The Toy Box Killer: How a depraved life and accomplices helped a serial killer pull off dozens of murders

serial killer new mexico torture murder
Source: KRQE/YouTube

May. 5 2021, Updated 1:25 p.m. ET

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New Mexico is the” Land of Enchantment,” a sparsely populated dry country with vast open tracts of desert punctuated by small towns. The landscape and culture have changed little in the last hundred years.

White settlers began moving here in the late 1890s after the Early Day Homestead act offered free land for ranching and farming, but generations of Spanish families from old Mexico ranched and farmed since Santa Fe became the capital in 1610.

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In the tiny hamlet of Belen, David Parker Ray was born in November 1939 to grow up in a fragmented family marked by violence. His caretakers were his paternal grandparents, and he and his sister Peggy were raised under the ultra-strict hand of their fundamentalist grandfather, who showed little affection. David rarely saw his father, who was a violent alcoholic, or his estranged mother.

Ray’s grandparents, first-generation farmers and ranchers, raised two boys: Cecil and Alton. Both left home for something better in their teens. Cecil married in the mid-1930s, to a woman from Belen called Nettie. The couple remained together for 16 years, until Cecil, a moody and violent man, divorced her and took custody of both kids, who he deposited with his parents. 

The children, David and Peggy, were only a year apart — both would grow up in the tiny settlement of Mountainair. Peggy was a cute, popular girl, while David was a quiet loner.

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The rural life meant the boy had plenty of time to himself. For Ray, this meant exploring the desert and, later, motoring around on his dirt bike. He was shy and unpopular in high school, but not a troublemaker. 

Ray began acting out in childhood, hiding a preference for pornography and violence from his family and peers. He later claimed he tied a woman to a tree and tortured her to death when he was 13 or 14, but this is likely more fantasy than fact.

It was the first of up to 60 murders linked to the man who would become known as the “Toy-Box Killer.”

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The murders were sick. Many happened in a small trailer that became his killing workshop. The victims fully aware what was happening before their demise. David Parker, the serial killer, had been on the FBI radar before, but they let him go. It allowed him to continue his killing spree in small-town New Mexico. 

He had the help of family and friends who joined in his depraved crimes.

When police finally caught him, the details of his crimes shocked investigators and the world. His story is told through books like “Toy Box Killer” by Natalie Marshall. It’s also told through countless media reports, news articles and videos posted online. It was a story of signs David Ray was different than many, and chances to stop him along the way.

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Source: KRQE/YouTube

ELEPHANT BUTTE, NEW MEXICO, IN 1999

One day in 1999, Cynthia Vigil Jaramillo ran down the street of a tiny village of Elephant Butte, where the biggest drama is the crush of summer tourists. It was a typically breezy and sunny Spring afternoon, March 22, when the woman, naked and bleeding, gained freedom.

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Wearing a metal dog collar disoriented, Jaramillo had just stabbed one of Ray’s accomplices in the neck with an ice pick. She had no idea the name of the street she was on once she got out of the house. The city was nothing more than strips of asphalt surrounded by double-wide mobile homes. In her terror, she looked for a home that felt safe. She found it in a unit owned by Darlene Breech, who was shocked when a naked woman covered in blood entered her living room, then locked the door behind her.

Breech called 911. By the time law enforcement arrived, she’d covered Jaramillo up and was talking to her in a soothing voice. When the two deputies showed up, the bloody woman exclaimed to both of them: “I’m alive. I broke free!”

They sat her down and asked her what happened. Shaking and crying, Jaramillo described surviving events that made the hair on the back of their necks stand up — and Jaramillo could help them find the place she’d been held captive. The woman described what was done to her — for days — in grisly detail.

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The deputies, Lucas Alvarez and David Elston, worked for the Sierra County Sheriff’s Department. Their days were spent policing traffic stops, domestic squabbles and breaking up a fight or two. Neither had experience investigating homicides, and the story they heard was almost too much to believe.

They drove Jaramillo, wearing a pink robe donated by Breech, to the nearest hospital in the larger town of Truth or Consequences. Elston followed up on a strange 911 call that had come in moments before, in the same neighborhood. Whoever called hung up, but dispatch traced the number to an address on Bass Road—less than a block from their encounter with the bloody Jaramillo.

It was Jaramillo who made the call before she fled for her life.

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AN ODD BOY WHO HATED WOMEN

Years before the woman was found, there were signs of something amiss with David Ray. Had a social worker or school psychologist seen evidence of a disturbed mind in David Ray, someone might have made a note or started a file, but he wouldn’t begin committing crimes until after high school. The markers of depravity began when he discovered sex; his hatred of females likely grew out of adolescent rejection. When his father visited and brought copies of “True Detective” magazine, Ray ate them up. He got his hands on whatever violent pornography he could find. 

Ray’s social discomfort made him a victim of bullies and uncomfortable with girls, but to teachers, he was just another quiet boy who, thankfully, didn’t misbehave in class. Ray’s sister found his stash of pornography when he was 14, but when she asked him about it, he made light of it. He’d already developed a taste for bondage. 

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Psychologists would point to other factors in the boy’s life: the absent mother, the violent and missing father, the grandfather with unreasonable demands. None of this made a mark on Peggy, but for David Ray, the only real pleasure he got out of a lonely childhood was musing about torturing and killing women. He developed a fetish for broken bottles and kept a stash of them in a dungeon he built in the woods when he was fifteen. 

The only thing David Ray showed much aptitude for was building and fixing machinery. It would serve him well for future employment, and his lifelong dream of building a torture chamber.

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KILLER ON THE ROAD

David Ray graduated high school with a D average in 1957. He’d lived in Albuquerque with his mother for his last year of high school after his grandmother died. He met a girl a year younger than him, and they married two years later. He joined the Army as a mechanic, leaving his new wife only a few months after the wedding.

Ray liked being a mechanic, but not a husband. He was hardly ever home, although his wife gave birth to a child in 1960. In 1961, she happily agreed to a divorce and he got custody of their only child, a son named David. He quickly left to go overseas for work again, dumping his infant son with his mother.

He met another woman in 1962, and this marriage only lasted a few months. Now back stateside, he moved in with his mother. He was 23-years-old, employed as a truck mechanic, and within three years would meet his third wife, Glenda Burdine, 18 and a single mom. Together, they had a daughter in 1969 named Glenda Jean.

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Glenda Jean Ray was a daddy’s girl from the start. Decades later, she remained unusually close to her father. She grew up tall, slim, and a blond tomboy — the spitting image of the dad she adored. Later in life, she changed her name frequently, going by “Jesse” or “Jessy” most of the time.

Although smitten with his infant daughter, who displayed a strong-willed temperament, David Ray abandoned his family: a wife, three young children and his mother.

He spent the next few years on the road, working odd jobs and making a living using his mechanical ability. He gained few possessions or friends and acted like a man who had no family. At 29, he settled down again briefly outside of Albuquerque. It was 1969 and David Ray embraced the hippie lifestyle, including free love. 

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David Ray lived in a trailer off Route 66 until he decided to return to his wife who, remarkably, welcomed him home to Albuquerque. In 1981, after a decade of putting on the façade of a family man, Ray’s third marriage ended after he proved he couldn’t seem to say in the same state as his family.

He also developed his love of torture and murder that would continue for decades. It was a spree his daughter, Jessy Ray, knew about. She even helped him commit his crimes. But, their relationship wasn’t always perfect. 

serial killer new mexico torture murder
Source: KRQE/YouTube
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JESSY RAY GROWS UP

In 1986, aware that her father had a bondage hobby that included torture and murder, Jessy Ray, now 21, took action.

By now, her dad was on marriage No. 4. He’d found a woman name from Phoenix named Joni-Lee, and they had both settled down in Elephant Butte on Bass Road, close to the reservoir that brings thousands of tourists each year.

serial killer new mexico torture murder
Source: FBI
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In the ensuing years, Ray made good money as a mechanic. He and Joni bought a second property in Stone Lake, New Mexico. Ray traveled back and forth to Phoenix for employment. He’d continued his cryptic activities, involving prostitutes, kidnapping, and torture — but that was what the Elephant Butte property on Bass Road was for.

The fourth marriage didn’t last. Shortly after the divorce, he met Cindy Hendy who worked at the Elephant Butte State Park. They clicked immediately and moved in together around the time Cindy told David Ray she, too, wanted to rape women. She would become another one of David Ray’s accomplices.

Still, Jessy went to the authorities and told them what her dad and new mom were up to.

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Just before Jessy went to authorities and shortly after buying the property, David Ray purchased a 25-foot long, windowless cargo trailer. He parked it on Bass Road and named it the “Toy Box,” and began using his decades of mechanical experience to construct a torture chamber.

Jessy showed up on the FBI’s doorstep at the branch office in New Mexico in June 1986. FBI agents interviewed Ray, investigating Jessy Ray’s claims for over a year. But it was all too much — the agents didn’t believe he’d committed any crimes. They saw Jessy Ray as coming to them out of spite and blew her off.

The FBI put away the David Ray file in 1987. He would prey on dozens of women over the next thirteen years.

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THE TOY BOX

Beyond the physical torture, Ray enjoyed telling his victims what he was going to do to them, in precise detail. He installed a mirror over the gynecology exam table he set up inside the “toy box” so they could see what was being done to them with the various tools that lined the walls of his twisted workshop.

Ray used a tape-recorded message, which victims recalled as terrifying. It was recovered with the rest of his array of torture tools.

“Hello there, bitch. Are you comfortable right now? I doubt it. Wrists and ankles chained. Gagged. Probably blind folded. You are disoriented and scared, too, I would imagine. Perfectly normal, under the circumstances. For a little while, at least, you need to get your shit together and listen to this tape. It is very relevant to your situation. I’m going to tell you, in detail, why you have been kidnapped, what’s going to happen to you and how long you’ll be here. 
“I don’t know the details of your capture, because this tape is being created July 23, 1993, as a general advisory tape for future female captives. ... Now, you are obviously here against your will, totally helpless, don’t know where you’re at, don’t know what’s gonna happen to you. You’re very scared or very pissed off. I’m sure that you’ve already tried to get your wrists and ankles loose, and know you can’t. Now you’re just waiting to see what’s gonna happen next. 
“You probably think you’re gonna be raped and you’re fuckin’ sure right about that. Our primary interest is in what you’ve got between your legs. You’ll be raped thoroughly and repeatedly, in every hole you’ve got. Because, basically, you’ve been snatched and brought here for us to train and use as a sex slave. Sound kind of far out? Well, I suppose it is to the uninitiated, but we do it all the time….You’ve been taken by force, and you’re going to be kept and used by force. 
“What all this amounts to is that you’re gonna be kept naked and chained up like an animal, to be used and abused any time we want to, any way that we want to.”
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He spent more than $100,000 and countless hours hand-building his torture chamber. It is likely Ray made snuff films, as he reported making money by filming his activities then selling the videotapes online. 

Ray’s victims will never be fully cataloged, because in addition to building a torture chamber out of chains and pulleys, fully labeled with “leg spreader” or “ankle spreader,” he covered his tracks by burying his victims in the vast Elephant Butte Lake.

The FBI put together a site showing mementos they found in the “toy box” and at his residence, hoping anyone searching for their missing daughter, sister, or mother can help identify the missing victims.

Some of the “Toy Box Killer’s” victims remain unknown, but we do know what happened to others and their names. Here are their stories:

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Billy Bowers, murdered 1988 

Billy Bowers was Ray’s long-time business partner, who was reported missing by his family on Sept. 22, 1988. Six days later, a man fishing in Elephant Butte Lake found a body floating in the McCrea Canyon area. It was secured with two boat anchors. There was no ID, but the skull showed a bullet hole, and the corpse still had $50 in the trouser pockets. 

Authorities listed him as a John Doe, until Ray’s girlfriend and accomplice, Cindy Hendy, confessed that Ray murdered Bowers and dumped his body in the lake shortly after he went missing. Using dental records, law enforcement positively identified the body that floated to the surface of Elephant Butte lake as Billy Bowers in 1999. His remains were returned to his adult son, Michael.

Kelli (Kelly) Garrett, escaped 1996

Jessy met Kelli Garrett at the Blu-Water Saloon on July 24, 1996. Kelli was there to drink and unwind after an argument with her husband. Jessy set her sights on getting Kelli home to her dad and, after drugging her drink, called her dad to pick them up from the bar. Once inside his vehicle, Jessy and Ray clamped a metal dog collar around Kelli’s neck and transported her back to Bass Road. 

Ray tortured Kelli for four days while his daughter watched. Like the other women, she was drugged, raped, subjected to electric shock and bound using a variety of gruesome methods. 

On day four, Ray drove Garrett to an isolated spot in the nearby desert and slit her throat. After seeing blood gushing, he walked away. 

But Garrett survived.

She told her story to her husband, who didn’t believe her. Garrett went to the police, who also dismissed the events as fanciful, thinking she was mentally deranged. She filed an official police report, which got misplaced.

No one took Garrett seriously until Jaramillo, years later in 1999, escaped from Bass Road after overcoming Cindy Hendy with an ice pick.

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Sylvia Marie Parker, murdered 1997

In July 1997, a homeless woman living on the shores of Elephant Butte Lake was allegedly strangled to death by Dennis “Roy” Yancy. 

An acquaintance of Ray’s via his daughter Jessy Ray, who supplied her with meth and coke, Sylvia Marie Parker was the mother of two young children and was living with them in a tent she’d borrowed from David Ray. 

She was abducted and subjected to days of torture before Yancy murdered her while Ray filmed it.

Ray claimed he sold video copies to online acquaintances who shared his love of sadistic torture and hatred of women, but whether Parker was one of the victims filmed for profit remains unknown.

Parker’s body was found in an abandoned building in Truth or Consequences, she showed no obvious signs of torture. Her murder was not connected to Ray until Yancy’s confession in 1999 when he turned flipped on Ray.

serial killer new mexico torture murder
Source: FBI
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Angelica Montano, escaped 1999

Another of Ray’s casual acquaintances who lived in Truth or Consequences, Angelica Montano, visited Ray and Hendy’s home on Feb. 17, 1999, where she was kidnapped at knife and gunpoint. They tortured her for three days inside the house, bathed her, then took Angelica to the “toy box” and strapped her to the gynecologist table. 

After begging for mercy for four days, Angelica was dumped on the side of the highway outside Truth or Consequences. She hitchhiked to Albuquerque and went to the local police, who did nothing. 

Montano again came forward after Ray and Hendy’s arrest following Jaramillo’s escape and testimony. Montano was deposed but died shortly before the trial.

She was 28 years old and suffered a sudden bout of pneumonia which led to heart failure.

Cynthia Vigil Jaramillo, escaped 1999 

Cynthia Vigil Jaramillo was a 22-year-old sex worker who willingly climbed into Ray’s vehicle on March 22. She was immediately met with duct tape and a metal dog collar. Jessy Ray helped her father subdue Jaramillo, who said she had no chance against two people with weapons. They two drove her 150 miles out of Albuquerque to Elephant Butter, where she was chained to a wall inside the Bass Road residence.

Three days later, she fled into the sunlight and sought help in Lorraine Beech’s living room.

Her testimony against Ray at his trial led to a campaign to locate other living victims.

Jaramillo is the co-founder of Street Safe New Mexico, whose mission is to help women who are facing lives on the street for whatever reason.

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THE AFTERMATH

Authorities who investigated the activities of David Parker Ray believe he is responsible for multiple murders. The official estimate is between 40 and 60. Ray told Hendy he had perfected hiding his victims in the nearby lake by splitting open their abdomens and filling them with cement before submerging their bodies.

His victims, who struggled with drug addiction and often made their living through sex work, were not taken seriously by authorities, including local police and the FBI.

It is quite possible that Jaramillo could have escaped and also dismissed by police — had it not been for her 911 call moments before she ran out of Ray’s house.

Ultimately, what got Ray arrested was discovering the home on Bass Road and the “toy box” trailer on the property. That evidence, along with the testimony of “credible” witnesses such as Yancy, Jessy Ray, and Hendy, got him prosecuted. 

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David Ray admitted to crimes against two women — Jaramillo and Garrett — in exchange for a plea deal to reduce his daughter Jessy’s sentence. Before admitting any guilt, he maintained that all the women accusing him of rape and torture were willing participants. 

He was convicted and sent to prison to serve 224 years behind bars but died less than two years later in May 2002.

Hendy, Ray’s primary accomplice and girlfriend, was given a 36-year sentence in 2000. She was released 19 years later. She originally faced a sentence of 54 years, but told investigators about 14 murders. She claimed to lead them to burial sites, but there was nothing there. 

After her release, Hendry lives today as a free woman. 

Jessy Ray is now 51 years old. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison with five years of probation. She never admitted to any crime and did not cooperate with the police. She faced 12 counts of kidnapping but walked free with time served in September 2001. 

Yancy served 12 years in prison. Upon his release in 2012, he quickly violated the conditions of his parole. He was reincarcerated to serve his entire sentence until 2021. 

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