The True Crime Edition
The Unsolved Las Cruces Bowling Alley Massacre
31 years after the murders, the killers are still free.
Las Cruces Bowl via New Mexico Police Department
Shortly after 8 am, on the 10th of February 1990, police received a call from a distressed child, who claimed she’d been shot in the head. The girl was one of seven who’d been attacked at Las Cruces Bowl that morning and the motive appeared to be money, but was that all?
That Saturday had started like any other. 34-year-old Stephanie Senac was at the bowling alley, getting ready for the busy day ahead, and her daughter Melissa Repass tagged along with her. The business was a family affair, while Stephanie managed the day to day running of the business, her father Ron owned the bowling alley.
12-year-old Melissa and her friend Amy Houser, 13, were working at the daycare facility in the bowling alley that day and were preparing the space. The alley’s chef, Ida, was in the kitchen, firing up the fryers and getting ready for the onslaught of children she’d be feeding.
A short time later, Steve Senac, Stephanie’s brother and Melissa’s uncle, arrived at the bowling alley to pick up a bag he’d left there. When he arrived, he saw that the front doors were open and that two men were walking through the car park from the back of the building. One was much older than the other and Steve saw them pass a small case between them.
Thinking nothing more of it, Steve grabbed his bag from the alley and dropped into Stephanie’s office, to tell her to keep the front doors locked before 9 am. He then left the building and continued his morning.
Melissa and Amy were already hungry and asked Stephanie for pocket change to buy snacks from the vending machines before customers started arriving. However, they never got to the machines as they were confronted by two men, standing in the open doorway of the bowling alley, holding guns.
One of the men took the girls into the manager’s office where a surprised Stephanie was working, and the other went to find Ida in the kitchen. He returned with the frightened chef, holding a .22 calibre pistol to her head, and the group were told to get on the ground. Shortly after, Steve Teran showed up for work.
Steve was the alley mechanic and had problems finding childcare that morning, so instead of calling off work, he brought his daughter, Valerie and stepdaughter Paula to the bowling alley with him.
Steve Teran via Las Cruces PD Facebook
Steve and his children were ordered into the office, where his colleagues and friends were now being held, cowering on the floor. The gunmen appeared to be looking for money, and when they found the safe, they took the cash that was inside. There was between $4,000 and $5,000 in total.
They could have stopped there, let their captives go and crossed the nearby border to Mexico, but for whatever reason, they weren’t masked, and instead, they started shooting. The three adults and four children were each shot in the head and before leaving the bowling alley, the killers set fire to the paperwork on Stephanie’s desk.
Despite being shot five times, 12-year-old Melissa was still alive and through the fire was beginning to fill the room with smoke, she managed to find the phone and call the police, something she’d learned at school just a week earlier.
Firefighters extinguished the fire, while paramedics tended to the injured, but there were so many personnel on-site and water from the hoses soaking everything, any evidence left behind was compromised, apart from a few footprints and shell casings.
Amy Houser via Las Cruces PD Facebook
Amy Houser, 13, Paula Holguin, six, and Steve Teran, 26 all died from their injuries at the scene. Two-year-old Valerie Teran was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Stephanie, Melissa and Ida were the only survivors.
(l-r) Paula Holguin and Valerie Teran via Sun-News
Police began canvassing the neighbourhood, to try and find any witnesses to the shootings and get the killers in custody. One witness told police that he’d heard gunshots from across the street, but he didn’t think anything of it until the emergency services began to arrive at the bowling alley.
Helicopters, planes and multiple law enforcement departments quickly got involved, including the Army, U.S Customs and border patrol, all hunting for the shooters. Being only 45 minutes from the Mexican border, police decided put roadblocks in place, in case the killers tried to flee the country. At 9 am, police stopped a car with four men inside.
The men and car were searched, and police found over $12,000 in cash on them. Steve Senac was brought in to identify them, but he confirmed that they weren’t the men he saw in the parking lot.
The police needed a clearer picture of who they were looking for, so Steve sat down with a sketch artist and gave his descriptions of the two men.
According to the Las Cruces police, the older suspect was in his late 30s or early 40s, 5’5” in height, medium build between 160 and 180lbs. The younger suspect was in his late 20s, between 5’6” and 5’8” in height, with a medium build and around 190lbs.
Steve said they were both Hispanic, and at some point, police must have decided that Steve’s depiction of the men was correct as he wasn’t under duress when he saw them, unlike Melissa. However, they learned from her account that the older man had a Spanish accent, but the younger had an American enunciation.
The descriptions of the men were made into composites and distributed to law enforcement and news stations across the United States and Mexico.
Sketches of the suspects via cnn.com
Almost immediately, the police began receiving masses of tips, and they ended up opening another phone line to deal with the call volumes. Despite the number of tips received, very few were of any use to the police.
With the leads they’d received going nowhere, police began to look at the robbery in more detail. Though the killers stole thousands from the bowling alley, Ida told investigators that they were rifling through a filing cabinet after they’d found the money in the safe.
Stephanie’s father and the owner of the bowling alley, Ron Senac, had been in Arizona on a golf trip and quickly travelled home when he heard the news. Ron reopened the bowling alley six days after the massacre and attention soon turned to him. Rumours of organised crime and drugs began to circle the neighbourhood and Ron was right in the centre of the stories.
“We investigated all of those angles at the time,” Detective Mark Myers told What’s Up Pub. “Thousands and thousands of man hours went into trying to prove those theories, but we couldn’t prove anything.”
Ron Senac at the reopening of the bowling alley via newspapers.com
Crime Stoppers offered a reward of $12,000 and locals raised another $8,000, hoping that someone would have information about the killings, but no new leads were made.
In March 1990, the sketch composites were updated and distributed once more to news outlets. With no new information, police began to look at tips from all over the United States, but again, no potential suspects were identified.
Unsolved Mysteries featured the massacre just over two months after the event (season 2, episode 6) and America’s Most Wanted included the story on the show in 2004 (season 18, episode 7) and 2010 (unknown). Despite the many calls and renewed interest in the case, the leads lacked new information and the police were no closer to finding the killers.
In January 1991, the bowling alley was sold at auction by the bank. The business had been foreclosed and Ron was now bankrupt, with $2million in debt.
Rumours began to spill out into the streets of Las Cruces once again; was the businessman involved in the murders?
According to Ron Senac, he’d spent a lot of time with the police, trying to help them. However, the police reported that this wasn’t the case and they often had to track him down. Ron claimed he was treated as a suspect in the massacre and that the news’ reporting was incorrect, but there would soon be another death nearby and the two crimes had a common denominator: Ron Senac.
In March, James Chapman was murdered at Rio Rancho Lanes, New Mexico. He was the custodian of the bowling alley, which used to be owned by Ron Senac until it went bankrupt a few years earlier.
Despite the coincidence, police later confirmed that the murder in Rio Rancho was unrelated to the bowling alley killings in Las Cruces;
“We put Ronald Senac under a microscope and we couldn’t find anything. To date, all we know for sure is it was a robbery-homicide.” — Detective Mark Myers speaking to What’s Up Pub.
But Amy Housen’s mother, Gloria wasn’t so sure. At the auction for the bowling alley, she held up a sign which read,
“Non-payment may have caused four lives. Justice?”
The Las Cruces bowling alley massacre can be compared to that of the yoghurt shop murders in Texas. In that case, the girls were shot in the back of the head and the building was set on fire. This case is also unsolved.
Stephanie Senac eventually died in 1999, due to issues with her injuries. Her daughter Melissa Repass survived the attack and is now 34. It’s unclear what happened to Ida but she would now be in her sixties.
Over 30 years later, the bowling alley killings remain a mystery. In 2011, A Nightmare in Las Cruces was released, based on the actual events of that day, prompting fresh tips but no leads came from them.
The case is still open, and according to KVIA, the reward is now totalled at $25,000. Information should be called into the Las Cruces police department on 575–528–4222. Alternatively, call Crime Stoppers on 575–526–8000 or visit the website NMCrimestoppers.org.
“It remains our intention to solve this case for the sake of the victims, their families and friends, and all the residents of Las Cruces who continue to mourn the senseless tragedy that shook our city on that cold February morning a quarter century ago.” — Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya.
Sources and further reading
Las Cruces Bowling Alley Massacre | American Crime Journal | On the morning of February 10th, 1990, a few staff members were preparing to open the Las Cruces Bowl for the day…americancrimejournal.com Police hope for new information in brutal Las Cruces murders after 25 years - CNN On a February morning almost 25 years ago, a 12-year-old girl called police after she and six others were shot at a Las…www.cnn.com Unsolved Las Cruces Bowling Alley Mass Shooting Case Marks 31 Years Feb. 10, 2021, marks the 31-year anniversary of the heinous shooting of four children and three adults at a Las Cruces…www.krwg.org Log into Facebook Log into Facebook to start sharing and connecting with your friends, family, and people you know.www.facebook.com 7 Jan 1991, 3 - The Deming Headlight at Newspapers.com Edit descriptionwww.newspapers.com