Longform

The Case of the Fatal Femme

Page 4 of 12

Araceli Brigado calls Ferschke the next morning and says she'd just checked on a Wells Fargo Visa credit card of hers that Gabe had with him when he vanished.

Bank authorities tell her that someone already had used the card several times since Gabe's disappearance. Because her English is shaky, Araceli authorizes Ferschke to call the bank back to cancel the card, which he does.

During that call, Ferschke learns specifically that someone had used the card on March 3 at a Shell gas station on West Pecos Road, and at an ATM somewhere in Laveen.

He suspects the station might be on the reservation, and calls the Gila River police with the new information. A dispatcher reveals to him that tribal police had located Gabe's Cavalier at a residence in a nearby housing project.

Early that Saturday afternoon, March 5, Ferschke drives out to the Shell station with three other people to post missing-person fliers and to start poking around.

At the same time, Jack Ballentine is meeting with a distraught Latino man at the Phoenix police station. The man has heard media reports about the unidentified murder victim, and fears it might be his son.

He says his boy has been missing since March 3, when Gabe Cruz disappeared. He shows the detective a snapshot of his son, and the resemblance to the victim is obvious.

In turn, Ballentine shows the man a photo taken of the victim's face during the autopsy conducted the previous day. The father almost falls out of his chair in anguish. It's him, he says, pointing to the dead man's chipped front tooth and slightly droopy eye.

Ballentine asks him if his son has ever been in trouble with the law. Yes, the man replies, he served time in county jail.

Ballentine pauses. His search for fingerprint identification of the murder victim had come up dry. He tells the father that he wants to run a print comparison before he goes any further.

"Can I stay here and pray?" the father asks.

"Sure," Ballentine says.

The detective returns about 20 minutes later.

"Your prayers have been answered," he says, touching the father's arm gently. "It's not him."


Another night passes.

On the morning of Sunday, March 6, Chris Ferschke decides to take action.

He and about 40 other employees of Graham Central Station meet at the bar, and drive en masse to the Gila River Reservation.

They gather at the Shell station on Pecos Road, and then start going door-to-door in the oddly named Squawberry Subdivision.

Ferschke walks over to a basketball court on Sundust Circle, where some kids are playing with an older gentleman.

He asks them if they know where the cops had found the white Cavalier. To his surprise, they point to a home right next to the court.

Ferschke knocks on the door of 101 Sundust Circle. A woman answers, and says testily she knows nothing about a stolen car. Though Ferschke doesn't know it yet, the woman is Samantha Somegustava's mother, Lolita Carlisle.

But a neighbor soon comes out of her house and tells Ferschke that the police arrested a girl when they recovered the white car, and that a young man's body recently was recovered on the reservation.

The next morning, March 7, Ferschke asks the media and other law enforcement agencies for help in finding Gabe.

A few TV stations ask Ferschke and his makeshift posse to meet them at the reservation for a live broadcast during the 5 p.m. news.

The group meets again at the Shell station, does the news shows, and then returns to the neighborhood with more fliers.

As they walk the streets, the volunteers learn that the arrested girl's name is Samantha, and that she has a long history of gang-related violence and illegal drug use.

That evening, they also hear that a murder victim's body has been found near 91st Avenue and Baseline Road.

One of the sources of the information hands Ferschke a set of car keys, claiming that Samantha tossed them near her residence on Sundust Circle as Gila River police chased her.

By now, the simmering animosity between Gabe's co-workers and the Gila River police has become overt.

"I tell them that two people have info about where Gabe's body was," Chris Ferschke says. "They try to make it like I'm retarded, that I'm over the top. One officer tells me that if something like that happened, they'd know all about it. I'm not happy."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin