Police hunt drifter in quadruplet case
By LEANORA MINAI and KELLY RYAN
©St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 1997
SARASOTA -- A nationwide manhunt is under way for a 21-year-old Texas man who sheriff's detectives say shot and killed Sheila Bellush, the mother of quadruplet toddlers.
Detectives late Tuesday said an arrest warrant has been issued for Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., a drifter from the San Antonio area. Authorities also said Del Toro left behind a trail of evidence linking him to the Friday killing in Sarasota.
Among the clues recovered in Sarasota and Texas, according to authorities:
"We want Del Toro to know . . . that next to Texas, Florida is the No. 2 state in the nation in executing murderers," Sarasota Sheriff Geoff Monge said during a Tuesday night news conference.
Detectives, who have received 131 tips, think Del Toro drove back to Texas after the slaying, where his car was recovered.
Detectives did not discuss a motive. In the beginning, authorities said Bellush was targeted by someone who knew her. Tuesday night, they said there was no link between her and Del Toro.
Investigators refused to say where Bellush was shot or how many times. Earlier reports, based primarily on her daughter's discovery of the body, indicated her throat was cut.
Capt. Jerry Eggleston said authorities may be able to establish a motive after talking with Del Toro, who is thought to be the same man police stopped at a Chevron gas station to ask directions to Bellush's street. They released a composite sketch of the man, asking for information.
"The only thing he's got going for him now is to come forward and cooperate with us," Monge said.
Bellush, who moved to Sarasota from San Antonio two months ago, was shot and killed in her Markridge Road home Friday. Her 13-year-old daughter, Stevie, found her on the floor when she returned from school. Investigators think she confronted her attacker after the suspect entered the home through the garage.
Bellush's 23-month-old quadruplets -- Frankie, Timothy and Joseph and a girl, Courtney -- were milling around the scene unharmed and wearing life vests.
Authorities said Tuesday it was not unusual for Sheila Bellush to put life vests on the children because the house had a pool.
Sarasota detectives, who are working with Texas Rangers, said Del Toro, who has a record for petty theft and aggravated assault, drove to Sarasota on Thursday from Texas and checked into a Hampton Inn. He also bought camouflage pants, a shirt, jacket, mask and boots from a local store.
Detectives said Del Toro asked for directions to Markridge Road, then watched Bellush's home before killing her sometime between 12:30 p.m. and 4:20 p.m.
The break in the case came after someone in Bellush's Gulf Gate neighborhood wrote down the license plate number of the white Mitsubishi Eclipse allegedly driven by Del Toro.
Del Toro stood out, detectives said, because he wore camouflage pants, boots and a jacket as he cased the neighborhood. The person who wrote down the plate number watched the man, identified as Del Toro, on Markridge Road.
Detectives then began checking Texas license tags, fingerprints and local hotels. Del Toro, they said, registered at the Hampton Inn near I-75 in his own name.
"He must be kind of klutzy," Lt. Bill Stookey said. "He leaves behind a bullet in the motel room."
In San Antonio, the crime hangs over Sheila's ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne, though detectives said Tuesday that they knew of no link between him and Del Toro.
Several television stations in Texas have linked Blackthorne to the killing, camping out across the street from his pink stucco mansion and doing live news reports. America's Most Wanted also is investigating the killing and took video of his home for a show to air Saturday night.
Blackthorne hired Roy Barrera Jr. early Saturday after calling a friend distraught about the news reports. The friend knew Barrera and suggested Blackthorne hire him to handle media inquiries. Barrera said he had repeatedly called detectives in Sarasota, San Antonio and Bexar County since Saturday.
"I am very relieved they at least got a handle on what happened and what they're looking for," Barrera said after learning of the arrest warrant.
During their five-year marriage Sheila and Blackthorne, the vice president of a medical equipment company, both faced accusations of child abuse.
Bellush and her current husband of five years, James, moved from San Antonio to Sarasota in September with their quadruplets. Stevie and Daryl, who is Blackthorne's daughter, also moved to to the state. It was Stevie, 13, who called 911 to say her mother's throat had been cut.
The move to Florida came days after Sheila was released on bail in San Antonio on charges of beating Daryl.
Blackthorne voluntarily gave up custody of Stevie and Daryl, 12, after complaining this summer that Sheila was not complying with their arranged visits and weekly phone calls. He has not heard from the girls since Sheila's death, so Barrera contacted the Bellush family attorny to tell the girls that their father will fly to Florida if they need him.
Blackthorne has not raised the issue of custody of the daughters he shared with Sheila because he does not want to further complicate an already difficult time, Barerra said.
Barrera confirmed that Blackthorne was in San Antonio on Friday, the day of the murder, but would not say where. Golf pro Quint Alexander, though, said he saw Blackthorne teeing off with a threesome Friday at 10:30 a.m. at The Bandit golf course in New Braunfield. Blackthorne is known for his devotion to golf and he spends from noon to about 5 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday at the Oak Hills Country Club. He typically plays a round, followed by a couple games of gin rummy.
One golfing partner, Ray Cevallos, described Blackthorne as an independently wealthy man who can spend his time as he likes. He chooses to divide it between his two great affections -- his family and golf. Cevallos said Blackthorne won't play on weekends or early mornings. Those are family times.
Blackthorne also has two sons, a 3- and 6-year-old, whose births were recently announced in the Oak Hills Country Club newsletter. At the First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas, parishioners planned to help with a memorial fund for Sheila Bellush at the church she attended in Sarasota. Several church members, including the youth minster who was close to Stevie and Daryl, are flying to Florida for Thursday's memorial service.
"We're really providing a real large prayer coverage for the family," said Richard Covington, the youth minister "We want them to know they are loved."
The memorial service is planned for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Sarasota Baptist Church on Proctor Road.
©Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.