The Case of the Wily Coyote

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He swears he doesn't know where Margarita is.

Eugenia tells Shallue that she'd confronted Abelardo during the calls. She knows if this had been a typical kidnapping by coyotes, the bad guys soon would have demanded ransom money of the Paradas.

But no one called Margarita's family asking for a payoff.

Eugenia says she'd spoken to Abelardo again a day ago. He'd escaped from his captors, he told her, and was in Nogales waiting for his brother Alfonso to bring him some money.

In the most recent conversation, Abelardo had explained that an unidentified man had gone to the motel at some point to see if Margarita had returned to Room 121. The man reported he'd seen blood in the room, but no sign of the girl.

"He is making excuses and his story makes no sense," Eugenia tells Detective Shallue of the man she loved and thought she knew. "He doesn't want to talk about my sister."

Soon after she hangs up, Eugenia faxes a photograph of Abelardo to the Phoenix police. He's posing with one foot on the front bumper of a pickup truck, wearing a black cowboy hat and a smug smile, looking like he's got it all going on.

But now, Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez has become a prime suspect in a murder case.

At 10 a.m. on the 25th, John Shallue speaks with Margarita's brother Balfre.

An illegal alien who lives and works in Dearborn, Michigan, Balfre says he'd spoken with Abelardo on Sunday night, April 17. To Balfre's consternation, Abelardo had told him that he and Margarita were staying together in a Phoenix motel room.

"I asked him why they were alone in a motel, and he told me not to worry," Balfre recalls. "I was worried for her because she's my sister, but he's also my brother-in-law, so nothing should be happening."

Balfre says, on the early evening of April 19, he'd answered another call from Abelardo's cell phone.

This time, Margarita herself was on the line.

She'd told him she was hiding from Abelardo in the bathroom and was very frightened. Tearfully, Margarita said Abelardo was snorting cocaine and drinking heavily, and had tried to rape her. She'd rebuffed his advances, but feared he was about to try again.

"I told her to get out of the room and ask for help," Balfre says.

He says he's tried to contact the Jarquin-Lopez brothers by cell phone numerous times since then. Abelardo hasn't returned his calls, though Balfre did speak with Alfonso on the 20th -- shortly after the housekeeper discovered Margarita's body.

"[Alfonso] told me that Abelardo and Margarita had been kidnapped," Balfre says, repeating the story Abelardo had been trying to sell his "wife," Eugenia Parada.

Later that day, Balfre again had tried to reach Alfonso by phone to demand more information about his sister. He says a stranger had answered and told him about a dead woman being found in a room at the La Quinta.

Detective Shallue now tells Balfre that his sister Margarita has been murdered.

Detectives Ballentine and Schechterle return to the La Quinta in the early afternoon with the faxed photograph of Abelardo. But no one there recognizes the murder suspect.

Ballentine seizes the opportunity to revisit Schechterle's troubling "smell of death" remarks from a few days earlier.

"Jason, I've been meaning to talk to you about something," he tells Schechterle in the parking lot. "I can't stand murder. I want you to know that. Can't stand the smell of it. The blood. Anything about it. Whenever it happens, I'm working for the family of the dead person, to try to find the person who did it and get them off the street. That's all. Margarita is done. She's dead, and there's nothing we can do about that."

"But you're still working for her, too," Schechterle replies.

"No, she's dead," Ballentine continues. "You can be her voice, but you're really trying to provide answers to her family and to get from here to there, to make sure the killer won't have a chance to do this ever again."

No one says much on the trip back downtown.

The Phoenix cops ask U.S. border authorities to hold the Jarquin-Lopez brothers if they happen to nab them.

Ballentine also speaks of developing "probable cause" to raid the west Phoenix home of Vilma, the mystery tenant of Room 203 who may or may not have been involved.

The next day, April 26, John Shallue speaks again with a grieving Eugenia Parada. She tells him Abelardo had called the previous night with a curious request.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin