Brady McCombs, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), March 22, 2011
The murder of a prominent Cochise County rancher that triggered a nationwide outcry about border security remains unsolved a year later.
Investigators have identified a man who fits the description of the possible killer–a tall, cross-border smuggler with a violent criminal record. But they don’t know for sure if he’s in the U.S. or Mexico–or if he’s dead or alive.
And even if they find him, it won’t mean the crime is solved. Authorities haven’t found the gun used to kill Robert Krentz on his ranch last March 27, and they have no witnesses, show investigation documents the Daily Star obtained through public records requests.
Alejandro Chavez-Vasquez is not an official suspect in Krentz’s murder but is a “person of interest” in a series of Portal burglaries in early 2010, say Cochise County sheriff’s officials.
Investigators believe there is a link between two of those burglaries and the murder, documents show. A search warrant affidavit filed in Cochise County Court on March 31, 2010, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows investigators believe the burglar who stole a Glock 26 handgun and two cellphones from a vehicle near the town of Portal the day before is the person who killed Krentz.
Krentz was murdered with the same caliber firearm that was reported stolen from the car, the affidavit said. The burglary occurred in the Herb Martyr campground in the Chiricahua Mountains about seven miles southwest of Portal, a Cochise County Sheriff’s Office report shows.
Chavez-Vasquez, likely in his late 30s, has convictions in four states for crimes including sexual assault, vehicle theft and possession of narcotics. He also pleaded guilty in 2004 to illegal re-entry after deportation.
In April, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office distributed a photo of Chavez-Vasquez to media outlets, area ranchers and Mexican authorities. Agua Prieta Police Chief Alfonso Novoa Novoa said Border Patrol officials told him Chavez-Vasquez could be a suspect in the killing.
Agua Prieta police distributed 500 pictures around the border city south of Douglas, but nobody claimed to know anything about Chavez-Vasquez. They also ran his name through municipal, state and federal databases throughout Mexico but found nothing–no property, no voter card, no driver’s license, Novoa said.
And so one of 2010’s highest-profile murders–one that helped prompt Arizona’s tough new immigration law–remains a mystery.
Who is Chavez-Vasquez?
Chavez-Vasquez has criminal convictions in four states–Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Oregon–and an immigration charge out of Arizona.
He spent two years in a Nevada prison, from 2002 to 2004, on a coercion conviction that stemmed from an arrest by Las Vegas police on suspicion that he attempted to sexually assault a woman.
He was paroled on April 15, 2004, from Nevada prisons, records from the Nevada Department of Corrections show.
A month later, he was arrested in Arizona and charged in U.S. District Court with illegal re-entry after deportation. He was given 36 months’ supervised release and a fine of $100 in a plea agreement, federal records show.
Despite the deportation, it’s unclear whether he is an illegal immigrant. Clark County, Nev., court records show a Social Security number for Chavez-Vasquez that suggests he was born in California. Nevada officials could not confirm if the Social Security number was valid.
His criminal records show four birth dates that put him between 37 and 41 years old.
Though the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office said Chavez-Vasquez was from Agua Prieta, the police chief there said he doesn’t believe it.
“If somebody knows that 60 to 80 police officers are looking for a person, some kind of information arrives,” Novoa said in Spanish.