San Diego As usual, Mayor Cianci was at the murder scene. "There was one body on the street. He was in perfect health, outside of a hole in his head. He was lying face down, and they turned him over, and the medical examiner, the coroner, came and did his thing. The police cordoned off the scene, and they took him away. I didn't go to the other one. Seen one, you've seen them all."
The city is Providence, Rhode Island. The bodies were those of two visitors from San Diego, James Edward Scott, 42, and Alberto Gonzalez Ortega, 23. It was three months ago, June 26. A Friday night around 10:00, in the Smith Hill area. The two men had just come out of the Foxy Lady strip joint. By the time Mayor Vincent Cianci, Jr., rushed over from his dinner a few blocks away, their bodies were lying a half-mile apart, on North Davis Street and West Park Street, at the edge of Providence's downtown. The two men were killed with a 9mm handgun.
Scott's and Gonzalez's deaths, Providence police chief Colonel Urbano Prignano, Jr., acknowledges, were not everyday killings. "Execution? Absolutely," says Prignano. "The night of the murders, when I saw the way the bodies were and everything, I called it right from the beginning. I said, 'This is definitely a narcotics hit.' "
"I don't know much about the people involved," says Cianci. "But they obviously were not Rhode Islanders."
"Over here it's easy [to track them] because they're from California," says Prignano. "But it's awful strange why they were up here."
All that is known about the last two days in Scott's and Gonzalez's lives is that they spent most of that time in the air, cruising across country at 150 miles per hour aboard a rented, single-engined Piper Cherokee Lance.
On Wednesday, June 24, Scott and Gonzalez climbed aboard their rented plane at San Diego's Montgomery Field. According to the plane's owner, Scott told the fixed-base operator that their destination was Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"He didn't even file a flight plan," says the owner, who asked not to be named. "He told us where he was going, and he went someplace totally different."
Scott flew the plane to Albuquerque, all right, but he didn't stop there. He continued north to Chicago and then headed the little plane east towards Green Airport in Providence. But bad weather forced them to land just across the border in Massachusetts, at Norwood airport in the suburbs of Boston.
Police chief Prignano told reporters that the two San Diegans spent the night of June 25 in a Ramada Inn near Norwood and traveled to Providence the next day. They checked into the Westin Hotel about 11:00 a.m., then went to the strip club and spent the rest of the day there.
It was when they stepped out of the Foxy Lady around 10:00 that evening that at least one vehicle pulled up. Neighbors told reporters they heard gunshots and a pair of speeding cars. Police found two bodies lying on the pavement, half a mile apart. According to the death certificates, Gonzalez died of brain injury and skull fracture from a single gunshot wound; Scott from gunshot wounds to the lung, liver, and kidneys. "So what it looked like is [the killers forced both men into their jeep, and] they killed Gonzalez," says Chief Prignano. "[Scott] sees it done, jumps out of the vehicle, the other guy chases him, hits him with five slugs. I know it had to be a jeep, because the blood was coming out of his body, and [the jeep] went over it and left a tire mark. So they leave and dump [Gonzalez's] body off someplace else."
Scott's family told Rhode Island media that the two were in Providence to buy dry-cleaning equipment. But both men's records cast doubt on that story.
"Gonzalez, who was murdered here, was the same person who was involved in a sweep after the attempted assassination of Jesus Blancornelas [editor of Zeta, Tijuana's weekly paper] in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1997," says Prignano.
Gonzalez was one of three alleged "narco-juniors" (children of wealthy Tijuana families mixed up with drug traffickers) picked up after Operation 50, the December 3, 1997, police raids on 50 Tijuana homes.
After being released from a month of house arrest, Gonzalez fled to the United States, according to Prignano. The three narco-juniors under suspicion have all met disturbing fates: Pareyon Rosas was found shot outside his prominent labor lawyer father's home last April 21, Webber Herrera has disappeared, and now Gonzalez has been killed in Providence with one shot to the back of the head.
And Scott, says Prignano, "is definitely the same person" as the James Edward Scott arrested in 1985 on suspicion of involvement with a Peruvian cocaine-smuggling ring whose West Coast distribution network was allegedly based in North County. The arrests climaxed 18 months of investigation. The Peruvian network was responsible for up to 25 percent of all cocaine smuggled in from Peru, according to the FBI. Scott was one of over 98 people caught in the sweep.
A UPI report dated March 25, 1986, says Scott had allegedly traveled to San Diego County with $35,000 to buy cocaine, which he planned to sell in Michigan. But the report quotes assistant U.S. attorney Maria Arroyo as saying that Scott was not a major character in the conspiracy. In a July 28, 1986 judgment, Scott was convicted of being "accessory after the fact to use of a communication facility."
"On or about September 15, 1984," reads Scott's 1986 information sheet, "at approximately 2:12 p.m., John Stephenson Kerr did knowingly and intentionally use a...telephone in... facilitating the commission of controlled substance offenses....and defendant James Edward Scott knowing that said offense had been committed did receive, relieve, comfort, and assist John Stephenson Kerr in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial, or punishment..."
In other words, Scott was there when Kerr made a cocaine deal on the phone. He was sentenced to three years' probation.
That hardly makes him a big-time dealer -- or a target for murder over a decade later. But it pointed police to the possibility that Scott's and Gonzalez's visit to Providence may have been drug-related.
In San Diego, Scott's violent death has sent waves of sorrow and fear through friends, family, and those who did business with him. Scott's widow Arlene refuses to talk at all. ("No comment," she said when called, then put the phone down.)
"I lost over $3000," says the Piper Cherokee owner. "The family withdrew the funds on the check before it cleared, even though it was verified good when [Scott] gave it to us, so it bounced. So I'm out over $5000 for the total revenue of the flight and everything. That includes the profit of the airport rental place. I had only owned the plane for a year. I had no control over where he took the airplane, that he was going to do something illegal."
The Providence police tore the plane apart. "They had every inspection plate on that airplane torn off. They tore up all my carpeting, all my doors, all my interior. I had to pay at my own expense to put that all back together again. Obviously they were looking for drugs. They left it all lying on the ground in pieces."
The owner is scared. "[Talking to you could be] endangering me and my family. All the articles that come out in the paper have accused Mr. Scott's associate with [being] involved with drug lords. I don't want anybody like that calling me. That guy was accused of [working for] a prominent drug lord. 'Narco Jr.,' they call him! Do you think I want them coming back to me?"
James Scott's mother Edna Snyder has no idea why her son was killed. "This was my oldest son, 42 years old. Have you any idea how that feels? And I've called the [Providence] police department several times. They have just said, 'It's under investigation.' They have not been helpful."
Snyder says she has yet to see a picture of her son to know for sure he is dead. "No relative was there to positively identify him. Then he was cremated. Why can't they show me a photo?"
Her son, she says, was very outgoing. "I can describe him this way. If you asked him if you could borrow $20, and he only had $10, he would go borrow $10 to give you $20." She says she "wasn't even aware" of Jim's 1985 cocaine bust. "I heard about it years after. I was aware of some minor thing, but Jim was just not that kind of person. He was health-conscious."
Despite reading newspaper stories claiming Gonzalez was suspected of being involved in drugs and murder, Snyder's sure Jim had no idea. "If Jim knew how involved he was, he would not have had anything to do with that. Jim loved life too much. He loved his family too much to put himself in that jeopardy, and he would not have had anything to do.... I just know my son."
She was aware of Alberto Gonzalez Ortega. "All I know about [Alberto Gonzalez] is that his parents leased half of the building where one of my son's dry-cleaner shops is, and Jim and my other son remodeled half of it to look like an old Spanish villa. They had the wooden beams coming out and the adobe, and [the family] sold high-quality Mexican merchandise. Pots and nice Mexican curios. That's the only way Jim could have known [Alberto]."
She believes that Jim was going to Providence, Rhode Island, to sell dry-cleaning equipment or to look for a site to set up a dry-cleaning business. "He often flew. If he had a client who was interested in buying equipment, but in some other town, he often flew there, to look for dry-cleaning sites and install equipment for them."
Snyder says Gonzalez's parents didn't fit the profile of wealthy "narco-junior" parents. "They seemed to be struggling financially. Jim didn't know them that long. But with Jim, if you met him, you were his friend for life."
Since June 26, a few days after the murders, a sign has hung in the Hacienda Del Sol saying the store is closed until further notice.
Snyder says feelings between the two families grew hostile. She blames part of that hostility on Providence detectives, who "pitted one family against the other."
"I do have one thing to say," says Snyder, who teaches folk art from her home in a small Northwestern town. "The world is not a better place today, because Jim was the kind of human being who helped anybody and everybody."
Providence's police chief thinks Alberto Gonzalez Ortega's connections with the cartel, if any, were insignificant.
"The information that we've received with Mr. Gonzalez [is] that he was never a big figure in the cartel. I've talked to the DEA and FBI down there, and he was never a target [of authorities]."
Zeta's editor, Jesus Blancornelas, speaking from Tijuana, doesn't feel so confident. "It has never been conclusively confirmed," he says, "but it was suspected that [Gonzalez] participated in the plot [to kill me]. The term 'narco-junior' has been abused, but certainly Gonzalez was from a family with connections. He was the nephew of a state attorney general."
For Mayor Cianci, the whole affair is bad PR for his city's image.
"Hey, listen: these two guys, they flew into town that day, and in five hours they were murdered. A couple of years ago the Liveable Cities Almanac called us the safest city in the continental U.S. We only had two murders for the whole year up until then."
Edna Snyder's concerns are more immediate. "I'd just like a picture. Maybe I wouldn't be able to handle it, but my daughter could look at it. Then we'd know 100 percent that Jim's really dead. We could end that nagging uncertainty. Then we might start to get some closure."