Anthonette Cayedito lived in Gallup, New Mexico, with her mother Penny, and her two younger sisters, Wendy and Sadie. The 9-year-old was nicknamed “Squirrel” and her favorite color was purple. Loved ones described her as a 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 April 5, 1986, Penny hired a babysitter to look after her daughters while she went to Talk of the Town Bar with friends. Penny 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.
It was at 7 am the following day while Penny was waking her children 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 am but a search didn’t begin until the next day; the Amber Alert didn't exist yet and the 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 she 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.” Anthonette opened the door only to be taken by two strange men and put into a brown van.
Wendy later told the police she didn't recognize the men. The girls did have an uncle named Joe, however, he was ruled out as a suspect. An intense city-wide search was called off after just 5 days. Anthonette's disappearance is the FBI's oldest missing Indigenous persons case in New Mexico.
A neighbor saw a man park a brown truck with New Mexico license plates outside the Cayedito home and approach the front door between 6:30 and 7 am that morning. She was unable to provide a description of the 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 claimed to be Anthonette and said she was being held against her will in Albuquerque. Suddenly, a man was heard shouting, “Who said you could use the phone!” There was a scream and then the line went dead.
The last reported sighting of Anthonette took place in 1991. A waitress at a Carson City, Nevada restaurant reported that a disheveled couple came in with a young girl who appeared to be in distress. The child continuously threw her utensils on the floor and each time the waitress picked them up, she squeezed her hand. After they left, the waitress found a napkin underneath the girl’s plate which read, “Help me! Call police.”
Penny failed a polygraph regarding Anthonette's whereabouts and she was named a suspect. The authorities believed that she had additional knowledge - unfortunately, she passed away in 1999.
“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
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" and 55 lbs with brown hair and brown eyes. Anthonette would be 45 today. If you have any information, call Gallup Police Department at 505-863-9365, case# 0006–86, or submit an anonymous tip here.