TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – It was the way the woman’s body was placed on the ground that initially stood out to investigators. Knees bent. Feet together. Hands stretched out to each side. The naked body showed signs of a beating. Detectives initially thought she had been shot.
But one thing was certain that early Saturday morning: this was not normal for Tempe, a college town in the middle of the Phoenix metro area.
“I still remember it to this day. It’s not something you’re going to forget,” said Tempe Police officer Michael Miller, who was among the first officers to arrive on the scene. Miller did not know it at the time, but this was the first of two deaths Tempe Police would be investigating. Both of whom were young women. But at that moment, Miller was focused on trying to find anyone who might have seen something suspicious between 4 am and 5 am, June 15, on that residential street.
“Knocking on doors just trying to make contact with residents to see if they had seen anything, heard anything. I didn’t make contact with anybody that had seen anything,” said Miller. The next day was Fathers Day. Tempe Police received a call from a man named Rick Salinas. His 19-year-old daughter, Adrienne, was missing. Police quickly ruled out the unidentified body. It wasn’t Adrienne. And in a city that was home to tens of thousands of college students, someone missing for a day did not stand out as unusual.
“With Adrienne’s case, a missing college student is not super odd,” said Lt. Alan Akey. “It’s just because a lot of times, kids will go out, party and they could meet somebody. They could take a trip somewhere and do different things. So, your heightened sense of awareness of, ‘Is this a serious crime or not?’ isn’t necessarily the first thing you think about with a missing college student,” said Akey.
Nevertheless, Akey, who was a detective at the time, was called in from vacation to focus on the Salinas case, while most of the city’s homicide detectives worked to identify the body of the other young woman and find her killer. They released a composite of the victim’s face and soon received their first tip: a name. Annovedwin Begay. “When I first met her, she introduced herself to me as Anne. And then I would hear her sister sometimes calling her Anna,” said Danielle Goldtooth, who was Annovedwin’s college roommate.
“We were in the Dine’ college archery team together. This was a young woman who was very shy. But she had a very fierce spirit about her,” said Goldtooth. “It was always her and I. It was always the both of us,” said Annovedwin’s sister, who asked to not be identified by name. She described what it was like growing up on the Navajo Nation, raised by their father and grandmother. “She spent summers down there (in Tempe), taking college courses, while I was up here with my dad and my grandma. She did like the city. Everything was convenient. Everything was just walking distance. Here, we have to travel more than two hours to get our actual necessities,” said the sister.
“Because she didn’t have a mother and that part of her was missing, she kind of kept to herself,” said Yvonne Grinnell, who was Annovedwin’s aunt. “You know, there was a time when I wanted to take Anna in. I asked her to live with me and that I would raise her and have her as part of my family. Sometimes I wish she had stayed with me. She tried. But she missed home. She missed her dad,” said Grinnell. By the end of the first week, investigators were making progress in Annovedwin’s murder. And the other missing woman case was starting to look more serious, and less like a college student who ran off on a trip without telling anyone. “It was really her father who brought it to our attention that, ‘Hey, this is not normal for my daughter. Even though that might be normal for college students. This is not normal for my daughter,’” said Lt. Akey with Tempe Police.
Adrienne’s father, Rick, says the last time he saw his daughter was when she was leaving his apartment the week before she disappeared. “She was leaving, and I remember hugging her. And I think every parent has that thought that they want to hold their children. And you know. Way back in your mind, you’re thinking you hope nothing is going to happen to them and that they’re going to be fine. And I, for some reason, remember giving her an extra-long hug. And I don’t know why,” said Salinas.
Adrienne’s friends describe her as a strikingly beautiful, intelligent young woman, who was just setting out to begin her life as an adult. “She was definitely very reserved in her own way. Had this almost intimidating intelligence about her,” said Alex Hill, one of Adrienne’s longtime friends. By the middle of the second week, investigators believed they knew who killed Annovedwin Begay: her boyfriend, Douglas Ray George. “I don’t know. Something about him just didn’t feel right,” said Annovedwin’s sister, who met George earlier in 2015.
Danielle Goldtooth says she remembers hearing from Annovedwin that spring. “She called me, just kind of randomly, and said, ‘Hey.. how are you doing? I’m here in Phoenix.’ And I said, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s awesome.’ She said, ‘I have my boyfriend with me. And she seemed really happy,’” said Goldtooth, who invited Annovedwin and George to stay in the apartment she shared with her cousin.
The arrangement did not last long.
“There was a point where we heard them arguing. And we saw the kind of pushing and such. And my cousin kind of got in between them and she had to tell him, “You know you need to leave now. And you’re not welcome back here. Anne, you may stay as long as you like. But he is no longer welcome here,’” said Goldtooth. It was Danielle Goldtooth who recognized the composite sketch and called the police. “I had two detectives come over to my dad’s house, and they asked for a description. And I still remember the look that they gave each other. I knew. My heart dropped. I was still hopeful in my head, but my heart knew,” said Goldtooth.
On June 14, the day before she was killed, Annovedwin Begay and Douglas George were seen on security video, walking into a Walmart. He went to get a beer. She went to the restroom. A woman later reported that someone who matched Begay’s description asked for help in the restroom. But she had no name to give to the police. Douglas Ray George was arrested and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Begay’s death. He received a sentence of 16 years in prison.
One mystery was solved, but the case of the missing 19-year-old was growing more unusual. Her car was discovered just blocks away from her apartment. It had two flat tires. And Adrienne Salinas was nowhere to be found.
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