Gallup, NM

35 years ago, a 9-year-old girl was taken from her home in the middle of the night. Where is Anthonette Cayedito?

Fatim Hemraj

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Anthonette CayeditoSoapBoxie

Anthonette Christine Cayedito lived at 204 Arnold Circle in Gallup, New Mexico, with her mother Penny, and two younger sisters, Wendy and Sadie. According to The Charley Project, the 9-year-old was nicknamed “Squirrel” and her favourite colour was purple; she was described by her loved ones as a deeply devoted girl who was wise beyond her years and had a caregiver's heart; by age six, Anthonette was already cooking for her sisters and taking care of them while Penny worked.

On the evening of April 5, 1986, Penny hired a babysitter to look after her daughters while she went to Talk of the Town Bar with friends. According to Penny, she returned home at midnight, sent the babysitter home, and fell asleep around 3 am after talking with Anthonette, who she allowed to stay up late that night.

According to authorities, it was at 7 am the next morning while Penny was waking her daughters up for Sunday School that she first realized Anthonette wasn’t in her bed, let alone in the house. She reported her daughter missing at 11 but a search didn’t begin until the next day; this was a time before the Amber Alert existed and authorities refused to file a missing persons report until 8 hours had passed.

“We went looking for her around the house, nothing. I didn’t start panicking until we checked with all the neighbors, went to every house and nobody had seen her.” — Penny Cayedito

Wendy, who was 5 at the time, claimed there was a knock at the front door shortly after 3 am but the girls’ didn’t recognize the man’s voice and ignored it. A few minutes later, there was a second knock. This time, Anthonette got up while Sadie and Wendy remained in bed. When the fourth-grader asked, “Who’s there?” a man responded, “Uncle Joe.” She opened the door only to be grabbed by two strange men and forced into a brown van.

Wendy said she didn’t recognize the men and went to sleep shortly afterward. The girls’ real uncle, who was in fact named Joe, was ultimately ruled out as a suspect. An intense city-wide search was called off after only five days.

A neighbour told authorities she saw a brown truck with New Mexico license plates park outside the Cayedito home between 6:30 and 7 am that morning and that a man approached the front door. She was unable to provide a description of that man and Penny claimed she didn’t know anyone who owned a brown van or truck.

A year later, the Gallup Police Department received a bizarre call. A girl claiming to be Anthonette stated she was being held against her will in Albuquerque. Suddenly, a man shouted, “Who said you could use the phone!?” Anthonette screamed, and the line went dead. The call only lasted 30 seconds and could not be traced.

According to authorities, the last reported sighting of Anthonette took place in 1991. A waitress at a restaurant in Carson City, Nevada reported that a dishevelled couple came in with a young girl who appeared to be in distress. The girl continuously threw her utensils on the floor and each time the waitress picked them up, she squeezed her hand. After she and the couple left, the waitress found a napkin underneath the girl’s plate which read, “Help me! Call police.

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An age-progression photo of what Anthonette might look like now if aliveNational Center for Missing and Exploited Children

In 2016, authorities named Penny a suspect in the case and disclosed that she had once failed a polygraph test regarding her daughter’s whereabouts. They believe she had additional knowledge about Anthonette’s abduction. Whether that is the case remains a mystery as Penny died in 1999.

Authorities haven’t been able to determine whether the girl in the phone call and/or the girl seen at the restaurant in Nevada was Anthonette.

“I listened to that tape over and over and over. And just by the way she says her last name, And the way she screamed, sent chills all over my body. A mother knows and I know that was her.” — Penny Cayedito
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A newspaper article of Louisa Estrada's disappearanceNewspapers.com

According to newspaper clippings, on September 5, 1989, Anthonette’s aunt from her father’s side, 25-year-old Louisa Estrada, disappeared during an evening walk and has not been seen or heard from since. Louisa was mentally disabled and her family claimed she would not have left willingly; she was last seen outside a church with a man in his 20s. It’s unclear whether Anthonette and Louisa’s disappearances are linked.

Anthonette was of Navajo and Italian descent. At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing a pink knee-length nightgown and may or may not have been wearing glasses. She was 4'7" tall and 55 lbs with brown hair and brown eyes. The case is considered a non-family abduction. If alive, Anthonette would be 45 today. Her case remains open and active.

If you have any information regarding the case of Anthonette Cayedito you can call the Gallup Police Department at 505–863–9365 (Case Number 0006–86) or you can submit an anonymous tip here.

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