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Authors: Corey Mitchell

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CHAPTER 21
August 6, 1992
Austin Police Department
Austin, Texas
 
Eight months after the murders, a ray of light broke through. The Austin Police Department announced they had reason to question three men in connection with the yogurt shop murders. The men, Alberto Cortez, twenty-two, Ricardo Hernandez, twenty-six, and Porfirio Villa Saavedra, twenty-three, were not your average men off the street. All three had been indicted by a Travis County grand jury on March 23, 1992, for the abduction and sexual assault of a young woman in November 1991.
The apparent ringleader, Saavedra, a stocky five feet four, used several aliases, including “Carlos Martinez” and “Carlos Saavedra.” He was also known euphemistically as “The Terminator.” Cortez was also five feet four. Hernandez was the tall one of the group at a whopping five feet six. He was also known as “Ricardo Sanchez,” “Ricardo Hernandez Albarran,” and “El Brujo,” or “The Witch,” due to his hooked nose. He was also called “El Dienton” because of his big teeth.
Cortez and Saavedra had previous encounters with the law. In September 1990, Cortez was sent to prison on a five-year sentence for burglary and theft but was released in little over a year. Saavedra had recently been deported from Houston, Texas, to Mexico in September 1991 after being released from prison.
Despite having been relocated to Mexico, Saavedra was arrested on November 21, 1991, in Belton, Texas, home of mass murderer George Hennard, for unlawfully carrying a weapon. His parole should have been revoked; however, he showed officers a fake Florida identification card. When the officers looked up his name, there was nothing to be found. He then failed to appear in court on the weapon charge.
Austin police sergeant Joy Mooney worked the kidnapping case. According to Mooney, a young woman was standing outside the Cavity Club, located on Red River Street, near Sixth Street, Austin’s internationally known locale for live music entertainment. The Cavity Club veered just off the beaten path of Sixth Street, and with good reason. Within its walls pulsated the sounds of industrial music, bruising death metal riffs, or anything out of the mainstream realm of cover bands or blues music for which Austin is known. The Cavity Club became infamous in Austin just a few months later when naked, bloody punk rocker GG Allin was arrested for starting a riot in concert after hitting audience members in the face with his feces.
The March 23 indictment against the three men claimed that Saavedra, Cortez, and Hernandez spotted a young woman leaving the Cavity Club on November 17, 1991. It was raining that night. The three men drove along Red River Street beside the club. One of the men rolled down his window and asked the woman if she wanted a ride. Since it was raining, she accepted, but only if they would take her to her car, which was parked several blocks away. The men agreed. The woman hopped in.
She never made it to her car.
Instead, the men drove to the Galewood Garden Apartments, located on Galewood Drive in North Austin. The driver got out, went inside one of the apartments, and returned with a handgun. The men pulled the woman out of the car and switched over into a white four-door Ford. They took off and headed south on Interstate 35 toward San Antonio.
The men took turns raping the young woman while in the car. One man pointed the gun at her while another man violated and abused her. They would then switch positions. This torment took place for over an hour, about the time it took to drive from Austin to San Antonio. When they arrived in the Alamo City, the men dumped the woman out of the car onto the side of the highway. She was left bedraggled and discombobulated, but she was determined to remember their faces.
Four months after the abduction and rape, a composite sketch of one of the Hispanic suspects was created and distributed. One week later, indictments were made against Saavedra, Cortez, and Hernandez.
It just so happened that the sketch of one of the men closely resembled the description of a man who was seen outside I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt on December 6, 1991. For the next several months, authorities attempted to locate the three kidnappers/rapists. They were unable to find them. Some authorities believed they may have crossed the border into Mexico.
Sergeant John Jones held a press conference to discuss the young men and their potential involvement in the yogurt shop case. He laid out four reasons why authorities sought out the men in connection with the case:
• The similarity of Alberto Cortez and the sketch of the man seen outside the yogurt shop on December 6, 1991.
• The similarity of a vehicle used by the three men in the abduction/rape and one seen at the yogurt shop.
• FBI agent Ed Richards’s profile claimed that the killer or killers would be familiar with the Anderson Lane area. The three men had family and friends that lived in that exact area.
• The three men blazed out of town immediately after December 6, 1991, and had not returned.
To help locate the three men, the television crew from
America’s Most Wanted
agreed to offer assistance. Sergeant Jones was ecstatic. He knew how
America’s Most Wanted
had recently played an integral part in the capture of serial killer Kenneth McDuff. He hoped they could produce a similar result with these three men.
The
America’s Most Wanted
crew researched both the yogurt shop murders and the Cavity Club abduction. That Friday, a five-minute segment about the three men aired to a nationwide audience. The APD received more than sixty phone calls from people who claimed to have information about the fugitives. It was unknown how many calls were received by the
America’s Most Wanted
staff.
The information came as good news to the parents of the girls. They were hit hard with the knowledge that the windows of the yogurt shop were bricked up earlier that day. Charles Morrison owned the property where the yogurt shop stood. He stated that the yogurt shop and the clothing store next to it were to be conjoined to form a photocopying business. The new store would not be accessed through the old yogurt shop doors.
The investigators were hurt by the move as well.
“There used to be flowers there,” Sergeant Jones stated ruefully. “Now they’re gone. It might be out of those people’s memories, but not ours.”
After eight months, the investigation had begun to take its toll on Jones. His health took a downward spiral, as did his home life.
The task force had already received more than two thousand tips. There were already over 750 suspects. Almost half of those had been ruled out.
Jones was determined to not seal this case shut like the doors of the yogurt shop.
“December sixth is every day for us.”
CHAPTER 22
Wednesday, October 21, 1992
Mexico City, Mexico
 
Mexican police officials escorted the man known as “The Terminator” up to the swarm of microphones. Porfirio Saavedra stood behind several police officers and Mexican assistant attorney general Jose Elias Romero Apis, who spoke of how Saavedra was responsible for the yogurt shop murders.
“He forced the young girls to submit,” Apis informed the press. “Then he raped them, tied them up, and shot them.”
The police officers forced Saavedra toward the microphones.
“Did you kill those girls in Austin?” asked one reporter.
“Yes,” replied the sullen captive.
“Why?”
Saavedra, looking down at his feet, shook his head.
More information was given out regarding the two men. Saavedra was hiding out in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta when police descended upon him. Alberto Cortez was arrested in his home in Nezahualcoyotl, a poor suburb outside of Mexico City. Ricardo Hernandez, the third suspect, had not been located.
It was uncovered that Saavedra led a sixty-member motorcycle gang in Nezahualcoyotl called the “
Mierdas
Punks,” or the “Shit Punks.” Cortez was, allegedly, also a member of the biker gang. Saavedra was believed to have worked as a deliveryman for a company that delivered products to I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt.
Mexican officials had long suspected the gang of being involved in organized crime and drug trafficking. The capture of these two men was considered a major coup for the Mexican police.
The yogurt shop murders confession was a bonus.
The police reported that Saavedra told them that he had planned to rob the yogurt shop. He assumed it would be empty when he broke in. Instead, he was surprised to find four young girls inside. He raped them and desecrated their bodies. He claimed that Cortez helped him out.
Cortez did not confess.
 
 
“They caught them! They caught them!” Austin resident Erik Eichorn yelled to his mother, Kat. Mother and son cried together. Kat and Erik headed over to Anderson Lane after they heard the news. They wanted to pay their respects to the girls. The Eichorns lit four white candles and rested them on the store’s window ledge.
Anderson High School student Brandy Arlitt also visited the yogurt shop after she heard the news. “It doesn’t matter if you knew them or not,” said the youngster, who did know all four girls. “Everyone in Austin knows them now.” Arlitt presciently stated that “it’s not the fact that it was Sarah, Amy, Jennifer, and Eliza. It was four young girls. It could have been anybody.” She then voiced a sentiment shared by everyone at the yogurt shop.
“I think mothers, sisters, brothers, family members, friends—everyone is going to sleep better tonight.”
Some people, however, expressed skepticism about the arrests. Lanier High School principal Paul Turner stated, “I would rather there be some kind of closure to it than for us to be left hanging. I don’t know whether this will bring closure or not.”
The victims’ families had their own reactions. James and Maria Thomas elected not to speak to the press until they heard directly from the Austin Police Department. Barbara Suraci felt sick at the news. “I’ve been sick all day. You want to feel good about it, but it brings all the reality back.”
Pam Ayers, like Paul Turner, did not want to get her hopes up. “It would be nice if it is him (Saavedra),” she explained with a sigh, “so we could let go of the drudgery of waking up and wondering if this will be the day we’ll find out who killed our girls. Until Sergeant Jones tells me it’s real, I won’t let the numbness settle back in.”
Amy’s father, Bob Ayers, wanted answers.
“I want to know why,” he questioned. “You’re talking about a lot of innocence here with four young girls. I can’t believe someone would do this to them.
“The end may be near,” Bob Ayers reasoned, “but it’ll never be over.”
He could not have hit the nail on the head with any more precision.
CHAPTER 23
Saturday, October 24, 1992
Mexico City, Mexico
 
Porfirio Saavedra appeared before Federal Magistrate Francisco Nieto Gonzalez to answer rape and murder charges in regard to the yogurt shop case.
“I don’t know how to begin,” whispered a sullen Saavedra, “except to say that in regard to the murders, none of it is true. I don’t know who killed the girls.”
Saavedra insisted that Mexican federal agents had tortured him into making the confession. He claimed authorities nearly killed him during interrogation by placing a plastic bag over his head and almost suffocating him. In addition, the agents allegedly threatened to terminate his entire family if he refused to confess.
Saavedra cried as he pleaded with Gonzalez.
“I am innocent. I did not commit the murders. I’d rather be killed for telling the truth rather than be thrown in jail for something I didn’t do,” he proclaimed after more than an hour of testimony. “Please, Your Honor. I beg you for justice. I believe that God will help me. Only He and I know the truth.”
The Austin Police Department, which had remained quiet on the subject of Saavedra up to this point, admitted that two members of the yogurt shop task force, Mike Huckabay and Hector Reveles, were present during the interrogation, as was Alejandro Diaz de Leon, the legal attaché for the attorney general’s office.
De Leon admitted that claims of torture are commonplace amongst defendants in Mexico. In this case, however, “there was no torture.” Huckabay and Reveles also claimed not to have witnessed any torturing of Saavedra by Mexican officials. Austin interim police chief George Phifer stated, “Obviously, nothing like this was reported to me. In fact, an indication was made to me that at no time that they were present did any duress occur.”
Alberto Cortez eventually also gave a statement. He claimed that he, Ricardo Hernandez, and Saavedra
were
outside I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt on December 6, 1991. He also claimed that the two men sat in the car while Saavedra killed the four girls alone. Cortez claimed that Saavedra came out of the shop twice to retrieve something from the car. The second time he came out, Cortez alleged, Saavedra pulled out his .38-caliber pistol, pointed it at the two men, and told them to stay put.
“I don’t know what was going on inside there, because I was sitting in the car,” Cortez pleaded. “I wasn’t looking. I was just waiting. Next thing I know, he comes out of the shop again and he’s covered in blood.” Then Cortez saw flames come out of the building. He claimed they drove off and headed for Mexico.
While both Saavedra and Cortez denied direct involvement in the yogurt shop murders, both men did admit to committing the Cavity Club abduction and rape. The men admitted kidnapping, raping, and kicking the victim to the curb in San Antonio. They were nice enough, however, to give the woman $10 for bus fare.
The plight of Porfirio Saavedra was presented during his hearing. He was born in Mexico City in 1968, the same year the Summer Olympics were held in that city. He was the second of six sons, and eight children overall. His father bailed out on his mother, Erminia Saavedra Guerrero, shortly after the family moved to Nezahualcoyotl, when Porfirio was two years old.
Stories of alleged physical and sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his older brother, Mario, dominated the proceedings. Porfirio claimed that the abuse went on for several years. At the age of thirteen, Porfirio had enough of the abuse. He ran away from home. He participated in numerous criminal activities such as stealing cars, burglary, drug dealing, gun smuggling—you name it. His ventures led him back and forth between the United States and Mexico. In the United States, he would stay with his brother Marcelo Villa Saavedra.
In 1991, after he was released from prison, Porfirio moved back to Mexico with his mother. She believed he was a reformed man. His sweet nature only lasted a few months before he got into a fight with his brother Mario. No one knows what the fight was about, but Porfirio stabbed his brother, who nearly bled to death. He immediately returned to Texas, where he found himself outside the Cavity Club and possibly I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt.
His nearly blind mother lamented the state of her son.
“It hurts me to think he could have been involved in the killings. But when I think back about what he did to his brother, I cannot help but wonder.”
Marcelo Villa Saavedra, Porfirio’s brother who lived with him between 1985 and 1987, did not wonder. He defended his younger brother.
“My brother Mario would hit Porfirio for no reason,” Villa exclaimed. “One day, he said he didn’t want anyone to hit him anymore.” Apparently, the rage inside Porfirio was too strong to suppress. “That’s when he started the violence to(ward) the people. He had a lot of hate inside.”
At first, Villa believed that Porfirio
was
involved in the yogurt shop murders. He had seen the
48 Hours
episode that aired back in March and saw the sketch of the man who was supposedly seen outside the yogurt shop. He called his brother in Mexico, told him what he saw, and said, “Why did you do it?”
“I didn’t do it,” Porfirio replied.
“Why did you leave town?” his brother wanted to know.
“Because everybody thinks I did it.”
“Why don’t you talk to the police?”
“That’d be like turning myself in,” his younger brother responded.
Over time, however, Marcelo came to believe that his brother did not commit the murders. He also believed Porfirio’s arrest was nothing more than a political ploy. He believed that Mexico was merely trying to improve relations with its more powerful neighbor to the north.
“These are the girls the United States has made such a big deal about. Mexico wants it to be true.”
BOOK: Murdered Innocents
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