The Case of the Fatal Femme

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Though it is dark and getting late, several of the Graham Central employees drive out to 91st Avenue and Baseline Road to search for their friend. When they realize they are in Phoenix, Ferschke calls the Phoenix PD.

An officer responds promptly, takes down their information, and asks them to return during daylight hours.

The next morning, Tuesday, March 8, Chris Ferschke speaks with an investigator with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office.

He asks her if any "John Does" have come into the morgue since the previous Thursday. The investigator tells him that two young Latino men do fit Gabe Cruz's description.

She asks him to e-mail photos of Gabe.

The investigator calls Jack Ballentine, who in turn contacts Ferschke.

"I know I'm a nothing," Ferschke says, "but Detective Ballentine immediately commands my respect and makes me feel like I have something to contribute. I feel that we finally are on the right track."

Ferschke provides Ballentine with a potentially crucial new lead: Gabe Cruz had been in a traffic accident in April 2004, and his fingerprint might be on file at a Mesa courthouse.

The Phoenix detectives contact members of the other agencies already involved with the case and schedule a 1 p.m. briefing in downtown Phoenix.

By now, they're very confident that, finally, they have a name for their homicide victim.

Just before that meeting, the detectives run over to the police impound lot, where the Cavalier already has been towed.

The detectives can't search the car until they get a search warrant from a judge. But Schechterle peers through the driver's window to see if the bloody fuse cover is missing.

It is.

At the 1 p.m. briefing, Ballentine asks to assume all aspects of the investigation, with the necessary assistance of the Gila River police.

The tribal police warn the Phoenix detectives about Gabe's pal Chris Ferschke, whom they depict as a potentially dangerous vigilante who's caused them nothing but grief. Ballentine has no such worries about Ferschke, with whom he's already communicated.

Gila River police Detective Mike Lancaster says he'd spoken just that morning with a tribal member who suspects her daughter's involvement in the murder.

The woman said her daughter, Melissa Milda, had been dating a guy named "Gabe," an employee at the Wild Horse Pass casino, which is one of three owned by the Gila River tribe.

She'd also told Lancaster that tribal member Ed Pasquali may have killed "Gabe" out of jealousy over Melissa's relationship. The detective says Melissa Milda currently is living on the reservation with her father, Joe Milda, and that Samantha Somegustava often stays at their residence.

The most pressing order of business for Phoenix detectives is to formally confirm Gabe Cruz as their murder victim. Late that afternoon, a Mesa cop locates Gabe's file at the Mesa courthouse. As Chris Ferschke had suspected, it does have a print from one of Gabe's index fingers.

Ballentine makes arrangements to pick up the print from the officer the next morning, which he does. He immediately takes the print to the police department's crime lab for comparison with their unidentified murder victim's.

On the morning of Wednesday, March 9, Jack Ballentine meets at the Phoenix police station with Chris Ferschke. He asks the bartender to write down everything he's experienced since Gabe Cruz's March 3 disappearance.

The detective promises to keep Ferschke in close touch with his investigation, and he keeps that promise.

"It often causes us problems when citizens turn into amateur detectives," Ballentine explains later. "But Chris really advanced the investigation with what he'd done."

Just after noon on March 9, Phoenix police analysts positively match Gabe Cruz's fingerprints.

Detectives Ballentine and Schechterle drive to Mesa to inform Gabe's cousin, Rene. Though the news has been expected, Rene Cruz takes it hard.

Later that afternoon, for the first time in their investigation, the detectives enter foreign soil -- the sovereign nation of the Gila River Indian Reservation.

They go directly to the Vee Quiva casino to study videotape of the three ATM transactions on the evening of March 3 when someone used Araceli Brigado's credit card.

One of the casino's security people recognizes the woman on the tape as the daughter of Mildred Davis, Lolita Carlisle. Davis owns the home where the cops confiscated the Cavalier.

Turns out Davis works security at the casino, and happens to be on duty. She's asked to come into the gaming inspector's office, which includes a few small rooms usually used to question wayward patrons. It's 7 p.m.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin