The Case of the Fatal Femme

Samantha Somegustava's boyfriend tells the homicide detective she has a "hard heart." By now, the cop knows what he means

Ballentine asks him if his son has ever been in trouble with the law. Yes, the man replies, he served time in county jail.

Ballentine pauses. His search for fingerprint identification of the murder victim had come up dry. He tells the father that he wants to run a print comparison before he goes any further.

"Can I stay here and pray?" the father asks.

"Sure," Ballentine says.

The detective returns about 20 minutes later.

"Your prayers have been answered," he says, touching the father's arm gently. "It's not him."


Another night passes.

On the morning of Sunday, March 6, Chris Ferschke decides to take action.

He and about 40 other employees of Graham Central Station meet at the bar, and drive en masse to the Gila River Reservation.

They gather at the Shell station on Pecos Road, and then start going door-to-door in the oddly named Squawberry Subdivision.

Ferschke walks over to a basketball court on Sundust Circle, where some kids are playing with an older gentleman.

He asks them if they know where the cops had found the white Cavalier. To his surprise, they point to a home right next to the court.

Ferschke knocks on the door of 101 Sundust Circle. A woman answers, and says testily she knows nothing about a stolen car. Though Ferschke doesn't know it yet, the woman is Samantha Somegustava's mother, Lolita Carlisle.

But a neighbor soon comes out of her house and tells Ferschke that the police arrested a girl when they recovered the white car, and that a young man's body recently was recovered on the reservation.

The next morning, March 7, Ferschke asks the media and other law enforcement agencies for help in finding Gabe.

A few TV stations ask Ferschke and his makeshift posse to meet them at the reservation for a live broadcast during the 5 p.m. news.

The group meets again at the Shell station, does the news shows, and then returns to the neighborhood with more fliers.

As they walk the streets, the volunteers learn that the arrested girl's name is Samantha, and that she has a long history of gang-related violence and illegal drug use.

That evening, they also hear that a murder victim's body has been found near 91st Avenue and Baseline Road.

One of the sources of the information hands Ferschke a set of car keys, claiming that Samantha tossed them near her residence on Sundust Circle as Gila River police chased her.

By now, the simmering animosity between Gabe's co-workers and the Gila River police has become overt.

"I tell them that two people have info about where Gabe's body was," Chris Ferschke says. "They try to make it like I'm retarded, that I'm over the top. One officer tells me that if something like that happened, they'd know all about it. I'm not happy."

Though it is dark and getting late, several of the Graham Central employees drive out to 91st Avenue and Baseline Road to search for their friend. When they realize they are in Phoenix, Ferschke calls the Phoenix PD.

An officer responds promptly, takes down their information, and asks them to return during daylight hours.

The next morning, Tuesday, March 8, Chris Ferschke speaks with an investigator with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office.

He asks her if any "John Does" have come into the morgue since the previous Thursday. The investigator tells him that two young Latino men do fit Gabe Cruz's description.

She asks him to e-mail photos of Gabe.

The investigator calls Jack Ballentine, who in turn contacts Ferschke.

"I know I'm a nothing," Ferschke says, "but Detective Ballentine immediately commands my respect and makes me feel like I have something to contribute. I feel that we finally are on the right track."

Ferschke provides Ballentine with a potentially crucial new lead: Gabe Cruz had been in a traffic accident in April 2004, and his fingerprint might be on file at a Mesa courthouse.

The Phoenix detectives contact members of the other agencies already involved with the case and schedule a 1 p.m. briefing in downtown Phoenix.

By now, they're very confident that, finally, they have a name for their homicide victim.

Just before that meeting, the detectives run over to the police impound lot, where the Cavalier already has been towed.

The detectives can't search the car until they get a search warrant from a judge. But Schechterle peers through the driver's window to see if the bloody fuse cover is missing.

It is.

At the 1 p.m. briefing, Ballentine asks to assume all aspects of the investigation, with the necessary assistance of the Gila River police.

The tribal police warn the Phoenix detectives about Gabe's pal Chris Ferschke, whom they depict as a potentially dangerous vigilante who's caused them nothing but grief. Ballentine has no such worries about Ferschke, with whom he's already communicated.

Gila River police Detective Mike Lancaster says he'd spoken just that morning with a tribal member who suspects her daughter's involvement in the murder.

The woman said her daughter, Melissa Milda, had been dating a guy named "Gabe," an employee at the Wild Horse Pass casino, which is one of three owned by the Gila River tribe.

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2 comments
sandrajeanharvey
sandrajeanharvey

Sam & Richard are my family they are hurting well in prison. I still love them and feel for them. they had a very hard life growing up, no excuse for what they did. please pray for them they are human. as the years go by, I hope they know that god does for give.

sandrajeanharvey
sandrajeanharvey

Sam & Richard are my family they are hurting well in prison. I still love them and feel for them. they had a very hard life growing up, no excuse for what they did. please pray for them they are human. as the years go by, I hope they know that god does for give.

 
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