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

She'd also told Lancaster that tribal member Ed Pasquali may have killed "Gabe" out of jealousy over Melissa's relationship. The detective says Melissa Milda currently is living on the reservation with her father, Joe Milda, and that Samantha Somegustava often stays at their residence.

The most pressing order of business for Phoenix detectives is to formally confirm Gabe Cruz as their murder victim. Late that afternoon, a Mesa cop locates Gabe's file at the Mesa courthouse. As Chris Ferschke had suspected, it does have a print from one of Gabe's index fingers.

Ballentine makes arrangements to pick up the print from the officer the next morning, which he does. He immediately takes the print to the police department's crime lab for comparison with their unidentified murder victim's.

Dominic Bugatto
The body of Gabe Cruz lies below a dirt road near 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye.
courtesy of Phoenix Police Department
The body of Gabe Cruz lies below a dirt road near 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye.


On the morning of Wednesday, March 9, Jack Ballentine meets at the Phoenix police station with Chris Ferschke. He asks the bartender to write down everything he's experienced since Gabe Cruz's March 3 disappearance.

The detective promises to keep Ferschke in close touch with his investigation, and he keeps that promise.

"It often causes us problems when citizens turn into amateur detectives," Ballentine explains later. "But Chris really advanced the investigation with what he'd done."

Just after noon on March 9, Phoenix police analysts positively match Gabe Cruz's fingerprints.

Detectives Ballentine and Schechterle drive to Mesa to inform Gabe's cousin, Rene. Though the news has been expected, Rene Cruz takes it hard.

Later that afternoon, for the first time in their investigation, the detectives enter foreign soil -- the sovereign nation of the Gila River Indian Reservation.

They go directly to the Vee Quiva casino to study videotape of the three ATM transactions on the evening of March 3 when someone used Araceli Brigado's credit card.

One of the casino's security people recognizes the woman on the tape as the daughter of Mildred Davis, Lolita Carlisle. Davis owns the home where the cops confiscated the Cavalier.

Turns out Davis works security at the casino, and happens to be on duty. She's asked to come into the gaming inspector's office, which includes a few small rooms usually used to question wayward patrons. It's 7 p.m.

Davis identifies her daughter Lolita from still photos made from the videotape at the ATM machine. She then tells Jack Ballentine about the events of March 3 -- the suspicious white convertible in her driveway, calling Gila River police, the chase scene involving her granddaughter, Samantha Somegustava.

As Ballentine is interviewing Davis, helpful casino security official Darren Rhodes tells Jason Schechterle, "You're not going to believe this. Lolita is playing the slots on the floor right now."

The tribal police soon detain Lolita Carlisle in the casino parking lot.

"I didn't do anything," Lolita says, as she's led into the interview room. "I just took the [credit] card."

She admits to Ballentine that she and Samantha had used a stolen credit card to buy gas, and that she'd used or tried to use the card after Samantha's arrest.

She says she tossed the card into a storage room at her house after it stopped working (investigators never found it).

Ballentine wants to know much more about the Mildas and about Ed Pasquali, names that keep popping up.

Lolita describes Joe Milda as her ex-best friend, but says little more about him. But she has much to say about Ed Pasquali -- and about her own daughter, Samantha.

Lolita says she was smoking meth with Pasquali a few days after the murder when a certain subject came up. Pasquali told her that Samantha recently had revealed to him and others "that the dude was no longer breathing."

After the interview, Ballentine asks the Gila River police to find Joe and Melissa Milda for him, and see if they'll come over to the casino for a chat. He wants to hold off on interviewing Ed Pasquali for the time being. Within the hour, the Mildas are waiting their turn inside the casino's interview rooms.

Seventeen-year-old Melissa Milda tells Ballentine that she knows nothing about any murder. She concedes that she once dated a man named Gabe who works at the Wild Horse Pass casino, but says that the relationship long has been over. (The detectives later confirm Melissa's account with that Gabe.)

Melissa says Ed Pasquali is a friend of her father's whom she'd never date.

Ballentine's subsequent interview of Melissa's father, Joe Milda, proves fruitful.

Joe says he, too, had spoken with Samantha Somegustava shortly before tribal police arrested her March 3. She told him that she and another person had "jacked" the owner of a white convertible, as in robbed him:

"[She said] they were cruising together and they jacked that fool and jacked his ride," Joe tells investigators. "They just left that fool in Tolleson."

Joe says he's also certain that Ed Pasquali had nothing to do with the murder.

Afterward, Jack Ballentine says he's pretty comfortable that Joe Milda has been straight with him.

He and Schechterle leave the casino that night thinking that Samantha Somegustava and a still-unidentified man robbed and murdered Gabe Cruz.


The Phoenix detectives arrive at work at 6 a.m. Thursday, March 10, and take stock. One week has passed since Gabe's body was discovered, and so much has happened.

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3 comments
scogostology_worldol
scogostology_worldol

This is among the top 10 most despicable murder stories I have ever read about!

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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