UnResolved Docuseries Episode 2: A Secret in the Desert

In this 6-episode docu-series, award-winning investigative reporter, Morgan Loew, takes a new look at the murder of Adrienne Salinas.
Published: Jun. 25, 2022 at 7:24 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 11:37 AM MST
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APACHE JUNCTION, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – On August 6, 2013, a man walking through a desert wash in Apache Junction spotted what appeared to be human remains. It was a sad and solemn answer to a question Tempe Police had been asking for two months. That is, was Adrienne Salinas still alive?

Salinas had disappeared in the early morning of June 15. Her friends, family, and police had been searching for her ever since, hoping she would turn up alive. “My supervisor gave me a phone call. He heard from Apache Junction that an unidentified female body was found,” said Lt. Alan Akey from the Tempe Police Department. He was the original detective assigned to the Salinas case.

Akey says a bracelet was found with the remains, making him think it was Adrienne. But it wasn’t until DNA returned from the lab that he knew for sure. His answer was direct when asked what went through his mind at that point. “That we were going to have to let the parents know that she’s not alive,” said Akey. “I just remember the phone call,” said Rick Salinas, Adrienne’s father.

“I think I put my feelings aside and had to face the challenge of telling everybody. I kind of felt like I was going to faint or something, you know. I was at my parents’ house. I was outside, and I had to walk in and tell them she’s gone and hears the cries of my parents,” said Salinas. Eight years passed without an arrest. In 2021, Tempe Police assigned a new detective to the case.

“There was just something just drew me to wanting that case,” said Det. Greg Duarte. He says he was friends with Akey when Adrienne disappeared, so he was already familiar with the case. “Here, we have a 20-year-old girl who’s going to college and has friends and then disappears and ends up dead and buried in a shallow grave in a wash in Apache Junction. I mean, that’s a true victim,” said Duarte.

In September of 2021, we accompanied Duarte and Akey, where Adrienne’s remains were discovered. It was the first time Duarte saw the scene in person. “This is the general area where the recovery occurred,” said Akey, pointing to a bank in Weeke’s Wash. “We dug a lot through the bank,” he said.

There is a lot that investigators still do not know about between the time Adrienne disappeared and the day her remains were found. They don’t know when her body was dumped in the area. “The condition she was in probably buried for a little bit. So that narrows down the time, but it’s still an unknown time frame,” said Duarte. They don’t know how she died. “The state of her remains when she was discovered definitely didn’t provide a lot of forensic-type evidence to point to somebody,” said Duarte.

The autopsy report contains the following statements:

  • The condition of the found remains was consistent with the body being in the desert for the same amount of time Adrienne had been missing.
  • There were no obvious signs of trauma or serious injury observed to what was remaining of the skeleton.
  • The cranium and top two vertebrae were missing.
  • There were no tool marks and no evidence of intentional decapitation.

“The thought is that she was buried in a shallow grave upstream a little bit,” said Duarte. “The challenge from the recovery of her was the wash that she was in experienced a tremendous amount of water and flooding. That we believe brought her body from wherever it was to wherever it ended up,” said Akey. The fact that detectives have never been able to find the spot where Adrienne was buried has created significant challenges.

“As a homicide detective, you want to process a crime scene. In this case.. we didn’t have a crime scene in Tempe. And then in Apache Junction, the recovery area, we didn’t have the actual where the body was prior to where it was recovered from that wash,” Said Akey. “She was moved by the water. But it’s hard to say how far she was moved,” said Duarte. “We are still looking for her cell phone. So that is still outstanding. So, if we found the dump location, maybe we’d find a phone or any other items of hers that would shed some light on what happened,” said Akey.

Duarte began thinking aloud as the two investigators hiked out of the wash.

“How would she have gotten from Tempe to Apache Junction? Or why to Apache Junction? That’s the biggest question I think I have right now. How did that come into play? Why Apache Junction?” he said. Adrienne disappeared in Tempe on June 15. Her body was discovered in Weeke’s Wash in Apache Junction on August 6. A sizeable monsoon storm struck the area on July 21. As a part of our investigation, we reached out to Maricopa County Flood Control to see if there was any way to narrow down where Adrienne was buried initially or dumped, based on the amount of water in Weeke’s was during the July storm.

“We have several stream gauges that sit within the watershed for weeks wash,” said Daniel Henz, a meteorologist with the Flood Control agency. “We ended up getting a runoff event that lasted roughly five hours. So, at our stream gauge, we ended up measuring about 4 feet of depth of water and runoff of a little over 600 cubic feet per second,” said Henz. He added that the storm on July 21 was the only weather event that sent water down the wash that summer.

Here is the verbatim of the next part of the interview:

“The reason we are doing this interview is there was the body of a missing girl that was found at one specific spot. Is there any way to be able to tell how far up a body might have been buried? Given the amount of water that was coming down?” asked this reporter. “I can’t answer that question. But what I can answer is this: water is powerful. Water is heavy. A cubic foot of water weighs approximately 62.4 pounds. We’re talking 600 plus cubic feet per second. So roughly 40-thousand pounds of pressure being pushed every second where our stream gauge was,” said Henz.

He said that was enough water to uproot trees, move cars and unearth a buried body. But he could not speculate how far up the wash Adrienne was buried. Detectives focused on Adrienne’s movements and contacts the night she disappeared. “What we know is that she’s at a party with her friends,” said Akey. “It was my friend’s birthday. And considering that we were one of the few people at the time who had their own place, I offered to host the party,” said Rebecca Flores, one of Adrienne’s two roommates and a longtime friend.

“It was probably the biggest party we’ve ever thrown at our apartment. Because it was Rebecca’s friend’s party, I didn’t know a lot of people there,” said Shainey Duggan, who was also a roommate and longtime friend. “All of us had our own group of friends. So, whenever we’d have parties, we would invite anyone and everyone that we could gather. And this night didn’t start out much different,” said Flores.

Both Flores and Duggan say Adrienne did not seem excited about the party.

“She said she wasn’t really feeling social that night and that she really didn’t want to have a party. But it was starting and she was going to make the best of it,” said Duggan. “We know she wanted Fran there because she had called him and left a voicemail that she wanted him there,” said Akey, referring to Francisco Arteaga, who was Adrienne’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. “They just knew each other from elementary school, and that romance continued through high school and beyond high school,” said Flores. “It was kind of an odd couple. You have this awkward Francisco. He’s just, overall, a very awkward guy. And then you have this beauty. Adrienne was a very beautiful woman, a beautiful girl,” she said.

Several friends said the relationship between Adrienne and Arteaga had been strained recently. That description is consistent with what is stated in the original police report. “I only heard bits and pieces. And what I had taken from it was she wanted labels. She wanted a committed relationship. He kind of thought it was a good idea to, you know, kind of see what’s out there, figure themselves out, date other people,” said Alex Hill, one of Adrienne’s close friends, but who was not at the party that night.

“We knew that they had a disagreement at the party, to where they decided to go to his house and kind of talk it out,” said Akey. “At some point in the night, Fran calls me and says, ‘Hey, we got into an argument. She got out of the car at a stop light. Can you make sure she gets home safely?” said Flores.

“She makes it home and starts talking to Rebecca, her roommate. Starts to charge her phone, is what we’re told. And then eventually leaves again in her car. People saw her leave. We know from witnesses that she collided with her car. And then the car is later found around the corner with damage to the tire. So we’re pretty confident she disabled it,” said Akey. “We know she went back home because of the clothes. I have a photo that they took at the party. The clothes she’s wearing are the clothes that were in her room,” he said.

“Looking back, she was obviously very determined to get to Francisco’s house,” said Flores. “And then from the phone information, we know she reached out to a cab company to go, what we believe to be, back to Fran’s house. And why we believe that is because she sent a text, ‘On my way over,’” said Akey. Friends said they did not recall Adrienne taking a cab any other time. And that night, they did not believe she had money to pay for a cab. Detectives believe Adrienne began walking toward a convenience store and gas station, roughly three blocks from her apartment. Surveillance video at the store shows the cab pulling up, but there is no sign of Adrienne.

“Tempe is a busy city. Sometimes all night long. This particular night, when Adrienne came along, it was busy,” said Duarte.

“And so, because there were people out there that night, it’s a little frustrating that we don’t have some information, which kind of makes me say, ‘then okay, maybe there wasn’t any kind of thing to draw anybody’s attention towards what happened to her. Maybe she just got into somebody’s car.’ You know. And that makes me think, ‘Maybe it was somebody that she knew. Somebody from the party, Fran, the taxi driver, who she called,’” said Duarte.