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Body of missing woman found near Hagerman; Police say Leotta Talbert drove to very remote location for unknown reasons

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After more than a month since her disappearance, the body of 80-year-old Leotta Talbert, of Roswell, was found Friday southeast of Hagerman.

According to a news release from New Mexico State Police’s public information officer Carl Christiansen, a New Mexico Game & Fish pilot conducting a bird survey spotted a stationary vehicle near the Pecos River Thursday, southeast of Hagerman.

“Game and Fish ground units in the area responded to the vehicle’s location and learned it belonged to Mrs. Talbert,” Christiansen wrote. “New Mexico State Police and Chaves County Sheriff’s Office were contacted and responded to the scene.”

Christiansen said once the two departments convened in attempting to locate Talbert, the search was suspended Thursday evening due to darkness.

The search for Talbert, who was originally reported missing Dec. 3 to the Roswell Police Department, resumed Friday morning.

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“New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue, assisted by Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, Hagerman Police Department, Atoka Fire Rescue and the United States Border Patrol continued the search for Mrs. Talbert,” Christiansen said. “Around 12:30 p.m., Mrs. Talbert’s body was located near the area of where her vehicle was found.”

Talbert’s body has since been turned over to the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder said Talbert’s family, who was in the vicinity of the search party, was notified Friday afternoon of the findings.

“We want to offer our sympathy to the family,” Snyder said. “It really is a sad situation. Thank goodness they finally get some closure.”

Snyder described the area being searched as incredibly difficult due to the surrounding dead vegetation.

“The area she was in, basically right off the end of (East) Morgan Road, she followed the roadway back in there for another mile, mile and a half,” he said, “(It) winds around to the south, goes back west for a while, and she just drove off down onto the lowest part before you go right off in the river.

“Once you get on that lowest part, the weeds and the vegetation down there, it’s just — it’s ridiculous how many old dead weeds and vegetation are down there.”

Snyder said Talbert had driven within approximately 20 feet of the river and hit multiple dead salt cedars, bringing her vehicle to a stop.

“Otherwise, she would’ve driven right off into the river,” he added. “So, she obviously was not thinking clearly — nobody would have driven that car to where she drove it. It’s not an inviting area at all.”

Snyder said the Search and Rescue team was able to find Talbert’s body through the use of a drone.

“The weeds are so thick, they had to fly over (them), looking straight down,” he said. “They were able to spot her, and she was only about 25 yards back to the north and east of her car.”

The sheriff added that it looked like Talbert had roamed around the area for a while, though he was uncertain for how long.

“She likely died of exposure, hypothermia,” Snyder said. “This is our coldest time of the year — you’re just not going to make it.”

Snyder suspects Talbert had died within two days of her original disappearance.

“That would be my guess,” he said. “She might have survived three days, but it’s likely that she didn’t even make it three days.

“She drove to an incredibly isolated spot, almost as if she was trying to hide her vehicle — it’s that isolated. I don’t believe for a second that that’s what she was trying to do. I think she just drove until her car stopped.”

Snyder said the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office handled the unattended death, while Talbert’s body was turned over to the Office of the Medical Investigator.

“We’re very thankful to state police for putting the Search and Rescue group together,” he said. “Search and Rescue did a great job.”

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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