By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
Before leaving for work that morning, Jarrell gave her daughter some unsolicited advice. "She told me to lose my attitude," says Jennifer Winsletz, "because I was pissed at my school because they wouldn't let me use my married name."
It was the last time Winsletz talked with her mother.
Shortly after 11 p.m., Jarrell was dispatched to a pay phone near a car lot on Southmore Street in Pasadena. There, she picked up Gonzales, 17-year-old Eluid Salazar and 15-year-old Mark Cavazos.
When Gonzales was released from prison in February 1997, the terms of his Special Needs Parole called for him to reside with his uncle in Dickinson. And he did -- for a while. But somewhere along the way, the supposedly critically ill Gonzales became romantically involved with a woman who also moved in with his uncle. Gonzales says the living arrangement soon became uncomfortable, and he and his girlfriend relocated to her sister's apartment in Pasadena.
Also residing at the apartment was the sister's son, Mark Cavazos. According to investigators, Cavazos was a member of a Pasadena gang known as the Ruthless Assassins. And, says Gonzales, the teenager looked up to him because of his affiliation with the Mexican Mafia. "He wanted to be a little gangster," says Gonzales.
That Wednesday evening, according to Gonzales, Cavazos and his mother had had one of their increasingly frequent fights. Cavazos's mom told Gonzales -- who was still living at the apartment, though his girlfriend had moved out -- to get her son out of the house and away from her.
So, Gonzales, Cavazos and a third man, 17-year-old Eluid Salazar, headed off down the street -- Cavazos and Salazar on foot, Gonzales in his wheelchair. Along the way, says Gonzales, they decided to call a cab to take them to Gonzales's father's home in nearby Alvin, about ten miles southwest of Pasadena. Investigators dispute that part of the story, maintaining that the trio had planned to rob Jarrell from the beginning.
Jarrell radioed back to the dispatcher that she was taking her passengers to Alvin. But instead, Gonzales directed her toward County Road 99 in rural Brazoria County. Gonzales claims he decided to go by a cousin's house to borrow money; investigators believe the detour was made to facilitate the holdup.
As they drove through the darkness, Gonzales says he and Jarrell struck up a conversation. Jarrell, he says, began telling him about her life -- about growing up in Pennsylvania, about driving 18-wheelers across the western portion of the United States. She also talked about her children and how she was looking forward to being a grandmother.
The conversation was interrupted when the cab stopped to wait for a freight train to pass. It was then that all hell broke loose.
Gonzales says Cavazos suddenly jumped into the front passenger seat next to Jarrell, stuck a pistol in her neck and began screaming for her to give him her money. When Jarrell told him that she didn't have any money, the 15-year-old allegedly ordered her to get out and run. As she did, Cavazos emptied his automatic pistol, striking Jarrell twice, once in the head and once in the back. They left her body where it fell.
As Salazar drove the cab back to Pasadena, Cavazos and Gonzales went through the dead woman's purse but found little of value. Although he claims to have been horrified by the shooting, Gonzales nonetheless kept Jarrell's checkbook.
Back in Pasadena, Salazar and Gonzales dropped Cavazos off at his mother's, ditched the fluorescent yellow cab in the parking lot of an apartment complex and made their way to Salazar's apartment, where they crashed for a few hours.
Meanwhile, investigators from the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office and the Pasadena Police Department were already on the case. Shortly after midnight, a passing motorist had discovered Jarrell's body on the side of the road, and crime scene investigators had begun trying to identify her. They found the $40 she always kept tucked inside her bra, but no identification such as a driver's license or checkbook; those things had been in her purse. But the authorities entered her fingerprints into a computerized identification service, and by 4:30 a.m., detectives were reasonably sure that the victim was Jarrell. They were even more certain after learning that Pasadena police were investigating her disappearance.
When Jarrell failed to check in with the cab company around midnight, the dispatcher became concerned. After several hours went by without Jarrell's surfacing, the dispatcher contacted a supervisor, and police were notified. By 9 a.m., Brazoria County investigators -- headed by Lieutenant Stephen Ricks, a mustached lawman given to wearing a white cowboy hat -- were in Pasadena. They searched for evidence at the phone booth where Jarrell picked up her last fare.
Around that time, Gonzales and Salazar were on the move again. Gonzales called a friend for a ride.
According to investigators, around 9:30, three men in a pickup truck pulled into one of the drive-through lanes at Pasadena State Bank and handed the teller a $130 check. It was drawn on the account of Debra Jarrell, and made payable to Frank Gonzales Jr.
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