Be­hind a politi­cized slay­ing

Un­cer­tainty sur­rounds death used to jus­tify Ari­zona im­mi­gra­tion laws

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Nigel Duara nigel.duara@la­times.com

DOU­GLAS, Ariz. — When Sue Krentz was grow­ing up in south­ern Ari­zona, about 30 miles from the Mex­i­can bor­der, mi­grants would wan­der into the front yard of her par­ents’ mod­est ranch house and ask to sweep the steps or mow the lawn.

No­body asked about their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. It was the 1960s, long be­fore the area be­came a tran­sit zone for drugs and weapons. Long be­fore farm trucks and cat­tle started be­ing stolen.

Long be­fore po­lice found her hus­band slumped in his ATV, shot dead.

No in­ci­dent has hard­ened feel­ings about il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in Ari­zona more than the un­solved 2010 killing of 58-year-old Rob Krentz, head of one of the old­est ranch fam­i­lies in south­east Ari­zona.

It was the im­pe­tus less than a month later for the pas­sage of the “show your pa­pers” law, which re­quired po­lice to as­cer­tain the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus of any­body suspected of be­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally and helped ce­ment Ari­zona’s rep­u­ta­tion as the coun­try’s tough­est state on im­mi­gra­tion.

Seven years later, the slay­ing still res­onates, of­ten in­voked in lo­cal ar­gu­ments for the mas­sive wall that Pres­i­dent Trump has pro­posed along the bor­der with Mex­ico.

Usu­ally lost in con­ver­sa­tions about Krentz is that it’s far from cer­tain that his killer or killers were in the U.S. il­le­gally. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has iden­ti­fied sus­pects from both sides of the bor­der.

In re­cent months, as south­ern Ari­zona is again em­broiled in the de­bate over stepped-up bor­der se­cu­rity and stronger mea­sures against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, Sue Krentz has reemerged on the public scene, this time as a vo­cal ad­vo­cate of an ex­panded bor­der wall.

“We asked for help, and no one came. We re­quested a se­cure bor­der, and were told se­cu­rity was not to be ex­pected. When we asked for safety, we were de­scribed as racist,” she com­plained at a fo­rum on bor­der se­cu­rity last year.

As for her hus­band’s death, Krentz says that de­spite the more than 30 peo­ple in the U.S. and Mex­ico iden­ti­fied as per­sons of in­ter­est — in­clud­ing at least one per­ma­nent U.S. res­i­dent — she has no doubt he was killed by one or more peo­ple who stole across the bor­der from Mex­ico.

“It wasn’t a U.S. res­i­dent who shot him,” she said in an in­ter­view. “You show me which U.S. res­i­dent it was. Give me their name and ad­dress. Be­cause there’s noth­ing down there. There’s not a house for seven miles.”

Krentz’s farm borders an 8-mile-wide cor­ri­dor be­tween two moun­tain ranges, the Chir­ic­ahuas to the west in Ari­zona and the An­i­mas to the east in New Mex­ico. The ranges force pedes­tri­ans to stay within a fairly nar­row area as they walk north or south, mak­ing the ter­ri­tory dicey for mi­grants seek­ing to avoid the Bor­der Pa­trol.

The Krentz fam­ily was ac­cus­tomed to un­doc­u­mented mi­grants cross­ing their 35,000 acres, though the mi­grants had a habit of cut­ting ranch wa­ter lines in­stead of walk­ing to a spigot. Each line break al­lowed thou­sands of gal­lons to drain away. Rob Krentz rode out to the site of a break one day on his red Po­laris ATV with his dog, a blue heeler.

Af­ter back surgery in 2009 and a hip re­place­ment in 2010, Krentz “wasn’t go­ing any­where fast” on March 27, 2010, Sue Krentz said.

Krentz ra­dioed to his brother, Phil, to say he had spot­ted a mi­grant in dis­tress. It was 10 a.m. A nearby rancher heard the same call. Min­utes passed, but Krentz’s ra­dio was silent.

Krentz’s son, Frank, tried his cell­phone every half-hour. It would ring and then go to voice­mail. Neigh­bors be­gan to walk the prop­erty. By 6 p.m., they called the po­lice. When ground searches failed, a po­lice he­li­copter was called in.

Po­lice found Krentz’s body on a knobby wash six miles east of Ari­zona High­way 80. His body was cold, but ther­mal imag­ing helped lo­cate his dog, Blue, who was shot, shiv­er­ing and barely alive. Blue would not al­low res­cuers to reach Krentz’s body, bark­ing and growl­ing when­ever some­one ap­proached the ATV. The dog was eu­th­a­nized by an an­i­mal con­trol of­fi­cer.

Krentz had three gun­shot wounds: to his left side, up­per back and in­side his right arm, from 9-mil­lime­ter rounds. In his ATV, po­lice found a ri­fle, still in its scab­bard. Po­lice marked as ev­i­dence an empty Jimmy Dean sausage case nearby and traced it to a fridge that was raided in a break-in ear­lier in the week in Por­tal, Ariz., about 20 miles north of the shoot­ing site.

Foot­prints in the mud near a wa­ter tank showed what po­lice be­lieve to be a man’s stride as he ap­proached it to drink. From there, the foot­prints led south, to­ward the ranches on the bor­der.

Another clue came to po­lice over the phone, just days af­ter the shoot­ing:

Caller: Hey, look, I have some in­for­ma­tion. A man came out; I don’t know if he got into a fight with a dog — I don’t know what.

Dis­patcher: What are you call­ing me about?

Caller: A homi­cide that took place over there .... These peo­ple are ap­par­ently the re­spon­si­ble ones.

Dis­patcher: OK, but who are they?

Caller: Well, they aren’t from here .... Can you hurry?

The call to the Dou­glas Po­lice De­part­ment cut off af­ter less than two min­utes.

The caller said he was in Agua Pri­eta, Mex­ico, across the bor­der from Dou­glas. He said he had seen men who “came out of the desert” with cuts and bruises, and pos­si­bly dog bites.

The only hard ev­i­dence was a vague out­line of a sus­pect, caught on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife cam­era, walk­ing south from the shoot­ing site, and a foot­print. The sus­pect had a long stride when walk­ing, and an es­ti­mated height of 6 feet.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion slowed to a trickle by early Oc­to­ber 2010, six months af­ter the shoot­ing.

Then they found Cachi-bombo.

No­to­ri­ous in the area as a suspected drug mule and coy­ote, Cachi­bombo’s real name is Ho­ra­cio Bar­raza-Parra. He was picked up by the Bor­der Pa­trol al­legedly lead­ing eight peo­ple into the U.S. il­le­gally on Oct. 6, 2010. The pol­los, or hu­man cargo, in his party told po­lice they were ter­ri­fied of him.

Bar­raza-Parra told po­lice he had been in the area near Krentz’s ranch in March 2010, but was stung by a scor­pion on the way back to Mex­ico. He went to Krentz for help. Po­lice con­firmed hos­pi­tal and im­mi­gra­tion records show­ing Bar­raza-Parra was treated, de­tained and de­ported nearly one month be­fore Krentz’s shoot­ing. What hap­pened to him when he re­turned to Mex­ico was far more in­ter­est­ing.

Au­thor­i­ties in the U.S. brought in Bar­raza-Parra’s fam­ily for ques­tion­ing, and learned that af­ter Krentz’s slay­ing, Mex­i­can drug car­tels were just as keen to find the per­pe­tra­tors.

Mem­bers of a car­tel kid­napped Bar­raza-Parra in front of his fam­ily and searched his body ex­ten­sively for ev­i­dence of dog bites.

“Si­car­ios took him for 10 days,” Bar­raza-Parra’s wife, Alma Pacheco San­tos, told U.S. au­thor­i­ties, re­fer­ring to as­sas­sins for the car­tels. Ac­cord­ing to a Cochise County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice re­port on the in­ter­view, she added: “The [car­tels] were up­set over all the heat the mur­der brought to the bor­der.”

Ap­par­ently sat­is­fied that her hus­band was not re­spon­si­ble, she said, the car­tel let him go.

For years, oc­ca­sional “hits” have briefly re­vived the case — usu­ally com­puter alerts flagging a Bor­der Pa­trol de­tainee as a po­ten­tial per­son of in­ter­est. They are in­vari­ably trans­ported to the Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, ques­tioned by deputies and Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents, then re­leased back to Bor­der Pa­trol cus­tody.

Such in­ter­views have turned up sus­pect af­ter sus­pect, usu­ally vaguely de­scribed as tall men with vi­o­lent rep­u­ta­tions. Some have earned nick­names. “El Grande,” or the Big One; “La Or­miga,” the Ant.

None has yet been linked di­rectly to the slay­ing. The trail of the tall man ap­pears to have gone cold.

Carolyn Cole Los Angeles Times

“IT WASN’T a U.S. res­i­dent who shot him,” Sue Krentz says of her hus­band’s 2010 slay­ing, which helped Ari­zona’s “show your pa­pers” law pass. But in­ves­ti­ga­tors have plenty of sus­pects from both sides of the bor­der.

Carolyn Cole Los Angeles Times

NOT FAR from the Krentz ranch, a sign warns of il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to the bor­der. “When we asked for safety, we were de­scribed as racist,” Sue Krentz says.

ROB KRENTZ was found shot to death on his sprawl­ing ranch, his wounded dog guard­ing his body.

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