The Case of the Fatal Femme

Page 7 of 12

Hanging up his cell phone, Schechterle bites hard for the practical joke.

He rushes to tell Jack Ballentine that something has come up that needs their immediate attention. Feigning disinterest, the senior detective turns back to his computer.

Exasperated, Schechterle decides to go by himself to the convenience store. He grabs a notebook and is about to leave the office when Femenia hollers after him.

"Hey, Jason," the detective says. "When you're at the Circle K, say hi to Johnny Running Bear for me, okay?"

The Phoenix detectives return to the reservation late on the afternoon of March 14 to tie up some loose ends.

Samantha Somegustava is still at large, but Jack Ballentine remains confident that her time is running short.

At 5:30 p.m., Gila River police officers Mike Lancaster and Hilario Tanakeyoma pull into the ubiquitous Shell station where Somegustava and her mother had bought gas, to meet the Phoenix detectives. They ask what they can do to help.

Ballentine asks if they'll accompany him and Schechterle into the housing project where the convertible had been found. They want to interview one of Mildred Davis' neighbors.

Once inside the project, the detectives interview a boy who seems to know nothing, and start driving out of the reservation about 6:30 p.m.

But they take a wrong turn, and Schechterle has to turn around to return to where they started.

As he and Ballentine reach the original intersection, they see two tribal police cars rush up and surround a red Jeep Cherokee.

Their guns drawn, the cops rush up to the Cherokee.

"Go!" Ballentine tells Schechterle. "That's our gal right there."

"Shit, it's Samantha!" Schechterle replies.

Other Gila River squad cars race into the suddenly chaotic scene. People are pouring out of their homes to see what's going on.

An officer yanks a young woman wearing a pink shirt and blue jeans from the passenger side and handcuffs her. Another cop pulls out the driver, a young Latino man whose eyes are bulging in disbelief and fear.

"What did I do, what did I do?" he keeps asking.

The woman says loudly to no one in particular, "I already called last night to say I was going to turn myself in."

Then she yells over to her friend, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you nothing. I'm sorry."

"I love you, baby," he responds as tribal officers place the suspects in separate patrol cars.

Ballentine walks over to the car holding the woman and opens the back door. He recognizes her from photographs as Samantha Somegustava.

She's crying, and the light-blue mascara caked onto her eyelids is smearing on her face.

"I'm scared," she says.

"You gotta hang in there with me, Samantha," Ballentine tells her, placing one of his large hands paternally on her right shoulder. "Don't get all upset. You'll be dealing with me, and you just need to relax."

He wants to interview Samantha and her friend as soon as possible at the Vee Quiva casino.

"Fuckin' poetic," Jason Schechterle says. "She gets to get arrested right in front of her family."

"God bless the neighborhood," Jack Ballentine says, referring to the anonymous caller who tipped off the Gila River police to Samantha's presence.

He calls his sergeant, Patrick Kotecki, to inform him about the wild developments.

As they ride over to Vee Quiva, Schechterle asks Ballentine about his first impressions of Samantha.

"I think she's gonna break," Ballentine tells him.

Inside the noisy, smoky casino, the patrons continue to funnel their money into the gaming machines, oblivious to the drama a few feet away.

Ballentine plans to speak first with Samantha, who's waiting for him in one of the interview rooms, still sobbing.

The driver of the Cherokee is Mario Mendoza, a 25-year-old Phoenix man. He waits in another part of the gaming inspector's office, guarded by a Gila River cop.

Before Ballentine starts his interview, he asks Samantha on videotape if she's hungry. She says she is. A tribal officer goes into the casino to fetch her and Mendoza some fast food.

After she's done eating, Samantha Somegustava has Jack Ballentine's complete attention.

The detective has a Gila River officer remove her handcuffs as he goes to fetch her some tissue.

In a relaxed, almost convivial tone of voice, Ballentine asks the suspect about the garish tattoo on her neck.

She says that "R.I.P." is short for Rest In Peace. The word inked into her skin on her upper chest is Macido, a murdered uncle of hers.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin