The Case of the Wily Coyote

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She says he'd asked her to leave her family, travel north and be with him. She'd asked Abelardo where he was. He wouldn't say.

Eugenia says she'd told him she didn't believe anything he was saying. He cursed her and hung up the phone.

She tells Shallue that she'd gone that morning to the Jarquin-Lopez family home to gather some things she had there.

She says Abelardo already had warned his family by phone that the Paradas were going to kill them in revenge for Margarita's death.

"I told them I had no hard feelings toward them," Eugenia says.

Detective Ballentine calls Alfonso's cell phone the next morning, April 27. Alfonso answers and tells the cop he's on his way back to Mexico.

He says that he, too, fears being killed by the Parada clan. That call is the last time Alfonso makes himself available to the Phoenix police for comment.

His brother Abelardo also vanishes into the coyote netherworld.

Through good fortune and doggedness -- the twin towers of homicide investigation -- the Phoenix detectives have identified Margarita Parada's likely killer, Abelardo Jarquin-Lopez.

One remaining loose investigative thread is Vilma, the lady from Room 203.

On April 29, Ballentine asks a team of four plainclothes officers to trail her around town from her home in west Phoenix.

Surreptitiously, they follow Vilma on and off for days, but the effort proves uneventful. It becomes apparent to the cops that Vilma isn't currently using her residence as a drop house for illegal aliens, nor has she been meeting with any of the known key players in the murder case.

Ballentine still plans to interview Vilma, but his sense of urgency about this lead is gone.

Time moves apace within Phoenix's homicide unit, as new investigations and deadlines take precedence over all else. But Ballentine won't put his file on the Parada case in a cabinet until something breaks.

In fact, he keeps it right on his desk and occasionally revisits it, making notes and keeping fresh with the myriad details.

He also keeps Detective Shallue in the loop, reminding the detective to keep his ear attuned to any news from his border sources about Abelardo and Alfonso Jarquin-Lopez.

Months pass.

Margarita's daughter, Esmeralda, turns 4.

Her dad, Aurelio, stays in touch with the Paradas, still sending them money regularly for the little girl's care.

The Paradas pay for authorities to ship Margarita's body back to Mexico for a proper funeral and burial. The young woman's body is dressed in white and taken to a church in her little hometown for a final viewing.

"She loved life itself," her mother says.

Says Margarita's sister Paula, "My sister loved to sing and dance and have fun. She made everyone around her smile. She went to the States to be with the father of their child. And this guy ended up killing her because she wouldn't give in to him. How sad is that?"

In early November, Ballentine summarizes the status of the case, writing that "if and when these two subjects [the Jarquin-Lopez brothers] cross the Mexican border into the United States, they will be held for questioning. . . . Friends and family have been contacted in an effort to have the men contact me, but they have refused."

Also that month, Detective Ballentine finally interviews Vilma at a Phoenix hotel, where she works as a housekeeper.

Vilma says she and her boyfriend had gone to the La Quinta that April 19 for "some adult time together," and that's all.

Ballentine shows her photos of the Jarquin-Lopez brothers and Felix Garnica -- the guy who'd rented the three rooms. Vilma says she's never seen them, and swears that she and her boyfriend aren't coyotes.

The detective thanks her for her time, and leaves.

On the afternoon of January 28, 2006, Peoria police officer Tony Anglin pulls up to a home on West Turquoise Avenue. A Hispanic man is hiding in a garage there and is saying he fears he's going to be killed.

Anglin coaxes the man out of the garage, and sees he has deep cuts and bruises all over his body, including his face. The cop calls in for a translator because the man, Sergio Santos, speaks little English.

The residence is teeming with people, all of them Latinos, though the place has little furniture or other household items.

A classic drop house.

Santos tells the translator he'd been riding around earlier that day in his Ford truck with two friends. One of his pals, Abelardo Vasquez, was driving.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin