Longform

Catch Him If You Can

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"He said I didn't need one because I already had two witnesses to the money going to him," she says. "I asked him for at least some of our money back. He said it had gone for `paperwork,' and there was nothing left. I knew I had gotten taken. I am his mother, and I was desperate. I thought about complaining to someone, but who would they believe, me and my fifth-grade education, or this guy with his fancy mouth and all that education?"

Tom Thinnes says he knew nothing about Petra Cano until a few months ago. Cano confirms she never spoke to Thinnes until recently. Luis Pecina still awaits trial, and is being represented by court-appointed counsel.

"I've lost about everything," Cano says. "I pray to God that someone does something about this man."

Bob Owens' lies outnumber anything else that comes out of his mouth, so compiling an accurate mini-biography isn't easy.

Though he's listed various birth dates, Owens seems to have been born in Tucson on March 1, 1963. His father, Sherwood, was a prominent dentist, and his mother, Mary-Ann, raised five children.

Owens later claimed in writing that he had graduated from Pima Community College and the University of Arizona. That was a lie. He never attended the university, and an official at Pima says he paid for a few classes there in the early 1980s but never graduated.

Owens moved to the Valley in early 1982, and found work as a paramedic with Air Medical Transport and Southwest Ambulance.

A lanky, good-looking young man with a disarming smile, Owens didn't have much trouble wooing the opposite sex. He also had a decent job for a guy in his early 20s with little education and no real skills.

In June 1985, the ambulance firm ordered Owens to see a psychiatrist after he allegedly stole two radios. He apparently attended one session, then stopped going and lost his job.

But Rural/Metro Sun City Fire Department hired him that fall, and he worked there as a paramedic until his arrest the following March.

In December 1985, a Terence Owens called Tempe police to say that his driver's license had been suspended wrongfully. He claimed that his brother Robert Shawn Owens had stolen his identity.

Terence said his brother even had bought a car falsely using his name, and would use his identity every time a cop stopped him. He said he would testify against Robert if necessary, and a Tempe officer forwarded the case for prosecution. Court records don't indicate the disposition.

Bob Owens later would tell people in Phoenix (New Times spoke with five of them) that Terence had drowned in a Tucson bathtub after suffering an epileptic seizure. But an official at the Pima County coroner's office says no one named Terence Owens has died in that county.

In March 1986, sheriff's deputies arrested Owens at the fire station in Sun City.

A search of Owens' bunk at the station uncovered a duffel bag stuffed with credit cards belonging to various people, including elderly Sun City residents whose cards had vanished while paramedics responded to their homes.

Police would tie Owens into at least 15 cases with 161 pieces of stolen property. A search of Owens' apartment elicited Gucci watches, Waterford crystal, credit cards, TV sets and a license plate to a stolen Chevy Camaro -- which Owens was driving with other plates at the time.

During the search, police also found a credit card belonging to the roommate of a woman whom Owens had dated. Owens had charged about $860 at a store using the roommate's card.

He stayed in jail for 38 days before he was released on his own recognizance. That July, Owens told his attorney that he wanted to talk to county prosecutors about a deal. He had already pleaded guilty to two felonies, theft and fraudulent schemes, in return for prosecutors dropping the slew of other charges.

Now Owens wanted to ensure that he didn't do time in prison. Through his lawyer, he let it be known that he would tell prosecutors about serious crimes that allegedly had been committed by other paramedics and his employers -- drug smuggling and murder -- in return for guaranteed probation.

A so-called "free talk" was arranged, and Owens started singing.

He said his employers were trafficking drugs into the United States from Mexico using medical planes. His fellow paramedics were among the distributors. The supposed murder victim was a Mike Stangles who supposedly had owed Owens' boss money. Another man involved with the supposed drug operation was missing and presumed dead.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin