Eddie has been traveling to Bahia de los Angeles for more than 40 years. He rents a home there. Like many other Americans who live part-time in Baja California, Eddie is mostly retired. He goes to Mexico to fish and relax and do nothing.
But now Eddie is fearful. Two of his neighbors in Mexico were killed recently. Jo Anne Butler, 69, and Ray Ball, 72 were found deceased in their home in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 2. Like Eddie, they were Americans who lived part-time in Mexico.
“I confronted two guys, two nights before.” Before the deadly night, Eddie had his own confrontation. His encounter was on a Wednesday night not long after midnight. “I was in the bathroom in the middle of the night, it’s dark, I heard them talking,” Eddie remembered. “The motion detector light came on and they were walking past the house, talking, towards the beach.”
Thinking about it later, Eddie wondered if the two men might have first looked at some things that were right next to his home, some equipment there. “Right there, between the house and the garage, and then they went to the little boat on the beach.”
Eddie keeps a small aluminum boat on the beach, immediately in front of his house. “It was above the high tide mark, the anchor is up on the beach and in the dirt.”
That night, Eddie quickly put on some clothing. Because he slept “nekked.” He walked quietly through his home, “And looked through the front window, on the beach side, and there is somebody with lights on my boat. It was lights on my little boat, the boat was lit up, I couldn’t see them.”
“And I could hear them talking. They were just standing out there talking, like they thought everybody was deaf or something.” The men were speaking Spanish. He estimated they were 20 or 30 feet from his home. “And I lit them up with a flashlight. I went out and asked Que quiere? Which is ‘What do you want?’ They said gasolina and agua. And I said no.” And then the two men started walking away, down the beach.
“They did not look familiar.” Eddie said he would not be able to identify them if he saw them again. “If I was gonna guess I would say they were in their 30s. Not high school kids or anything like that.”
It was days later, during the day, when “I found out they cut the anchor line. Two days later when I went to pull the boat, to put it away, I saw the anchor line was cut. There’s no doubt in my mind these were part of the bad guys who done it.”
Later Eddie spoke with his neighbors who told him: “They went to Rosie’s place the same night, they asked for a ride into town. They knocked on Rosie’s door, she lives with Pepe. When Pepe came to the door, they said they wanted a ride into town, in the middle of the night, and Pepe said no. Clearly casing.”
Eddie was not shocked that there were persons looking to steal something. Even though, “I have not had anything stolen,” others who live around the bay have had things taken. “Somebody broke into Ray’s house five years ago and stole a truck and other stuff.” Ray and Jo Anne were not there at their home at that time. “Somebody broke into Lupe’s house last year, and stole a bunch of tools and things. Someone has broken into Manuelita’s house before. They are usually looking for radios, cameras, binoculars, things they can sell easily. The normal modus operandi is stealing stuff that is easily carried off and sold at swap meets.”
“My house is three or four miles out of town, so I don’t come in contact with the local drunks.” Eddie thinks the stealing was due to just a handful of trouble makers. “There are some local people who have a reputation for being sleazebags and stealing things. Maybe four or five guys.”
Eddie feels familiar with the situation around there. “Been going down there over 40 years, have had a house there 16 years, a rental.” Eddie does not have a signed contract or any special arrangement with the owner of that home on the bay. “There’s no papers, you just pay every year.”
There are a lot of Americans who live on the beach around Bahia de Los Angeles, which lies on the Sea of Cortez 417 miles from San Diego, halfway down the peninsula. “Probably a thousand of them, altogether. They come and go at different times of the year. Some of them rent, some people own their houses. There is probably 20 miles of shoreline.”
This year, 2018, Eddie arrived in mid-April. So he was well settled in and was in his regular routine six weeks later, the first of June.
Leave the radio on
June 1 was a typical Friday morning. “The plan is that there is no plan,” explains Eddie. “Probably at least half the people have a boat. Fishing is a big deal down there. Not when it is too windy, you can’t get out. When the yellowtail are running, a lot of people are out, a lot of chatter on the radio.”
That’s why Eddie keeps a boat there. But was wasn’t fishing that day. “I don’t remember why.”
There is no cell phone service on the bay, so everybody uses VHF radio to communicate. “When someone is on the radio, everyone in the bay can hear that conversation. But see, people turn their radios off at night. Which I am not going to do anymore.”
That June morning, “It was a nice day. It was sunny. Got up about 6:30 to 7. I made coffee, sit on the back porch.” Typically he would go for a walk. “For about 25 minutes, then go back and have breakfast.”
Or he might not go for a walk. “Depends on the wind and the tide. If the tide is too high there is no beach. Usually the wind blows out of the north. If it’s too windy I don’t walk, too uncomfortable. It can blow really hard down there. Everything revolves around the wind down there. People stay inside when it is too windy.” Although, “If you don’t like the weather wait ten minutes,” it will change.
What does Eddie normally see on his morning walk?
“Dead sea lions, dead porpoises. Jack rabbits. Rattlesnake tracks. Coyotes, see them during the day and hear them all night. They get as close as standing on the porch. They are brazen.”
“It is a desert, there are scorpions everywhere. But they are nocturnal so you usually don’t see them.
Eddie does not remember what he had for breakfast that Friday. It might have been Cheerios. Or bacon and eggs. “Oatmeal sometimes.” He can’t really remember how he spent most of that day. “If something needs to be fixed, you fix it. If there’s a card game going on, you play cards.”
Late that afternoon, maybe 5 o’clock or so, Jo Anne walked by with her dog. She stopped and visited. Eddie and Jo Anne and Bart the black lab sat in the shade of the porch. Jo Anne patted Bart and said, “I just gave him a bath.” She and Ray had adopted Bart. He was one of those strays ubiquitous in Baja often rescued by soft-hearted Americans. Jo Anne and Ray had the black lab for some years, Bart was a happy, older dog. He was never on a leash. He was rarely seen apart from Jo Anne or Ray.
Jo Anne was an artist; passersby enjoyed seeing her work; there are sculptures and paintings all around her home. That lazy Friday, she wanted to discuss the VHF radio system. Normally everybody used channel 68 as the hailing channel, the the first channel used to connect. Then a person who wants to have conversation will name the next channel to switch to, so channel 68 is not clogged when others want to hail. Jo Anne proposed that all the Americans should agree on a certain radio frequency they could all listen to, just the local gringos. She proposed channel 80. Her idea was never acted on, because she was killed that night.
“It’s really bad”
Eddie went to bed that Friday night, and remembered waking to a strange noise. “Sounded like someone taking a hammer to a tin roof.” He heard maybe five to eight repetitions. “What’s going on?” Eddie wondered. “I get up.” He wanted to check on his boat.
Not all of his windows are covered. But, “There’s a venetian blind on that side, that is where the sun comes through in the morning.” So he pushed his hand through the slats to look through. “I didn’t see anything in the yard, so I grabbed the flashlight and went out on the front porch with the flashlight.” It was a small flashlight, just six inches long, but it was bright. “As soon as I get out on the front porch I hear a car hauling ass and big noises.”
Something went past and headed toward the water. “I walked off my porch towards the beach to where I could see the boat. I could just see the rear of the boat on the trailer.” There are a number of shrubs tough enough to grow in the sand dunes, and these obscured his view.
“At that point, someone was trying to steal a boat, that was all I knew.”
Eddie went back into his home and turned on his radio and joined the chatter already on channel 68. He joined in by saying, “Help! There’s somebody stealing a boat! We need help!”
Later Eddie said, “I know people heard me ‘cause they came back.”
“I got two responses or maybe three, they said we are on the way, and one guy said ‘Do you want me to go to town for the police?’ I said ‘Yes.’”
“You talk on the radio enough, they recognize your voice, so you don’t even have to identify yourself, they know.”
He pulled on some pants. “After that I went back out on the beach to wait for help.” From where he was, Eddie could only see the back of the boat, he could not recognize it and he did not know if it was still attached to a vehicle. “I was by myself so I did not approach closer.”
Eddie guessed he was maybe 50 yards away from the boat. He was shining his little flashlight around. “I heard more banging, still not realizing what I was hearing.” He wondered what could be making that weird, metallic noise.
Then the first neighbor showed up, it was a man. Eddie got into his own truck and drove around to light up the area with his headlights. “Still not approaching the boat, because we did not know if anyone was around it. It had been disconnected from whatever was towing it.”
The big boat on its trailer was stuck in the sand. Whoever was trying to steal the boat and trailer had made a wrong turn, they drove toward the water instead of the dirt road which passes behind everyone’s house. “Nobody does that, cause they are going to get stuck in the sand, especially a 22-foot boat, that is a big boat.” And so everybody figured the thieves were not locals.
“That’s the consensus that we have, that these guys did not know where they were, they went out on the beach not knowing where the water was. It is only conjecture. We simply assumed that they did not know where they were, and if they were local they would know where they were.”
“So left my truck there, me and the other guy went over and recognized the boat as Ray’s. Cause I had been on it fishing before. At that point I’m thinking, this is Ray’s boat, Ray’s not here, something is wrong.” Up to that point, the concern was only that somebody was trying to steal a boat; that was alarming enough to the neighborhood.
More people started showing up. One man started to walk towards Ray’s house, he walked along the beach. “I walk toward Ray’s house, approaching from the back side.” Eddie chose to approach the house from a different angle.
“As I came up to the house, to the kitchen window, I saw the other guy go into the house from the front, so then I called out, ‘What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘It’s really bad. They’re both dead.’”
Eddie was stunned. “And I turned and walked away. I didn’t want to see it.”
Later, everybody was talking about what Eddie’s companion saw. He said Jo Anne and Ray were found together, by the back door of their house. “Both there together, completely still. Blood all over.”
The man who went inside said there was a pool of blood under the kitchen table, there was speculation that Jo Anne must have been hiding there. It was reported that she was shot in the leg. A blood trail suggested that she dragged herself over to where Ray was, by the back door, because that is where they were both found.
Somebody said there was a baseball bat on the back porch, but Eddie said he did not notice it.
They shot the dog, too
Eddie estimated that police arrived,“Ten minutes at the most,” after they were notified. At first it was just one cop. “And then they started communicating, and then they all showed up.” There were a total of three policemen in the local town. “The police did not talk to me at all, they just continued on to the murder scene.”
Eddie never returned to Ray’s home. “No, I did not go back over there.”
“And then the military showed.” These were soldiers in army gear and helmets in a Humvee. “Six or eight.” They had military-style rifles. “At one point during the next hour or so the commanding officer, a lieutenant or a captain came over and he did not speak English, I don’t speak Spanish very well but we did converse a bit. I think it was curiosity on his part, because I don’t think he is in charge of those kind of crimes.”
“Police and military were there all night. I tried to go to bed at 4 a.m. or so, the police and military were all there for two days or so. They also strewed crime scene tape all around everything.”
A lot of people came to Eddie’s home, “The next day I had a constant stream of people coming in and out. They wanted to know. Nobody had any news at that point. They wanted to know what I saw and what I heard.” And then, “It finally dawned on me that the loud sounds we heard were gunshots.”
“Pepe and Rosie said they were coming in, and they almost met head on, on the little road that comes into my place.” Eddie said these neighbors almost ran into the thieves as they were leaving, “They went around them and kept going, it’s a dirt road not a main road. She said she could have possibly seen four men in the car, but don’t know how sure she is of that.”
“This is all in the middle of the night, it started at 12 or 12:30. I know we were awake all night.”
They found Bart the dog dead on the dirt road that passes behind the houses. “I don’t know if it was chasing the bad guys, don’t know how it got out there.” One neighbor thought the bad guys ran over the dog, “But I don’t think they did, there were no tire tracks on the dog, I think they just shot it.”
Do you think Bart would have barked at the bad guys?
“It wasn’t a very barky dog. He probably growled or barked at the bad guys. Who knows? At least his presence was enough they felt threatened and shot him.”
Did you hear any barking?
“No. The first time I saw it was on its way out, but it was still huffing and puffing. A hundred yards from their house, so how it got out there we don’t know. The dog did not wander. Very rarely ever saw that dog alone, that far from the house. Usually the dog was with her, or him.”
All the neighbors decided that Ray must have opened his door with a baseball bat in his hand and he got shot. “That is what everybody thinks.”
“The boat they tried to steal was sitting on a brand new trailer. It was a newer boat, not brand new but it was very nice. It was a McKee Craft with a 250-horse motor.”
It was reported that local cops found twelve 9 mm shell casings. Eddie commented, “I would say at least twelve shots. Since there were not three bursts of gunfire, I think they got the dog with the first burst, the dog was 100 yards from where it should have been, at the house. The dog could have gone behind the house where the boat and trailer were parked, (got shot) then it took off running and collapsed some distance away.”
Officials reportedly declared the deaths occurred at 2:46 a.m. on Saturday June 2, 2018. Eddie guessed that was when the coroner must have shown up to make an official declaration, “because they were dead way before that.”
“I heard rumors from one end to another. The authorities were looking for three guys from San Quintin, but have not found them yet. And there are other rumors it is 4 or 5 guys. All that is is hearsay.”
“It was a small SUV, and we don’t know what kind. It was bigger than a Samurai and smaller than a Suburban. A neighbor who was responding to radio calls actually met them on the road. It was white with some sort of stripe on the side. That’s how she described it. She was in her vehicle responding to the radio hail, and passed them. At that point, they had unhooked the boat and left it on the beach and took off.”
“The night of the killings, at 3 a.m. that morning, a quarter of a mile north up the beach, neighbors saw a white pickup truck going at a high rate of speed, it had no lights on, it turned up towards the main road and disappeared. Very rapidly. If it really was a pickup truck, there were two vehicles involved, cause the vehicle hooked up to the boat was an SUV. It was not a pickup, it was an SUV.”
“Nobody stopped any of the cars going by a half hour after the shooting, and nobody stopped them, going up and down the road.” Eddie said there were no roadblocks set up, even though there is just one road going in and out of the area, “Nobody checked to find out who they were.”
“The day I was leaving the family arrived.” Ray’s family. “And they are trying to get the bodies across the border.” The neighbors were appalled that the house had not been cleaned, the blood was still there. But,“They were glad the house was not cleaned, they wanted to see for themselves.” Eddie spoke to Ray’s son, “He said, ‘No, this is the way we wanted it.’ So he could see what really happened.”
No one was reassured
The following Monday, there was a meeting called to reassure local Mexican citizens and the American sometime-residents. Everybody met at a local museum.
At that first meeting, there were local officials from Bahia de Los Angeles. This included the three policemen, plus other officials. “It was total chaos, because of the language barrier. The interpreter did a good job but it was hard to keep up with it all. The Mexicans are talking 90 miles an hour, the young guy who was the interpreter, he was a nice guy but there was too much going on.”
Eddie estimated the crowd was half-and-half, Mexicans and gringos. “There were probably 50 people there.” None of the officials actually gave out any information about the investigation. People stood up and were talking, then they got interrupted, in Spanish or English. “Mostly people were shouting out things that they thought, like Mexican businessmen and boat owners who were concerned that their business was going to go away because the gringos were going to leave.”
“Some of it was the delegado saying this is what we need to do, and what we want to do, and will do. Basically telling people what they want to hear. Basically it was a bull session more than anything else. No one was reassured by that meeting.”
“One hour meeting. I was ready to leave by the first twenty minutes. No information was to be had at the meeting. There were people outside who couldn’t get in, it was too crowded. I waited until nothing else was happening and then I left.”
At the second meeting, people from San Quintin were there. “Up front, there were reps from the police and police chief and investigators from San Quintin, and the military and the delegado, and interpreter. And a blackboard on which they were writing things that have been proposed to make the town more secure. Get more police. Co-ordinate with the army to set up roadblocks when necessary. Find out who is going in and going out in the middle of the night. Set up a radio frequency for the people to more easily call police.”
“Investigators just said we are working on this and we are working on that. Just that they are investigating. They never said if they had fingerprints or whatever.”
“Everybody wanted answers, some people shouted out demands. Chaos.”
“The information we got out of it was that there are things that they intend to do to make the town more secure. Most of us take it with a grain of salt knowing that those sort of things get talked about and not acted on in Mexico. There is a military base right there, and you might think the police would call them right away to set up roadblocks because we got a murder, they did not do that. Or that there would be some co-ordination between them. There is an Army base and a Naval base, both right there.”
“There is only one road in and out of town, one from north and one from south. There are not a lot of roads to be taking.”
“What we are hearing, people who had hotel rooms were getting cancellations in town. The visitors were cancelling.”
Eddie said that normally his plan would be to return to his home in Mexico in October. But now he doesn’t know.
“If they catch the guys that will change our attitude. We hope they will have caught these bad people.”