Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angel Maturino Resendiz: The Railroad Killer

Manhunt

State and city law enforcement agencies did what little they could to find the will-o'-the-wisp maniac. Freight yard security was steeped up and hobos by the boxcar loads were hauled into local jails for positive identification and questioning. Sometimes freight trains were paused — to hell with time schedules! — and searched engine to caboose. Hispanics, even those who worked in the yards, complained to their bosses about the dirty looks they got from townspeople and what they felt was harassment from the police.

Hangouts for transients became targets for raids; policemen marched through homeless shelters, blood centers and soup kitchens where men earning money as migrant workers were known to frequent. Loiterers about town were hustled into police stations for questioning, but quickly released when it was proven they were not Angel Resendiz.

In June of 1999, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed the Railroad Killer on its Top Ten Most Wanted list. The Bureau's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) compared the elements of the alleged Resendiz killings to come up with matches linking the same man to all of them. The FBI's initial reward of $50,000 for information leading to Resendiz' capture escalated within days to $125,000 as affected municipalities anted up.

Wanted posters described Resendiz as 5'7" tall, weighing 140-150 pounds; black hair, brown eyes and dark complexion; scars on right ring finger, left arm and forehead; a snake tattoo on his left forearm and a flower tattoo on his left wrist; has been known to employ any one of dozens of aliases, social security numbers and birth dates (although the certified date seemed to be August 1, 1960); has worked as a day laborer, migrant worker or auto mechanic.

In the meantime, Jackson County, IL officially charged Resendiz with the murder of the Gorham killings after his fingerprints are documented. Officials in Louisville, KY did likewise. Angry authorities in the latter city, where Christopher Maier became the first of the Railroad Killer's nine known victims, disseminated wallet-size photos of the murderer, urging citizens to notify the police immediately if they even think they have spotted him.

On July 1, authorities in Fayette County, TX, identified DNA from Noemi Dominguez in Josephine Konvicka's home, indicating that after Resendiz killed the younger woman, he drove her car to other woman's home for more bloodletting.

Don K. Clark, special agent in charge of the FBI's Houston office, coordinating the nationwide manhunt, called Resendiz "a very dangerous and violent person," explaining why the Mexican national and border jumper was placed on the infamous Top Ten list. "He's demonstrated he can use almost any kind of object to take a human life in a very violent manner and we've got to try to catch him." Two hundred agents, he said, were assigned round-the-clock assignments in locations where Resendiz was known to have struck and where he might strike next. Of course, areas of concentration included freight yards and rail depots. "We have the train tracks," Clark summarized.

Agents soon received more than 1,000 phone tips from people who claimed they had either seen the fugitive, who knew the victims, or thought they might have something new or novel to add to the strategy of the manhunt or psychology of the fugitive. Most of the leads were blind, but some of them proved solid, as was the call that came in from vacationing acquaintances of Resendiz who spotted him in Louisville. This occurred about the same time that John Matilda, director of the Wayside Christian Mission in that city, advised the police that he, too, had seen the runaway.

On July 7, the FBI felt they had made a good move in recruiting the help of Resendiz' common-law wife, Julietta Reyes, whom they brought into Houston from her hometown of Rodeo, Mexico, 250 miles below the border. "She would like to do everything she can to get (her husband) to turn himself in to the appropriate authorities," reported Clark.

Julietta Reyes & daughter
Julietta Reyes & daughter

Surprisingly, Julietta turned over to the FBI 93 pieces of jewelry that she had been mailed to her from her husband abroad. She was sure they belonged to his victims. And she was on target. Relatives of Noemi Dominguez quickly identified thirteen of the pieces. As well, George Benton, husband of the murdered Claudia Benton, claimed several other pieces as her property.

A Fatal Slip-Up

For all the spent efficiency, Angel Resendiz continued to elude the law at every turn. John Douglas, who had been with the FBI for 25 years, rued the fact that, "the manhunt for the accused killer (had) been hampered by the lack of a coordinated computer system that would allow law enforcement officials to compare notes instantly and determine patterns."

The lack of such a system proved to be more injurious to the manhunt than Douglas could have predicted at the time.

On June 2, the Border Patrol apprehended Angel Resendiz near El Paso as he was attempting to cross the border illegally. While he was in its custody, the United States Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) performed a computer search on him, checking his fingerprints and photo against a possible fugitives list. Because the system failed to identify him as a wanted man, the INS deported him to Mexico.

The slip-up proved to be much more than an embarrassment — it wound up to be a crucial blunder. After his release, Resendiz immediately found his way back into the States where, within 48 hours, he killed both Dominguez and Konvicka near Houston, then Morber and his daughter in Illinois. Four innocent people murdered over a computer glitch.

"Our computers told us that he was nothing of lookout material," explained C.G. Almengor, a supervisor at the border. His words were too anti-climactic. "We really wish he had been in the system so we could have caught him."

But, the error could not be totally blamed on modern technology. On July 1, a month after the mistake, a Justice Department representative admitted that the West University Place Police Department had notified the INS about Resendiz back in December right after the death of Dr. Benton, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner announced an internal investigation into the matter.

 

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