“Murder In Pueblo Del Mar – A Bailey Crane Mystery” (Book 4) is fiction inspired by a brutal murder some years ago of an Arizona mother and wife while on a family holiday in Rocky Point, Mexico. This story is important to me on two levels: the dynamic of the homicide itself with its salacious ingredients and all the publicity of the case; the other level of interest for me was my personal involvement with two protagonists in the story who owned a villa in Rocky Point. My wife and I visited them quite often, had our bridge weekends, our ATV junkets out on the desert dunes, our walks along the dusty roads, and thoroughly enjoyed our time together. Unfortunately, we watched alcohol destroy one of our friends and it gave me the sad opportunity to explore that dynamic along with the homicide — it was difficult to watch the self-destruction and the effects it had on a man and woman we loved.
February 20, 1991
The beach along the southern edge of Las Conchas is not an ideal area for sun worshipers. It is more a coast line for the shell seekers and those who fancy tide pool ecology. The long east-west sandy stretch is littered mostly with all manner of shells, large and small, but there are also half buried broken bottles, ugly clumps of sea anemone, and dead smelly fish. Despite the litter it is a lovely span of sand and shell.
It is a Mexican beach whose long southern rim helps to frame the Sea of Cortez, known also as The Gulf of California. The sea is a large body of water separating the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. It is bordered by the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa. The sea funnels eventually into the Pacific Ocean to its south.
Las Conchas is a community of upscale real estate owned mostly by citizens of the United States and is part of the little fishing village of Pueblo Del Mar. More accurately, the real estate is uniquely owned by citizens of other countries in long-term renewable trusts, with generally the same rights and privileges as home owners in the United States.
Pueblo Del Mar is a poor man’s Acapulco. Yet, few poor people own the beautiful white stucco and red clay roofed houses that comprise Las Conchas. The large, small, Mediterranean style Spanish villas, some posh and elegant, some modest and without frills, are set at water’s edge or atop the grainy desert bluffs. The speckled array of red clay roofs and white stucco present a dazzling pattern of lovely sameness and charm.
The dusty caliche roads twist and turn past the somnolent houses and offer glorious views of the deep turquoise waters of the sea. The white cap chop gives up brilliant splinters of silver light in the afternoon sun.
The remoteness of Las Conchas is part of its lure to the gringos who own the villas. Here, telephones do not ring and newspapers are not delivered to the front doors. Time and events are put on hold. The lazy day routine is broken with sounds of surf and the growling drones of off-road all terrain vehicles, spewing dust clouds behind them. There are the shouts of old Mexican men and women hawking their wares of fresh blue shrimp and serapes among the grand seaside villas. There are strains of plaintive Mexican ballads from a distant sound system. There are the sometime horn wails of shrimp boat clusters off shore some three or five miles. There are, too, the sounds of children at play.
Mostly, it is the stillness that brings magic to the moments in Las Conchas. It is the shared knowledge of its citizens that nothing, not commerce, not agendas or itineraries, can break the special spell that is Las Conchas. It is not so much a geographical place as it is a soulful sublimity. The sky and the sun join the land and the sea in a way that bring the senses to their keenest edge. The smell of the sea air, barbecues, re-fried beans and cooking fat, all join to make the uniqueness of Las Conchas.
One man discovered the magic of Las Conchas when he was still young enough to declare it his own. Robert Geraint had spent much of his adult life in the sleepy fishing village of Pueblo Del Mar. He had first come as a young father and husband some fifty years ago. In some magical way the land, sea, and its people formed the special bonding that would last his lifetime. Though Phoenix, Arizona would be his domicile of citizenship, he adopted Pueblo Del Mar as his domicile of soul.
His love for Pueblo Del Mar became more than a weekend aberration from his accounting business. With the tragic, soul scarring, and untimely death of his daughter, Niki, the village became a refuge of sorts, a place that could not bring forgetfulness but could diminish the sharp edge of grief.
When the entrepreneurial efforts of a few people brought Las Conchas to reality, Bob Geraint built one of the first villas along the strand of sea that would be called the ‘first estuary.’ His villa was designed and built by a local Mexican architect of some celebrity and would be subtly copied by many who came later. The house would be copied to some extent but never duplicated.
The house Robert and his beloved Deena erected was to become a landmark in the community. Because of her love for butterflies and the lonesome peal of ship bells, Deena called the villa “La Casa de las Campanas y Mariposas,’ the house of Bells and Butterflies.
The lovely and distinctive villa was built with three connecting sections with tower-like centers. The main section in the middle of the dwelling was the great room. It was built around the focal point, the high round turret, heavy beamed, opening in the ceiling. The floors were of white octagonal shaped Mexican tile with blue bell patterns. The kitchen counters, back-splash, bath counters, and shower wall tiles were specially made of white high gloss tile pieces with randomly placed blue bells and butterflies. On the western end of the house was the master bedroom, on the same level as the great room, with another center tower in the roof. On the elevated eastern end were two guest bedrooms, again, with the tower projections in the roof. All rooms had beehives fireplaces surrounded by the white tile, blue bell, butterfly patterns.
A wide sweeping tiled veranda ran the entire back length of the house, with stairs leading down at the center to a built-in barbeque and on, ultimately, down to the sea. Off the eastern side of the veranda, there were stairs leading up to a separate private terrace area for the guest bedrooms. All around the house in the sandy soil Deena had planted and nurtured her ice plants and sundry hedge and flowers, creating a profusion of rich green and vivid colors
It was a showcase home and it immediately became a point of delineation in giving directions to visitors of the area: A common directive was, ‘It’s near the house of Bells and Butterflies.’
Robert Geraint had seen through the years the first estuary section developed to its predicted and permitted numbers until the second and third estuary sections had opened to satisfy the continuing hot demands for housing. Still, with all the growth, Las Conchas maintained its distinctive aura, its special ‘sublimity.’
Robert and Deena Geraint had recently retired full time to ‘La Casa de las Campanas y Mariposas’ and had become active members in the Las Conchas Homeowners Association. A manned security gate into the community was approved and started up the same year Robert and Deena arrived as full time residents. Assessments rose steadily to keep up with the varied needs and growing necessities. Property values continued upward and Las Conchas thrived and prospered.
Robert Geraint became the man to whom the citizens of the community turned when there were problems and when advice was sought on any conceivable matter. His was the quiet and thoughtful mind that people trusted in counsel. His was the strength of body and hard muscle when someone needed a hand in moving something big, like, a car stuck in the desert sand. His was the humble personality and genuine demeanor that drew people to him, that brought him the unsought praise and reputation that embarrassed him. Robert knew his community, its good and its bad elements. Like all communities there were plenty of both.
In the early evening on Friday a terrible series of screams filled the peaceful landscape of Las Conchas. Bob Geraint was at the barbeque turning his steaks when the first scream broke his placid mood, broke the musical spell of a Placido Domingo aria coming from the tape system in the great room. Scurry, Bob’s faithful golden retriever, rose from his spot near the barbecue and looked anxiously at his master. The dog’s tail was tucked between his legs, and a soft whine turned into a low growl.
There was something about the scream that tore into Bob’s consciousness. It was like a door slamming shut from a harsh gust of wind. The scream was a reverberant and dissonant acknowledgment of some awful event, not so much a startled response as it was a total black acquiescence to something evil and ordained. It was a scream unlike many others Bob Geraint had heard in all his years, a scream that would remain forever in his memory.
Then, there came a second and third scream, startling successions of the first, horribly quaking things, tinged with a demonic terror, a madness, that conveyed hideous truths.
Deena appeared at the screen of the great room door. “What was that?” she asked incredulously.
“Don’t know,” Bob answered with a worried brow.
Without saying more they stood and listened.
Moments later the quietness returned to Las Conchas. A dog barked somewhere down the dusty road. Scurry returned the bark with one of his own. A soft zephyr caressed the wild brush out on the expansive sand beyond the barbeque. The bright orange sun lay low on the Sea of Cortez over towards Baja California Norte. Placido Domingo still sang a plaintive song in the great room of ‘Bells and Butterflies,’ muted by distance but still evocative and vaguely compelling.
Bob Geraint stood unsettled and wary by the barbeque, steak tongs hanging loosely from his right hand. He looked eastward toward the area from whence the screams had come. His faithful Scurry brushed nervously against his master’s leg, waiting. A few moments had passed since the last scream. There came a sound of a car engine, revving, moving. Bob placed the tongs on the tile sidebar of the barbeque and moved tentatively toward the road in front of his villa.
“Where are you going?” Deena asked, the question necessitated by a vague fear.
“Gotta take a look. Sounded like someone in trouble. Scurry, you stay here with mom.”
The dog whined but obeyed.
“Bob! Be careful!” Deena yelled after him.
Bob walked north along the eastern side of the villa, Deena’s beautiful bougainvillea and ice plant lining the entire stretch of white stucco. At the ATV shed off the front of the house Bob turned and walked east down the road. He walked slowly, scanning carefully both sides of the road. He passed other villas along the road but he detected no movements or lights. He thought idly that his neighbors were perhaps not coming down from Phoenix this weekend. The road was now in the final pale phase of sunlight and further east, some five hundred feet, Bob could see the small sand dune park area where kids raced their ATVs around a use-worn track. The area now looked remotely eerie in its mauve and dark contrast from the dissipating sun. The brush was wind-blown bare, and the sand dunes looked like soft smooth scoops of chocolate ice cream.
At a bend the road turned easily north and east again. Here, on the northern edge of the road, there were large and small villas that were mostly furnished rentals, villas trust-owned by absentee landlords in Phoenix and Tucson. Bob now walked anxiously and warily along this row of villas. He suspected that this had been the area of the screams. No lights shone in any of the houses and no cars were parked out front.
Bob remembered the car noise minutes before and now looked off to the north, east, and south, to see if there were any vehicles traveling the dirt lanes leading into and out of Las Conchas. He saw no movement on the roads but he did see a dust flow along the road back to the west, toward the marine museum and the old whale bone skeleton near its entrance.
Then Bob noticed that a front door was ajar at one of the smaller villas along the north side of the road. It was the villa being rented as a vacation house by the Blalocks. He stopped, cocked his ears in a concentrated effort to hear sounds, debated within himself his next course of action, and cautiously moved left from the road down a stone edged walkway toward the open door.
Bob was a big man with a ruggedly handsome, angular, face. He was deeply tanned by the Sonoran sun and his grayish white hair lay in tight distinguished neatness. He was six foot two, two hundred thirty pounds, with huge arms and hands. One of those hard and calloused hands now reached uncertainly toward the open door of the quiet villa.
Before touching the door knob, he called out, “Is anyone here? Hello! Anybody home?”
Then, louder, “Hello! Hello! Anybody home?”
He held the knob of the front door with his left hand and banged its center with his right fist.
After several raps and more calling out, he pushed the front door inward and warily entered, his body coiled and ready for any sudden surprises.
The flooring of the inside entry area was a high polished rust-red Mexican tile. The tile extended left into a living room area that was small and at the moment cluttered with overturned furniture.
The overturned furniture caused him pause. Again, he called out, “Anybody here? Hello! Hello!”
There was no response.
He tentatively passed through a small kitchen where cabinet doors were opened and broken dishes littered the floor. He moved slowly, on down a dark hallway, hesitated at a doorway, flicked a switch, and peered into a bathroom. He sensed the aroma of soap on the air and noticed a damp limpid towel on a wall hook. Water beads lay on the tiled floor of the shower and in the beige basin bowl below a mirrored medicine cabinet.
Growing more wary he turned off the bathroom light and moved further down the hallway. He called out again but there was no response.
Two doors on the right of the hallway opened onto small guest bedrooms. In both bedrooms Bob found the beds in disarray and some children clothing hung on round wooden poles in open closet niches. More clothes were strewn along the floor, and opened luggage sat before each of the open closets. Drawers had been pulled from the small bed tables and lay upended in the corner of the room.
The door on the left side of the hallway led to the master bedroom. Like the front entry, this door also stood ajar.
Again, he called out. There was no response.
Bob listened for a moment at the partially opened door. Then he thought he heard the low meowing sound of a cat coming from the room, muffled but distinguishable.
Then, an odor he had only peripherally noticed upon entering now settled pungently upon the air. It was a familiar smell and he knew that it was coming from the room before him.
His mind began to play out possible scenarios. He thought he recognized the odor. He had smelled before its somber septic essence. A truth suddenly hit him, a truth as inexorable as any truth he had ever known.
Mentally alert, not touching the door handle with his fingers, Bob reached for the upper center of the wood and pushed inwardly with his knuckles. As the door opened the odor became nauseatingly strong. He covered his mouth and nose with his large left hand and walked all the way into the room.
Although he had an ominous expectation of what he would find, he could not have prepared himself for the scene in front of him, six feet from the door.
Bob Geraint tightly closed his eyes but he could still see the woman sprawled sideways across the king size bed, deep bloody indentations along her hairline, her right hand palm upward as though pitifully pleading for a mercy denied her. The left arm and hand, at an odd limp angle, rested on a naked breast. The chest was punctured savagely, oozing the dark red viscid juices that had been her life.
Bob opened his eyes and forced himself to view more specifics of the scene.
The woman’s right temple had a deep puncture slit, blood still flowing slowly from its opening. The throat was slashed and laid open by numerous thrusts from something keenly edged and maniacally wielded. Her mouth was a sad gaping rictus, and the white of her eyes were visible through partially closed lids. The terrycloth bathrobe she had been wearing was open at the front, soaked in blood, splayed out in wild angles all around her mutilated body. Blood splatters were on the ivory semi-gloss wall at the head of the bed, over the tiled floor, and as far away as the glass sliding doors leading to a small outside patio.
Bob Geraint gagged, fought back a wave of nausea, and tightened the grip of his hand over his nose and mouth. For a long moment he could not blink or close his eyes. They remained wide and fixed on the dead woman in front of him.
Finally he lowered his head and saw that he was standing near several globules of bright red blood.
He noticed a sudden movement to his left. In a low, slow moving crouch, a lovely slate blue cat moved from beneath the big bed. At the door, the cat swiftly disappeared down the dark hallway.
Bob Geraint hurried, too, from the death scene and from the dark house. Outside he retched and hungrily sought the cool air from the now dark Sea of Cortez. He saw through the thin beginning veil of night Deena and Scurry approaching. When Deena saw him bent over by the roadside she rushed to his side.
After a time they walked home, got in their car and drove quickly to the security gate some three miles away. Bob informed Antonio Aguilar of the grisly discovery. Antonio called the police. Bob took Deena and Scurry home and returned to meet Antonio at the Blalock house.
As Antonio and Bob stood talking out front, awaiting the police, Al Blalock and his three children pulled up in the family car. The man and his kids wore worried expressions, and Antonio tried to prevent them from entering the house. Al Blalock pulled from Antonio’s grasp and dashed into the house, the kids running after him.
Then, there came more screams, sad and pitiful from the children, mixed with astonished anguish and involuntary gasps for breath. Blalock and the kids soon emerged from the death house and huddled alongside Bob and Antonio.
The siren sounds came loudly, announcing the arrival of the police. There were questions of Bob and Antonio, of Al Blalock, and the police finally entered the house to examine the murder scene.
The police were still in the house gathering what evidence might be available to them long after Bob walked back to ‘Bells and Butterflies.’ Outside his front arched entrance, Bob decided he needed more walking.
He slowly strolled along the dry dusty lanes for a time, trying to rid his mind of the thoughts churning there. At some point he thought of Deena. She would be worried, and, as he considered this thought, he found himself again at his arched entry way. He was momentarily stunned with the simple fact that he had returned to ‘Bells and Butterflies’ and did not recall the routes he had taken or the duration of his walk.
Inside the house, he and Deena nibbled at some food, made small talk, but could not talk about the screams and the brutal murder just a few doors away. They tried to watch a movie tape but could not stay interested. Finally, with a tacit acknowledgment, they went to bed.
In bed, thoughts came that he most feared. There had been another death many years ago, the death of his daughter, Niki. A mindless drunk driver had smashed into the family car and into every succeeding day and night of his life. Bob had been the one driving the family car, on an errand that could have waited. Niki had gone along for the ride, to be with her daddy.
His was an accountant’s mind, but he could not post on his ledgers the brutal reality of what he had just seen, the screams he had heard earlier. He could not turn off the many emotions he was feeling, of the Blalock woman — of Niki and her brief terrified scream just before the drunk driver would end her life and change her father’s life forever.
Deep into the night, Bob Geraint lay sleepless next to Deena on his king size waterbed, afraid of sleep, more afraid of thought. Neither could he void the horrible screams of the Blalock woman, nor could he divorce those from his own child’s last soulful wail before death took her from him.
The brutal death of Kathleen Blalock, all the blood, had brought back the memories, memories he wanted not to face.
Bob Geraint lay there in a sleepless, suffocating void, familiar tears falling down his timeworn and craggy face. Familiar inner demons were at their work.
Scurry lay on the floor next to the bed, a soft whine emanating from deep within his throat, feeling the agony that griped his master’s soul.