Two Peaks area ’witch hunter’ sentenced to life in prison

Ivan Cales, shown in court March 18, was sentenced Friday to life in prison in the killing of Taos resident Roxanne Houston. A Taos jury convicted Cales, 51, of first-degree murder in her death. Katharine Egli/The Taos News

TAOS — Ivan Dennings Cales, found guilty in March of first-degree murder in the death of a woman whose body was discovered by hikers on Christmas Day in 2014, was sentenced Friday to life in prison.

Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Backus also added three years to the life sentence for Cales, known as a drifter in the Taos area and also dubbed a “witch hunter,” for conviction on two counts of tampering with evidence in the case.

During a weeklong trial for Cales, 51, prosecutors argued that he killed 33-year-old Roxanne Houston because he thought she was a witch who had cast a spell on him.

Houston had been missing for about six months before hikers found her burned remains in a shallow grave in the Two Peaks area. She had moved to the Taos area from Colorado about a year before her disappearance.

Cales was charged in connection with Houston’s death in February 2015. Authorities believed he had fled the area long before her remains were unearthed, but police found him that month at the St. Elizabeth Shelter in Santa Fe, living under a different name.

Cales had briefly lived in a home west of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge that Houston shared with two other men — a boyfriend and a former lover who had raised her when she was a child and also fathered two of her children. Witnesses who testified at Cales’ trial said the home Houston shared with the men was sometimes tumultuous. One witness said Houston’s memorial service was a “New Age, mystic, pagan service.”

Thomas Clark, Cales’ attorney, described the relationship between Houston and the men as a love triangle and said the other men had more motivation to kill her than his client, described by Taos County sheriff’s officials as a drifter from West Virginia.

Clark called the allegations of witchcraft “nonsense.”

Two witnesses testified that Cales had spoken about killing witches. One was inmate Raymond Martinez, who had shared a cell with Cales.

Another was Michael Thebo, Cales’ landlord. He said Cales had told him if a Wiccan ever cast a spell on him, he would have to kill the witch. A topical graph map of the Two Peaks area that Thebo said he had found in Cales’ residence months after Houston’s disappearance was marked with an X near the spot where her remains were found.

Information from The Taos News was used in this report. The Taos News is a sister publication of The Santa Fe New Mexican.

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