One account of 3 killings, but no motive

Uncle says that cousin was in home with children

May 30, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz and David Kohn | Julie Bykowicz and David Kohn,SUN STAFF

One of two Mexican immigrants charged with killing three children in their Northwest Baltimore apartment told police that he sat in his car while the younger suspect was inside the home for 40 minutes.

Policarpio Espinoza, 22, the uncle of the victims, said he asked Adan Espinoza Canela, 17, why he had been in the apartment so long. Canela, the victims' cousin, replied that he had been "playing with the children," according to charging documents filed yesterday.

The documents described a gruesome scene but did not lay out a motive. Espinoza and Canela have each been charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

In his account to police after being arrested, Espinoza said he never entered the Park Heights Avenue apartment Thursday. Espinoza said that he saw Canela emerge from a rear window of the ground-floor apartment and that Canela wasn't wearing a shirt when he returned to the car, the documents said.

Police later found a T-shirt and a towel that appeared to be covered with blood during a search of the men's home on Bedford Road in Baltimore County, the charging documents said.

Espinoza and Canela were being held without bail yesterday as Baltimore's Hispanic community grieved over the killings and the victims' families arranged for the children's bodies to be sent back to their native Veracruz, Mexico.

"This type of thing is so hideous, it will stay in people's minds," said Gigi Guzman, chairwoman of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It goes beyond any ethnic group. I'm at a loss for words that something like this could happen."

Bail review hearings for Espinoza - the younger brother of Ricardo Espinoza, the father of two victims - and Canela are scheduled for Tuesday.

Ricardo Espinoza's family lived in the Art Deco-style apartment complex with the family of his wife's niece, police said. After school was dismissed Thursday, 9-year-old Ricardo Quesada Jr.; his 9-year-old sister, Lucero Quesada; and their 10-year-old male cousin, Alexis Espejo arrived at home. They were there alone for a few hours most afternoons.

All three children were pipils at Cross Country Elementary School. Police said they are still unsure about the spelling of some of the family members' names. The children's names above are shown as they appear in the charging documents.

About 4:20 p.m., according to the account Policarpio Espinoza gave police, one of the children answered a knock at the door and let Canela inside. Canela came back out about 5 p.m. and directed Espinoza to pick him up in a parking lot at a nearby school.

The charging documents give this account of what happened next:

Ricardo Espinoza arrived home about 5:15 p.m. to find the apartment door locked from the inside. He entered through the kitchen window and found the slain children.

Baltimore police arrived 10 minutes later, and Officer Thomas Bender said he found two children dead in one bedroom and a third child dead in another bedroom. One had been beheaded, and the other two had been partially decapitated.

As friends and relatives of the children gathered nearby to grieve Thursday, someone told police that two men had been "acting in a suspicious manner" a few days earlier outside the victims' apartment window.

That witness pointed police to two men who were speaking to the family members, and Policarpio Espinoza and Canela were taken to the Police Department's homicide section for questioning.

After the two were advised in Spanish of their rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present, Policarpio Espinoza agreed to talk. It is unclear whether Canela made any statements.

Police have described Canela as a butcher at a Baltimore slaughterhouse. William Ruppersberger Jr., owner of George G. Ruppersberger and Sons Inc. in the 2600 block of Pennsylvania Ave., said Canela worked one day last week for an independent contractor in his building. It was not clear if he had worked as a butcher elsewhere.

The contractor did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Ruppersberger said Baltimore police detectives visited his meatpacking plant Friday and showed him a photo of a meat-cutting knife. Ruppersberger said he told police that his shop didn't use that brand, which he said was a Nella with a 10-inch- long blade and a plastic handle.

A police source said officers found a 10-inch-long meat-cutting knife wedged between a fence and a garage in the rear of the apartment complex.

Although the charging documents do not disclose a motive, police sources said one theory was that the killing were revenge for an unpaid debt for transportation into the United Sates as undocumented immigrants. Mexican Embassy officials in Washington said the family is undocumented.

The federal Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no record of the two suspects in its databases, bureau spokesman Mike Gilhooly said. "At this point," he said, "further research and investigation is necessary."

The Rev. Ross Syracuse, pastor of St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church on O'Donnell Street in Southeast Baltimore, was one of three priests who helped comfort stunned relatives Thursday.

Syracuse said he stayed with them from 6:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

"It was very intense," he said.

Several city agencies are helping the families of the victims.

The families have not been allowed back to their apartment since Thursday night because it is a crime scene. The city helped find them another place to stay, as well as clothes. "They left the apartment with the clothes they had on," said Israel C. "Izzy" Patoka, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods.

"We're just trying to make sure they don't fall through the cracks," Syracuse said. "Right now, it's not hitting home. They're probably still in shock."

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