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Suspected Serial Killer Surrenders at Mexico Border

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The alleged serial killer who for months darted cross-country by railroad, evading authorities and chilling communities from Texas to Kentucky, walked over a bridge to an El Paso border checkpoint Tuesday morning and gave himself up to authorities.

Fulfilling an agreement brokered by his sister, 39-year-old Rafael Resendez-Ramirez pleasantly extended his hand to a Texas Ranger waiting with two other officers, then was handcuffed and led into custody.

Charged in three extraordinarily violent bludgeoning deaths, and linked to at least five others, Resendez-Ramirez frustrated and embarrassed his pursuers while allegedly leaving small clues at the sites of his crimes. During the investigation’s nadir, U.S. Border Patrol agents captured and released the suspect on June 2, despite his presence on the FBI’s most-wanted list and alerts to the immigration service that he was sought by police.

In the three days after his release, authorities believe, he murdered a 73-year-old woman and a 26-year-old schoolteacher in the Houston area. On June 15, his fingerprints were found at the Gorham, Ill., murder scene of a 79-year-old man and his 52-year-old daughter.

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Walking the short distance from Mexico to El Paso on Tuesday, he left a country with no death penalty, and entered the state with the most yearly executions in the United States.

In the end, it was the man’s wife, Julieta Dominguez, a lab technician from Rodeo, Mexico, and several of his siblings, who finally convinced the alleged killer to give himself up, officials said.

Though the search was one of the most extensive manhunts in recent years, its final catalyst was the personal rapport nurtured between Texas Rangers Sgt. Drew Carter and Resendez-Ramirez’s sister.

On Sunday, she called Carter while he was on a fishing trip, saying she needed to meet with him, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman said. Within hours, Carter, an FBI agent and a deputy U.S. marshal all were in Albuquerque, negotiating with her for the suspect’s surrender.

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“There was a feeling of trust,” said the spokesman, Tom Vinger. “It was the behind-the-scenes, unsexy background work that ended up paying off. Drew Carter went to Albuquerque within the last month, met with the sister and developed a relationship with her.”

When Resendez-Ramirez finally met authorities at the bridge, in the presence of two brothers, his sister and a pastor, he was calm, dingy-looking and utterly unprepossessing. However, the suspect was “adamant he wanted to surrender to a Texas Ranger,” said Vinger.

Shackled as he stood before a Texas criminal law magistrate in El Paso, he listened silently to a burglary charge against him. In leather work boots, blue jeans and a striped shirt, he murmured “No, sir” in a soft voice when asked if he had questions.

Though his surrender was voluntary, the only conditions officially granted Resendez-Ramirez include safety and humane treatment, a psychological evaluation and visits from family members.

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“I’m not absolutely sure of the reason why he surrendered,” said Capt. Bruce Casteel of the safety department. “I’ve been in this business a very long time and I’m struggling to answer that myself.”

At a Houston press conference, FBI Special Agent Don K. Clark speculated that the driving pressure of hundreds of law officers and “200 million eyes” nationwide as well as bounty hunters on both sides of the border ultimately convinced Resendez-Ramirez he had no place to hide. Reward money totaling $125,000 from private and public sources had been offered for his arrest; officials have not yet determined whether it will go to Resendez-Ramirez’s family.

Authorities expressed relief that their quarry finally had been caught, added Clark, who headed a 200-person Houston-based task force that sifted through thousands of phone tips in recent weeks. The same sentiment reverberated in police departments across the country, more than 50 of which believe Resendez-Ramirez might be linked to crimes in their jurisdictions.

In Englewood, Colo., minister Mark Sirnic, brother of one of the victims, voiced tempered satisfaction.

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“It has been my prayer that he would be apprehended before he hurt anyone else. The prayer has been answered,” said Sirnic, whose brother Norman “Skip” Sirnic was bludgeoned to death with his wife Karen in Weimar, Texas, in early May.

“I don’t have any vengeful feelings, a vendetta that he be put to death, " Sirnic added. “My main hope is that he is kept off the streets. But it’s a consequence in Texas for the crimes that were committed. If you’re going to commit a crime, you’d better be willing to deal with the consequences.”

“Really, by walking over the bridge to turn himself in . . . he probably just sacrificed his life,” Sandra Guerra, a criminal law professor at the University of Houston, said in an interview.

Authorities would not release the names or whereabouts of Resendez-Ramirez’s sister, who lives in New Mexico and who relayed messages to the fugitive, or his two brothers, Mexican nationals who reportedly received special leave by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to walk him across the bridge. But Univision television reported Tuesday that his mother, Virginia Resendiz de Maturino, and his wife, Dominguez, also had assisted in the investigation, returning by Tuesday to their respective hometowns of Juarez and Rodeo, Mexico.

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Dominguez, the fugitive’s common-law wife, initially described her husband to reporters as a model spouse and father, impossible to envision pounding victims’ heads with such frenzy their bones splintered.

“My Angel never showed any sign of violence with me,” Dominguez told People magazine. “He was a perfect gentleman. When I was pregnant he would massage my legs and help me put shoes on my swollen feet before work.”

This week, after cooperating with authorities, Dominguez appeared to be stunned by the looming new portrait of her husband.

“It was as big a surprise to her as to anybody,” FBI Special Agent Rolando Moss said. “Just looking at her facial expression, [one saw] trauma, distress, frustration--'Is this the man I’ve been married to?’ ” Although she helped authorities willingly, Dominguez “still hasn’t grasped it,” Moss added. “She’s in shock.”

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Resendez-Ramirez, accompanied by a half-dozen Texas Rangers, was escorted later in the day to the Houston Police Department, where he was questioned and underwent DNA testing at a city crime lab. Officials said he had not requested an attorney and was cooperating with detectives.

Charged with murder in Kentucky and Illinois, he is now charged only with burglary in Texas, though he is suspected in five killings in the state. Harris County prosecutors said they plan to upgrade that charge to capital murder, however, after they receive results from the DNA tests in about one week.

University of Kentucky student Christopher Maier was the first victim in Resendez-Ramirez’s lethal spree in 1997, authorities believe. In 1998, the attacks accelerated until the most recent killing, of 79-year-old George Morber and his daughter, Carolyn Frederick in Gorham, Ill.

The attacks, distinctive for the disfiguring blows usually near victims’ heads, were often made by objects found in the victims’ homes. All took place on or near railroad tracks, sparking dread in communities that can be reached by train.

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In Washington, the Justice Department announced an inquiry into the INS’ screening programs, and lawmakers including Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), denounced the agency for letting the suspect slip through its hands.

But even without the agency’s misstep, Resendez-Ramirez had proved elusive. He allegedly was a master of disguises who operated under as many as 30 aliases, concealing the distinguishing snake tattoo on his left arm and various scars. He reportedly told authorities his real name is Jose Angel Reyes Resendiz.

A migrant worker who picked cotton, rice and tobacco in the U.S. since his teens, the suspect also is strikingly intelligent, authorities say, and once apparently taught English in a Mexican convent school.

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Researchers Lianne Hart and Belen Rodriguez contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

String of Slayings

1. Kentucky student killed while walking along tracks to party.

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2. Houston doctor beaten to death.

3. Weimar minister and wife found dead.

4. Fayette County woman found slain.

5. Houston teacher slain in home.

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6. Father and daughter slain in southern Illinois home near tracks.

Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

Authorities believe Rafael Resendez-Ramirez killed eight while traveling by freight train.

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--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---

Rafael Resendez-Ramirez was later determined to be an alias. Stories July 14-29, 1999 use the name Angel Maturino Resendez; stories after July 29, 1999 use the spelling Angel Maturino Resendiz.

--- END NOTE ---


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