The Case of the Wily Coyote

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Abelardo and the girl had been held captive in one room, and Alfonso had been kept in Room 203. Alfonso says he hadn't seen or spoken to Abelardo or the girl since then, two or three days ago.

Alfonso has provided promising leads, including the first mention of Room 203 (not 149 or 304).

After hanging up, Ballentine soon learns that a woman named Vilma had rented Room 203 at the La Quinta for one day, April 19. The detective wonders aloud if Vilma, who listed a Phoenix address when paying for her room, may be a conduit for incoming coyotes.

Surveillance tapes from the motel lobby show Vilma kissing an unidentified Hispanic man when they'd checked in on the morning of the 19th.

Ballentine also asks fellow detective John Shallue to assist him as his investigation proceeds. Shallue is a Spanish-speaking member of the department's Foreign Prosecution team.

Shallue soon finds out that, contrary to Alfonso's portrayal of himself as a victim of coyotes, both he and his brother Abelardo are well-known to border authorities as coyotes.

The next morning, April 22, the detectives attend the autopsy of the girl in the bathtub, as she's come to be known.

Dr. Robert Lyon works briskly under the bright lights at the county's Forensic Science Center.

Lyon discovers fingernail etchings on the young woman's face, and pronounced marks on her neck, around the outside of her mouth, and on her upper arms. He notes the bruising and abrasions inside her mouth.

As Dr. Lyon continues his grisly work, Jack Ballentine reveals that he used to enjoy autopsies, both as a learning experience and as an investigative tool.

No more.

"There's nothing enjoyable about this, nothing at all," he says. "This is going to turn out to be a homicide, I can feel it. Now all we can do is see if we can get enough evidence so a prosecutor can convict someone of something someday."

Toward the end of the hourlong autopsy, Dr. Lyon dissects the girl's larynx and studies it meticulously with magnifying glasses.

After a few minutes, the doctor announces, "We're looking at a manual strangulation homicide here. She was murdered. It's hard to tell if she was dead before she was in the tub, though I suspect she was."

"Poor little girl," Jack Ballentine says softly.

A rape-kit test done during the autopsy indicates that the dead girl hadn't been sexually assaulted, which surprises the lead detective.

A technician lifts the girl's fingerprints as soon as the postmortem is completed, so the cops can make a definitive ID. But it's a Friday, and it will be Monday before the Phoenix police crime lab analyzes the prints.

"I'm trying to get a feel of this thing," Ballentine says on the short trip back to the police station. "We have a murder, and I think we have an Alfonso and an Abelardo. But there are way too many moving parts at this point."

That afternoon, Detective Shallue reaches Margarita's sister Eugenia by phone in Santa María Zoquitlán.

Eugenia tells him that Margarita had left for the States days earlier with Abelardo. She adds that Abelardo is her common-law husband.

Shallue asks Eugenia to fax him a photograph of Margarita, which she does within a few hours.

It is obvious to Shallue and the other detectives that Margarita is "their" murder victim.

But he can't tell Eugenia yet that her kid sister is dead because the fingerprint analysis hasn't been completed. The detective promises to let her know as soon as he learns something.

Nothing happens with the murder case over the weekend.

But first thing Monday morning, April 25, Jack Ballentine gets word that Margarita Parada has been positively identified.

He asks John Shallue to make the next-of-kin call to Eugenia Parada. During that sad call, Eugenia provides the detective with much more detail than in their first, shorter conversation.

She says Margarita had left Oaxaca by bus on April 11 with Abelardo and, possibly, with another man she knows only as Freddie. She describes her "husband" as a coyote who splits his time between Oaxaca and Phoenix.

Eugenia says Abelardo regularly uses cocaine and consumes large quantities of Bud Light in bottles when he's in the States.

She says Abelardo has been calling her often in the past few days. He's been claiming that four armed coyotes had kidnapped him and Margarita from their room at the Phoenix La Quinta. The quartet then had taken him to a house somewhere in Phoenix.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin