Ongoing stories
Bellush murder


$10,000 reward goes up for suspect


©St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 1997

Authorities on both sides of the Mexican border continued to search Friday for suspected killer Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., and law enforcement officials in Florida put up a $10,000 reward for his capture.

The week-long search for the Texas man suspected of murdering a Sarasota mother of quadruplet toddlers will go prime time tonight when the Fox television show America's Most Wanted airs a segment on the case.

"The media exposure really helps keep the pressure on the case," said Sgt. Tim Carney of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

While the television show will broadcast Del Toro's picture all over the United States, authorities strongly suspect he is outside the country -- in a border town in Mexico.

Del Toro reportedly was seen walking on the street in the border town of Piedras Negras. Mexican police have had the town of 96,000 under surveillance since then. Tia Byrd with America's Most Wanted said the show can be picked up by television antennas in Mexico's northernmost towns.

Del Toro, a 21-year-old former football star from south Texas, is wanted in the murder of Sheila Bellush, 35, who was shot in her home in Sarasota on Nov. 7 while her quadruplet toddlers were in the home. Mrs. Bellush, her husband and six kids, including the four 23-month-olds, moved to Sarasota about a month ago from a suburb of San Antonio, Texas.

Police believe Del Toro went to Sarasota to kill Bellush and then fled to Mexico. The drifter's motive is unclear, though Sarasota sheriff's officials said Friday they suspect Del Toro had help in choosing Mrs. Bellush as the target and making his getaway.

"We believe someone else may have been involved, and investigators are working on that at this time," sheriff's Lt. Bill Stookey said Friday.

Among the reasons for their belief is that Del Toro apparently did not own the Mitsubishi Eclipse he drove from Texas to Florida, detectives said. They declined to elaborate on who owned the car or how Del Toro got it. The car was recovered in Austin, Texas. Inside were a .45-caliber handgun and directions to Mrs. Bellush's street written out by an unwitting clerk at a nearby gas station.

Finding Del Toro and getting him out of Mexico is proving difficult. He is being pursued by the Sarasota Sheriff's Office, the Eagle Pass, Texas, Police Department, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, armed with an arrest warrant from Florida on a first-degree murder charge. But authorities have had to wait for help from Mexican police.

"The Mexican officials are cooperating," said Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. "We're searching on this side of the border; they're searching their side. We certainly want to catch this guy."

"There's a lot of diplomatic negotiations going on behind the scenes right now," said Sgt. Carney of the Sarasota Sheriff's Department.

Even if Del Toro is found in Mexico, authorities say, Mexico routinely fights extradition of defendants to the United States. If Mexico does cooperate and sends Del Toro across the border to face murder charges, the U.S. extradition treaty with Mexico generally requires states to waive the death penalty.

Though there have been rumors of bounty hunters descending on Piedras Negras to apprehend Del Toro, D. Flores with the constable's office in Zavala County in Texas said it is unlikely. If they tried to forcibly remove him from the country, it would be considered kidnapping, he said. Besides, Flores said, Del Toro has other things to worry about.

"What he has to worry about are the Mexican police," Flores said. "They make $45 a day, and catching him (and getting the $10,000 reward) would be like winning the lottery."
-- Information from Times photographer Mike Pease and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune was used in this report.

©Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.