The Case of the Fatal Femme

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Davis identifies her daughter Lolita from still photos made from the videotape at the ATM machine. She then tells Jack Ballentine about the events of March 3 -- the suspicious white convertible in her driveway, calling Gila River police, the chase scene involving her granddaughter, Samantha Somegustava.

As Ballentine is interviewing Davis, helpful casino security official Darren Rhodes tells Jason Schechterle, "You're not going to believe this. Lolita is playing the slots on the floor right now."

The tribal police soon detain Lolita Carlisle in the casino parking lot.

"I didn't do anything," Lolita says, as she's led into the interview room. "I just took the [credit] card."

She admits to Ballentine that she and Samantha had used a stolen credit card to buy gas, and that she'd used or tried to use the card after Samantha's arrest.

She says she tossed the card into a storage room at her house after it stopped working (investigators never found it).

Ballentine wants to know much more about the Mildas and about Ed Pasquali, names that keep popping up.

Lolita describes Joe Milda as her ex-best friend, but says little more about him. But she has much to say about Ed Pasquali -- and about her own daughter, Samantha.

Lolita says she was smoking meth with Pasquali a few days after the murder when a certain subject came up. Pasquali told her that Samantha recently had revealed to him and others "that the dude was no longer breathing."

After the interview, Ballentine asks the Gila River police to find Joe and Melissa Milda for him, and see if they'll come over to the casino for a chat. He wants to hold off on interviewing Ed Pasquali for the time being. Within the hour, the Mildas are waiting their turn inside the casino's interview rooms.

Seventeen-year-old Melissa Milda tells Ballentine that she knows nothing about any murder. She concedes that she once dated a man named Gabe who works at the Wild Horse Pass casino, but says that the relationship long has been over. (The detectives later confirm Melissa's account with that Gabe.)

Melissa says Ed Pasquali is a friend of her father's whom she'd never date.

Ballentine's subsequent interview of Melissa's father, Joe Milda, proves fruitful.

Joe says he, too, had spoken with Samantha Somegustava shortly before tribal police arrested her March 3. She told him that she and another person had "jacked" the owner of a white convertible, as in robbed him:

"[She said] they were cruising together and they jacked that fool and jacked his ride," Joe tells investigators. "They just left that fool in Tolleson."

Joe says he's also certain that Ed Pasquali had nothing to do with the murder.

Afterward, Jack Ballentine says he's pretty comfortable that Joe Milda has been straight with him.

He and Schechterle leave the casino that night thinking that Samantha Somegustava and a still-unidentified man robbed and murdered Gabe Cruz.

The Phoenix detectives arrive at work at 6 a.m. Thursday, March 10, and take stock. One week has passed since Gabe's body was discovered, and so much has happened.

They authorize the release of a photograph of Samantha to the media, dubbing her a "very important investigative lead" in the murder.

The media release notes that Samantha has a tattoo on her neck that says "R.I.P.," as well as something illegible on her upper chest.

Later that day, the detectives collect their warrant to search the Cavalier. The following morning, crime-scene tech Jerry Yarbrough starts to scour the car, inch by inch, item by item.

Among other things, he sees blood spatterings and stains on the front seat and interior driver's side door panel. He also recovers receipts from the Shell station for the gas purchased with the stolen credit card after Gabe's murder.

Yarbrough finds a tee shirt silk-screened with the words, "In Memory of Macido Davis -- Uncle Joe. 1977-2003."

The presence of two pairs of rubber vampire teeth in the back seat will remain a mystery.

Jason Schechterle is delighted with how this topsy-turvy murder investigation is moving. On March 13, he holds court with some young patrol officers, loudly regaling them with tales of the ongoing case.

In the next-door office he shares with Jack Ballentine, Detective Alex Femenia has heard enough. With Ballentine looking on, he shuts their door and telephones Schechterle.

Femenia mumbles into the receiver that his name is Johnny Running Bear and that he actually witnessed the Cruz murder. He says he needs to meet Detective Schechterle at a Circle K in downtown Phoenix.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin