The Case of the Wily Coyote

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

Also that month, Detective Ballentine finally interviews Vilma at a Phoenix hotel, where she works as a housekeeper.

Vilma says she and her boyfriend had gone to the La Quinta that April 19 for "some adult time together," and that's all.

Ballentine shows her photos of the Jarquin-Lopez brothers and Felix Garnica -- the guy who'd rented the three rooms. Vilma says she's never seen them, and swears that she and her boyfriend aren't coyotes.

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.

The detective thanks her for her time, and leaves.

On the afternoon of January 28, 2006, Peoria police officer Tony Anglin pulls up to a home on West Turquoise Avenue. A Hispanic man is hiding in a garage there and is saying he fears he's going to be killed.

Anglin coaxes the man out of the garage, and sees he has deep cuts and bruises all over his body, including his face. The cop calls in for a translator because the man, Sergio Santos, speaks little English.

The residence is teeming with people, all of them Latinos, though the place has little furniture or other household items.

A classic drop house.

Santos tells the translator he'd been riding around earlier that day in his Ford truck with two friends. One of his pals, Abelardo Vasquez, was driving.

Santos claims Vasquez had pulled a semi-automatic pistol from his waistband and pointed it at him. Santos says he'd jumped out of the moving vehicle, causing serious road rash.

Santos says he fled to safety, and made his way back to his residence. He called police with someone else's cell phone because he'd left his own phone in his truck.

After prodding by Officer Anglin, Santos admits he runs the drop house for Mexican illegals. Remarkably, he says about 50 people a week at about $1,000 a head run through the home.

Santos says Abelardo Vasquez is one of his drivers and often acts as an "enforcer" when people don't pay up on time. He's worried that Vasquez has designs on killing him and then assuming Santos' booming coyote business.

Later, Officer Anglin writes in his police report:

"Sergio said [Abelardo] has been running illegals for the past few years and is currently a suspect in two homicide investigations in Phoenix, one of which a female with the last name of Paralda [sic] was raped and strangled."

The Peoria cop calls over to the Phoenix PD, which dispatches Officer Michael Villarreal to the home on Turquoise. Villarreal asks Sergio Santos to come with him to the Cactus Park precinct for further questioning.

There, the officer asks Santos more about the murdered woman, and he later writes:

"Sergio told me that, last year, in about August, there was a murder involving Abelardo's sister-in-law and her last name was Parada. Sergio said she was about 20 years old and this occurred at a hotel on the south side of Phoenix, on Broadway Road. . . . It is unknown who killed the female, but she was strangled."

Villarreal searches in vain on his police computer for a murder victim named Parada who'd died the previous August. (The alleged second homicide investigation never does come to light.)

The officer decides to call the department's homicide unit anyway. Someone puts him through to Jack Ballentine.

Santos has been a little off -- Margarita Parada died in April, not August, and the motel was on Thomas Road, not Broadway Road.

And Abelardo "Vasquez's" real last name is Jarquin-Lopez.

Other than that, the coyote's information is chillingly accurate, especially about the cause of death being strangulation.

Ballentine is elated that Abelardo has resurfaced, though for how long is anyone's guess. What gives the detective hope of capturing the suspect is that someone is still using Sergio Santos' cell phone.

If the phone stays on, satellite technology could lead police to its -- and hopefully Abelardo's -- exact whereabouts. Thankfully for the cops, the phone does stay alive.

On February 9, Phoenix PD's Special Assignments Unit (SWAT team) moves in on a home in Sunnyslope, in the 9000 block of North 12th Street. That's where someone using Santos' cell phone has been making calls.

The cops at the scene stay in close touch with Jack Ballentine as they invent a ruse to get inside the residence, yet another drop house for Mexican illegals.

In turn, Ballentine alerts John Shallue to the strong possibility that the cops are closing in on Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez. Shallue has done a lot of work on this case, and Ballentine will want him to interrogate Abelardo if and when the time comes.

Out in Sunnyslope, Dave Lucero, an ex-homicide detective who returned to street work a few years ago, is instrumental in identifying and corralling Abelardo.

The suspect first tells police he's Juan Garcia-Ruiz, and he presents an ID card to prove it.

But down at the Phoenix police station, it becomes apparent to Ballentine, Shallue and everyone else that the man in custody looks the same as the photos of Abelardo.

He's a slight, unimposing man wearing sandals, dirty black pants and a nondescript shirt, far different from the confident-looking gaucho in the photo sent by Eugenia. Abelardo's hands tremble as a technician rolls his fingerprints, but otherwise he remains impassive.

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