When a Nevada college professor, who’d previously been the subject of a violent attack, wound up dead in the desert, investigators uncovered a shocking truth.
Dr. Judith Calder, 64, was a pillar at the University of Nevada Reno as a humanities professor. The Incline Village woman devoted herself to researching the darker sides of Reno, including substance abuse and domestic violence, in hopes of improving the world around her.
“She was the kind of person [that] when she walked into a room, people turned their heads and looked,” her coworker and friend, Karen Kopera-Frye, told “Buried in the Backyard,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “She had the most colorful clothes. Her personality and approach to life were just vibrant.”
Judy and her husband, Jim Calder, were the parents of three adult daughters and enjoyed living in the scenic community near the north shores of Lake Tahoe, a 60-mile commute from the university where she worked. On occasion, if working late, she’d rent a room from a local hotel, which was the case on Friday, Aug. 17, 2007. That weekend, a friend offered her a complimentary stay at the Golden Nugget Casino in Reno.
Jim Calder planned to meet his wife there but had his hands full with a broken water heater back at their home, postponing his plans until the next day. But when he tried calling Judy on Saturday morning, there was no answer. Jim grew concerned when he arrived at the Golden Nugget: All of his wife’s belongings, including her diabetes medication, were in the room, and Judy was nowhere to be found.
Jim contacted the local police.
“Jim said that Judy was a very responsible person. This was absolutely out of character for her,” said Detective Danny James of the Sparks Police Department. “College professors don’t just up and vanish and cut off all contact with their families.”
Timestamped surveillance footage put Judy at the casino at around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007. She was last seen getting into her vehicle and leaving by herself.
It wasn’t long before authorities found Judy’s car at 5th and Evans, an unsavory part of Reno that seemed like an odd place for the professor to be, investigators believed. Upon closer inspection, police found someone tried using a wet cloth to remove their fingerprints from the car’s door handles.
“That kind changed the game a little bit,” said James. “That’s a deliberate act to conceal evidence.”
Witnesses also told police they saw a “dark-skinned male” driving Judy’s car.
Police tried to glean more information from Judy’s daughter, Kim, who disclosed to officers that her mother had been violently attacked about a year before her disappearance. In that instance, an unknown man approached Judy in her own garage and covered her mouth.
Judy was able to fight off her assailant, who claimed, “Somebody at the university wants you dead.”
Judy never could guess who’d want to harm her, and neither could colleagues nor friends. When asked by detectives who knew of Judy’s plans to spend the weekend in Reno, Jim Calder offered up Rickey Barge, an associate of the family’s and the one who got Judy a room at the Golden Nugget.
Rickey Barge was the owner of a printing shop called “Imaging Technologies” and had met Judy through his work at the university. Barge became friends with Jim, and the pair later became business partners. When Judy vanished from Reno, Barge drove Jim around the city and helped him in his searches.
Investigators thought Barge seemed genuinely distraught over Judy’s disappearance and asked him if there was anyone else who could have information. Barge said one of his casual laborers from the warehouse, Carlos Filomeno, could have had contact with Judy at the university.
“His physical description very much could have fit the person seen driving Judy’s car,” James said of Carlos Filomeno.
But Filomeno. was nowhere to be found.
10 days after Judy’s disappearance, antelope hunters went to investigate birds circling overhead in the desert. There, they found Judy Calder’s body buried in the sands of Jackpot, Nevada, some 500 miles away from the Golden Nugget Casino.
A postmortem examination showed Judy had been stabbed to death. Investigators determined she died on the day of her disappearance.
Few clues were left at the crime scene, including a phone number belonging to one of Judy’s colleagues, and tire tracks, which investigators cast and processed into evidence. Meanwhile, Jim’s alibi was supported by a water heater repair company, and the search for Carlos Filomeno continued.
Investigators examined the delivery van from “Imaging Technologies,” which was driven by Filomeno, in hopes of matching the tire impressions from the Jackpot desert crime scene. Although they didn’t fit, detectives noticed the smell of cleaning agents emanating from the vehicle. Upon a closer look, they found traces of human blood.
The key was to find Filomeno.
“The police were just trying to put the pieces together,” said KOLO-TV reporter Auburn Harrison. “How did this man become involved with Judy Calder, and what was the relationship? And why was he driving her car?”
It was thanks to Detective Scott Tracy of the Sparks Police Department that investigators tracked Carlos Filomeno down.
“I had a family member who knew Carlos from back in the day when they were both involved in some illegal activities,” said Tracy. “I had called him, and he told me, ‘Carlos’ mother is at one of our local casinos almost every day.’”
Sure enough, they found Filomeno at Harrah’s Casino.
During a taped interrogation, as obtained by “Buried in the Backyard,” Filomeno gave few details about how he knew Jim Calder, but as the interview progressed, he opened up about seeing Judy at “Imaging Technologies.” Filomeno then made a shocking confession: He witnessed Rickey Barge stab Judy to death.
According to Filomeno, Barge owed Judy a substantial amount of money, and Barge couldn’t pay her back. He said Barge told him about the plan and had him purchase the murder weapon at Wal-Mart, which was later confirmed by surveillance footage. Filomeno. accused Barge of luring Judy to the warehouse with the promise to return the loan, and when Judy arrived, he killed her in cold blood. The pair then placed her in a plastic-lined box in the back of the delivery van before driving her body to Jackpot, Nevada.
They later destroyed the evidence, going as far as to change the tires on the van.
Police attempted to pay a visit to Rickey Barge, but Barge skipped town.
Investigators discovered Barge rented a car, which they found near the airport in San Antonio, Texas. Inside the rental was a note written by Barge, stating he was off for Canada. Police suspected he was actually headed for the nearer Mexican border.
As an international manhunt for Barge was underway, crime scene investigators back at the Imaging Technologies warehouse found evidence of large amounts of blood in the spot where Filomeno said Rickey Barge killed Judy. It was clear that someone attempted to clean the blood with a mop.
It was also possible that Filomeno had more involvement in Judy’s murder than what he’d told authorities. But another name kept coming up in the investigation: Mohamed Kamaludeen, to whom Judy loaned $150,000, records showed.
A search through the Department of Motor Vehicles revealed Mohamed Kamaludeen was actually their prime suspect using the alias Rickey Barge.
“The real Rickey Barge turned out to be a homeless person in the state of Texas,” said Detective Tracy. “And Mohamed Kamaludeen had stolen his identity and had been using it for several years.”
The murder suspect using Rickey Barge’s name was also quite the gambler, having racked up tens of thousands in gambling debt around the city. He used the Calders’ loan, which was supposed to be for the business, to feed his addiction. But even more shocking was that Kamaludeen was wanted for a violent 1993 murder in Canada, authorities found.
They finally had enough to issue an arrest warrant for Mohamed Kamaludeen, aka Rickey Barge.
On Sept. 4, 2007, they captured Kamaludeen in Mexico, just before he could follow through with his plans to head to Brazil. He was extradited back to America and charged with Judy Calder’s murder.
Kamaludeen initially denied killing Judy until he made a surprising admission in a 2008 interview with police: Jim Calder, Judy’s husband, paid Kamaludeen $50,000 to murder Judy. Kamaludeen claimed Jim wanted Judy out of the picture because the married couple could not agree on which of their three children should be in their will.
Kamaludeen also said he helped Jim plan the violent attack in Judy’s garage one year prior.
Detectives feared Kamaludeen was telling the truth when they received the surveillance footage from the Imaging Technologies warehouse on the day of Judy’s murder. Despite a two-hour gap where the cameras were turned off at the time of the murder, the footage revealed Jim Calder showing up at the warehouse and looking into the van where the men stuffed Judy’s body in a plastic-lined box.
During questioning, a devastated Jim Calder denied hiring anyone to kill his wife and further denied seeing his wife’s body in the back of the delivery van.
Kamaludeen later changed his story and said they hid the box containing Judy’s body with other boxes filled with printing equipment. It turned out that when Jim looked into the back of the van, he had no idea his wife’s body was so nearby. Police determined that Jim Calder had nothing to do with his wife’s murder.
Authorities cut a deal with Filomeno and did not charge him with murder in exchange for his testimony against Kamaludeen.
“It came down to money and a gambling problem,” said Auburn Harrison. “And a man who sort of felt like he didn’t owe anybody anything.”
In 2008, a jury found Mohamed Kamaludeen, aka Rickey Barge, guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.
“She was the kind of person that would help anybody,” said Judy’s friend Karen Kopera-Frye. “We’ve lost a very vibrant, full-of-life, loving-life person who was so giving and so caring. We miss her.”
Mohamed Kamaludeen is serving his life sentence at a maximum-security state prison in Ely, Nevada.