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Bellush murder


Mexican police not looking for suspect


©St. Petersburg Times, published November 16, 1997

PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico -- Jose Luis Del Toro Jr. may be one of America's Most Wanted, but Mexican police said Saturday they are in no hurry to catch the man who has been charged with killing a Sarasota mother of six.

The subcommandante of the federal police agency serving this border town said Saturday that he has other matters on his mind.

Like determining the destination of the 75 kilograms of marijuana his 12 agents netted during a recent bust.

Subcommandante Conrado Lopez Hernandez, who proudly displayed the marijuana cache in a back room, said he has not even received a photograph of Del Toro, the 21-year-old American charged in a warrant with first-degree murder in the Nov. 7 shooting death of Sheila Bellush, 35. She was killed while her 23-month-old quadruplets were in the home.

"We're not after him," Hernandez, 29, said through an interpreter during an interview in his Piedras Negras office.

Hernandez will move, he said, once he gets the proper notice of Del Toro's pending charge from American authorities.

Even if Del Toro is beside a Mexican federale or a Piedras Negras police officer, the most an officer can do is ask Del Toro for identification, Mexican authorities say. Forget about arresting the fugitive until a warrant requesting an arrest arrives from the United States.

It was unclear Saturday whether those papers were en route. Sarasota Sheriff's Office officials, who are responsible for working with prosecutors to get the ball rolling, declined to comment on the status of the request.

Meanwhile, Mexican police view the American media interest in Del Toro with a calm detachment. The case was profiled Saturday night on the FOX television show America's Most Wanted, in hopes of getting a tip from Texas or just across the border where the show can be picked up.

But as of late Saturday, Del Toro was believed to be hiding somewhere in Piedras Negras, population 200,000.

"I haven't heard anything different," said Sherri Deatherage Green, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which is assisting Sarasota detectives in the case.

Rogelio E. Berlanga, police chief of Piedras Negras, said that if he gets any information about Del Toro's whereabouts in his city, he'll pass it along to American authorities -- until he receives the proper forms allowing him to arrest Del Toro himself.

"We don't know anything about Del Toro," Berlanga said. "There's a lot more things to do here. We have a lot of work with the city."

Sarasota County Sheriff Geoffrey Monge has hinted that prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Del Toro in the case. But if he is in Mexico, that matter could be complicated by the U.S. extradition treaty with Mexico. The treaty requires states to waive the death penalty in most cases before Mexico will send a murder defendant back for prosecution.

Still, authorities are quite certain Del Toro will be captured.

"The police are saying they can't do anything, but the police are after him," said Eagle Pass taxi driver Pascual Gonzalez, a former Mexican police officer. "The green paper," Gonzalez said, rubbing his fingers together, "counts a lot here."

Rumors of a $58,000 reward for Del Toro's capture spilled from the Mexican radio station, "Country Girl of the Air," fueling further rumors about Del Toro's whereabouts. The actual amount of the reward is $10,000, but it seemed that any amount was enough to incite rumored Del Toro sightings. Del Toro was seen on Zaragoza street near the market. No, he was spotted in a Firebird, headed to Corpus Christi, Texas.

"It's only hearsay," said Sgt. O.J. Escaveno of the Eagle Pass, Texas, police, just across the Mexican border.

Sarasota detectives say Del Toro confronted 35-year-old Sheila Bellush in her home. After a struggle, they say, he shot her. Mrs. Bellush's quadruplet toddlers were not hurt.

Mrs. Bellush, described as a born-again Christian, moved two months ago from San Antonio to Sarasota with her husband, James, the quadruplets and two teenage daughters from a previous marriage. She left behind a stormy past that included a bitter divorce from former husband Allen Blackthorne and allegations of child abuse.

Though they are not talking about a motive, Sarasota investiga-tors say Del Toro drove from San Antonio to Sarasota, where he stayed at a motel before the Nov. 7 shooting. They say Del Toro dressed in camouflage and left behind a trail of evidence, including a fingerprint in the Bellush home and a .45-caliber pistol in the car he drove to Florida and back.

After the killing, detectives say, Del Toro drove back to Texas, where his car was found, then he fled, at least as far as Piedras Negras.

Ismael Gonzalez, an Eagle Pass taxi driver, said he saw who he believed was Del Toro near the Greyhound bus station around 10:30 p.m. last Sunday in Eagle Pass.

Del Toro, he said, was running down Jefferson Street. Gonzalez stopped for the fare. In the cab, Gonzalez said, Del Toro shielded his face with his hand and asked to go across the border.

"Only from bus station to Mexico," said Gonzalez, adding that Del Toro paid the $15 fare and had "a lot of money."

Across the border, Del Toro stayed one night in Room 120 at La Quinta Motor Hotel, a Spanish-style building on Ave. E. Carranza.

La Quinta clerk Ramon E. Cosio said Del Toro paid $34 cash for a dark ground-floor room with two double beds and a view of a drained swimming pool.

Del Toro, Cosio said, made no phone calls and left in the morning without checking out.

Eagle Pass taxi driver Pascual Gonzalez, the former Mexican police officer, said he has heard Del Toro is hiding out in Colonia Edalgo, a barrio in Piedras Negras.

There, along the dirt streets, chickens pecked in the dirt and and loose dogs roamed through rubble. Painted on a stucco wall of a vacant building is the phrase: "Pachugos #1." It's the name of a gang.

Two boys, one wearing a blue bandana across his face with only his dark eyes peering out, walk nearby. The boys, who claim to belong to the Pachugos, have heard Del Toro is here, but they don't know where.

Up the street, a woman hovers over a crackling bonfire in her yard. Paula Bernal, 62, is staying warm as temperatures dip into the 40s. She also had heard Del Toro is here.

"He's armed," Bernal explained, saying she feared for the lives of herself and seven grandchildren. "He's very dangerous."

Back in Sarasota, James Bellush told America's Most Wanted about the grief he has felt in the week since his wife's murder.

". . . Those babies, every day, every month, every year, they're always going to look at me and say, "Daddy, where's my mommy?' "
-- Times photographer Mike Pease contributed to this report.

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