Longform

Family Secrets

An unfolding television crime story on the morning of last February 25 grabbed the attention of Estela Sanchez.

Phoenix police were investigating the pre-dawn shootings of a man and woman just outside the Coconut Groves apartments at 2028 West Indian School Road.

The detectives seemed focused on a lime-green taxicab inside the crime scene.

Suddenly, an alarming thought overtook Sanchez.

"I said to myself, 'Oh, my gosh, Celia lives right there with Gerry, and he drives a green cab.' I didn't want to think about it."

Celia was Celia Carbajal, a 50-year-old Phoenix native known to almost everyone as Sally.

Gerry was Gerry Best, a cabdriver who used his taxi to get around during off hours.

Sally and Gerry had been living together at the apartments for months.

A sheet draped the body of a middle-aged woman, the victim of a .22-caliber bullet to the back of her head from close range. A folder thick with paperwork was on the pavement near the woman's body.

Firefighters already had rushed the second victim to a hospital, also with a bullet to his head. He died a day later without regaining consciousness.

When Sanchez got to work -- she's a secretary for Phoenix divorce attorney Kenneth Winsberg -- she asked if Sally had come by yet as scheduled.

She hadn't, which was doubly troubling.

Winsberg and his staff had appreciated Sally's punctuality since she'd hired the lawyer in May 2004 to represent her in a vicious divorce battle with Danny Carbajal, her husband of 34 years.



Danny is the oldest sibling and well-known one-time trainer/manager of retired boxing champion Michael Carbajal, Arizona's most popular and successful pugilist ever.

This was a Friday, and Winsberg had planned to study the Carbajal file over the weekend in anticipation of the divorce trial, set to start in Maricopa County Superior Court that Monday.

The financial spoils in Carbajal v. Carbajal were hundreds of thousands of dollars in property and retirement accounts. And for reasons that will become evident in this story, Sally Carbajal was the odds-on favorite to win by a knockout.

Winsberg's staff repeatedly tried to reach Sally on her cell phone, to no avail. They called her job, where she'd been working as a bookkeeper. She hadn't shown up and hadn't called in, which also was a first.

Ken Winsberg was at a loss. The veteran attorney had grown to like and respect his client, and he also was well aware of her growing concerns for her own safety.

About 11:45 a.m., Winsberg and legal assistant Claudia Rivas decided to drive to the murder scene that Estela Sanchez had told them about, just a few minutes away.

On the way, Winsberg recalled his last conversation with Sally, less than a day earlier:

"She told me, 'Danny will never let me get the money that's coming to me.' She was genuinely scared of getting murdered by him. I told her, 'No one's killed you yet, right?' Just trying to lighten things up a little. Then I told her to take good care of herself."

Over at the Coconut Groves, a detective informed the attorney that the murdered woman indeed was Sally Carbajal.

And the folder that had landed close to Sally's body when she was shot?

It was her divorce file.


No one has yet been arrested in the murders of Sally Carbajal and Gerry Best.

But court records and other sources of information reveal that homicide detectives have Danny Carbajal squarely in their sights, both as a murder suspect and for other alleged crimes against his late wife.

Danny Carbajal strenuously denies any involvement in his estranged wife's murder.

"That would be the last thing I would think of," he told New Times a few days ago. "It never crossed my mind. None of us -- me, my kids -- even knew where she was at."

The Phoenix Police Department did not fulfill a May 5 public-records request from New Times for its reports about the case. But public records and interviews with key players reveal that the detectives also are investigating the Carbajals' two daughters for allegedly conspiring with their father to defraud their mother of money and property.

Those records suggest that Josephine Carbajal, a Phoenix schoolteacher, fraudulently obtained an identification card in her mother's name at the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles in October 2003.

Police have suggested in court documents that Josephine then used the ID card as part of a scheme to benefit her father financially by forging Sally's name on numerous legal documents. In some of the documents, "Sally" gave up her legal right to her 50 percent share of residences and properties she owned with Danny.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin