The Case of the Wily Coyote

Getting smuggled into the U.S. is a dangerous game, even when the smuggler's just like family

Toward the end of the hourlong autopsy, Dr. Lyon dissects the girl's larynx and studies it meticulously with magnifying glasses.

After a few minutes, the doctor announces, "We're looking at a manual strangulation homicide here. She was murdered. It's hard to tell if she was dead before she was in the tub, though I suspect she was."

"Poor little girl," Jack Ballentine says softly.

Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez, the coyote now facing a murder rap.
Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez, the coyote now facing a murder rap.

A rape-kit test done during the autopsy indicates that the dead girl hadn't been sexually assaulted, which surprises the lead detective.

A technician lifts the girl's fingerprints as soon as the postmortem is completed, so the cops can make a definitive ID. But it's a Friday, and it will be Monday before the Phoenix police crime lab analyzes the prints.

"I'm trying to get a feel of this thing," Ballentine says on the short trip back to the police station. "We have a murder, and I think we have an Alfonso and an Abelardo. But there are way too many moving parts at this point."

That afternoon, Detective Shallue reaches Margarita's sister Eugenia by phone in Santa María Zoquitlán.

Eugenia tells him that Margarita had left for the States days earlier with Abelardo. She adds that Abelardo is her common-law husband.

Shallue asks Eugenia to fax him a photograph of Margarita, which she does within a few hours.

It is obvious to Shallue and the other detectives that Margarita is "their" murder victim.

But he can't tell Eugenia yet that her kid sister is dead because the fingerprint analysis hasn't been completed. The detective promises to let her know as soon as he learns something.

Nothing happens with the murder case over the weekend.

But first thing Monday morning, April 25, Jack Ballentine gets word that Margarita Parada has been positively identified.

He asks John Shallue to make the next-of-kin call to Eugenia Parada. During that sad call, Eugenia provides the detective with much more detail than in their first, shorter conversation.

She says Margarita had left Oaxaca by bus on April 11 with Abelardo and, possibly, with another man she knows only as Freddie. She describes her "husband" as a coyote who splits his time between Oaxaca and Phoenix.

Eugenia says Abelardo regularly uses cocaine and consumes large quantities of Bud Light in bottles when he's in the States.

She says Abelardo has been calling her often in the past few days. He's been claiming that four armed coyotes had kidnapped him and Margarita from their room at the Phoenix La Quinta. The quartet then had taken him to a house somewhere in Phoenix.

He swears he doesn't know where Margarita is.

Eugenia tells Shallue that she'd confronted Abelardo during the calls. She knows if this had been a typical kidnapping by coyotes, the bad guys soon would have demanded ransom money of the Paradas.

But no one called Margarita's family asking for a payoff.

Eugenia says she'd spoken to Abelardo again a day ago. He'd escaped from his captors, he told her, and was in Nogales waiting for his brother Alfonso to bring him some money.

In the most recent conversation, Abelardo had explained that an unidentified man had gone to the motel at some point to see if Margarita had returned to Room 121. The man reported he'd seen blood in the room, but no sign of the girl.

"He is making excuses and his story makes no sense," Eugenia tells Detective Shallue of the man she loved and thought she knew. "He doesn't want to talk about my sister."

Soon after she hangs up, Eugenia faxes a photograph of Abelardo to the Phoenix police. He's posing with one foot on the front bumper of a pickup truck, wearing a black cowboy hat and a smug smile, looking like he's got it all going on.

But now, Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez has become a prime suspect in a murder case.

At 10 a.m. on the 25th, John Shallue speaks with Margarita's brother Balfre.

An illegal alien who lives and works in Dearborn, Michigan, Balfre says he'd spoken with Abelardo on Sunday night, April 17. To Balfre's consternation, Abelardo had told him that he and Margarita were staying together in a Phoenix motel room.

"I asked him why they were alone in a motel, and he told me not to worry," Balfre recalls. "I was worried for her because she's my sister, but he's also my brother-in-law, so nothing should be happening."

Balfre says, on the early evening of April 19, he'd answered another call from Abelardo's cell phone.

This time, Margarita herself was on the line.

She'd told him she was hiding from Abelardo in the bathroom and was very frightened. Tearfully, Margarita said Abelardo was snorting cocaine and drinking heavily, and had tried to rape her. She'd rebuffed his advances, but feared he was about to try again.

"I told her to get out of the room and ask for help," Balfre says.

He says he's tried to contact the Jarquin-Lopez brothers by cell phone numerous times since then. Abelardo hasn't returned his calls, though Balfre did speak with Alfonso on the 20th -- shortly after the housekeeper discovered Margarita's body.

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