The Case of the Wily Coyote

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

"[Alfonso] told me that Abelardo and Margarita had been kidnapped," Balfre says, repeating the story Abelardo had been trying to sell his "wife," Eugenia Parada.

Later that day, Balfre again had tried to reach Alfonso by phone to demand more information about his sister. He says a stranger had answered and told him about a dead woman being found in a room at the La Quinta.

Detective Shallue now tells Balfre that his sister Margarita has been murdered.

Conflicting stories swirled around the death of Margarita Parada.
Dominic Bugatti
Conflicting stories swirled around the death of Margarita Parada.
Margarita Parada died inside this room at a Phoenix La Quinta Inn.
Peter Scanlon
Margarita Parada died inside this room at a Phoenix La Quinta Inn.

Detectives Ballentine and Schechterle return to the La Quinta in the early afternoon with the faxed photograph of Abelardo. But no one there recognizes the murder suspect.

Ballentine seizes the opportunity to revisit Schechterle's troubling "smell of death" remarks from a few days earlier.

"Jason, I've been meaning to talk to you about something," he tells Schechterle in the parking lot. "I can't stand murder. I want you to know that. Can't stand the smell of it. The blood. Anything about it. Whenever it happens, I'm working for the family of the dead person, to try to find the person who did it and get them off the street. That's all. Margarita is done. She's dead, and there's nothing we can do about that."

"But you're still working for her, too," Schechterle replies.

"No, she's dead," Ballentine continues. "You can be her voice, but you're really trying to provide answers to her family and to get from here to there, to make sure the killer won't have a chance to do this ever again."

No one says much on the trip back downtown.

The Phoenix cops ask U.S. border authorities to hold the Jarquin-Lopez brothers if they happen to nab them.

Ballentine also speaks of developing "probable cause" to raid the west Phoenix home of Vilma, the mystery tenant of Room 203 who may or may not have been involved.

The next day, April 26, John Shallue speaks again with a grieving Eugenia Parada. She tells him Abelardo had called the previous night with a curious request.

She says he'd asked her to leave her family, travel north and be with him. She'd asked Abelardo where he was. He wouldn't say.

Eugenia says she'd told him she didn't believe anything he was saying. He cursed her and hung up the phone.

She tells Shallue that she'd gone that morning to the Jarquin-Lopez family home to gather some things she had there.

She says Abelardo already had warned his family by phone that the Paradas were going to kill them in revenge for Margarita's death.

"I told them I had no hard feelings toward them," Eugenia says.

Detective Ballentine calls Alfonso's cell phone the next morning, April 27. Alfonso answers and tells the cop he's on his way back to Mexico.

He says that he, too, fears being killed by the Parada clan. That call is the last time Alfonso makes himself available to the Phoenix police for comment.

His brother Abelardo also vanishes into the coyote netherworld.

Through good fortune and doggedness -- the twin towers of homicide investigation -- the Phoenix detectives have identified Margarita Parada's likely killer, Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez.

One remaining loose investigative thread is Vilma, the lady from Room 203.

On April 29, Ballentine asks a team of four plainclothes officers to trail her around town from her home in west Phoenix.

Surreptitiously, they follow Vilma on and off for days, but the effort proves uneventful. It becomes apparent to the cops that Vilma isn't currently using her residence as a drop house for illegal aliens, nor has she been meeting with any of the known key players in the murder case.

Ballentine still plans to interview Vilma, but his sense of urgency about this lead is gone.

Time moves apace within Phoenix's homicide unit, as new investigations and deadlines take precedence over all else. But Ballentine won't put his file on the Parada case in a cabinet until something breaks.

In fact, he keeps it right on his desk and occasionally revisits it, making notes and keeping fresh with the myriad details.

He also keeps Detective Shallue in the loop, reminding the detective to keep his ear attuned to any news from his border sources about Abelardo and Alfonso Jarquin-Lopez.

Months pass.

Margarita's daughter, Esmeralda, turns 4.

Her dad, Aurelio, stays in touch with the Paradas, still sending them money regularly for the little girl's care.

The Paradas pay for authorities to ship Margarita's body back to Mexico for a proper funeral and burial. The young woman's body is dressed in white and taken to a church in her little hometown for a final viewing.

"She loved life itself," her mother says.

Says Margarita's sister Paula, "My sister loved to sing and dance and have fun. She made everyone around her smile. She went to the States to be with the father of their child. And this guy ended up killing her because she wouldn't give in to him. How sad is that?"

In early November, Ballentine summarizes the status of the case, writing that "if and when these two subjects [the Jarquin-Lopez brothers] cross the Mexican border into the United States, they will be held for questioning. . . . Friends and family have been contacted in an effort to have the men contact me, but they have refused."

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