away without Alan," Yvette said.
Yvette and some of her family members can’t help but wonder if Vaughn died inside the Hacienda and Father Ed drove him out 50 miles to dump his body.
“I think I always felt something wasn't right," Yvette said.
Like many details about what happened at the hands of Catholic priests in New Mexico, there aren’t many public documents about Vaughn’s death or his time at the Hacienda.
However, the 14-year old boy who allegedly ran away with Vaughn sued the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2017.
In contrast to Yvette’s concerns, the lawsuits claimed the boys ran away, risking their lives in the January weather because the sexual abuse by Father Donelan was intolerable.
But still, there is no evidence that law enforcement investigated Vaughn’s death extensively. And for that reason, Yvette Goldsmith plans to ask New Mexico State Police to re-open the case.
“I feel like the only thing that would help me not wonder all the time, every day is to have Vaughn's body exhumed and an autopsy done," Yvette said.
The family believes Vaughn’s remains may hold the answers to all of their questions. While Vaughn’s death happened four decades ago, Yvette believes his life matters today.
“Vaughn was a little boy that had just turned 12 and it could have been anyone's little brother or big brother or son or grandson. And he should matter," Yvette said.
New Mexico State Police have not yet said whether they will re-open Vaughn Bishop’s case.
In an email to 4 Investigates, a spokesperson for the department wrote the following statement:
"The New Mexico State Police takes every crime reported to our agency seriously. Whether it happened 10 minutes ago or 10 years ago, State Police agents are committed to helping victims find justice for the wrongdoing of criminals.
We would encourage the family to meet with a State Police Cold Case agent and present any new information they may have about the case. This of course is something we would be happy to arrange.
Armed with any new information the family provides, State Police Cold Case agents will reevaluate the facts of the case and follow any additional leads that may be presented."
While reporting on this issue, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has repeatedly stated administrators have overhauled practices that better protect children and allow for better reporting of any wrongdoing by church clergy or staff.
Updated: February 27, 2019 10:41 PM
Created: February 27, 2019 08:44 PM
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