'Railway Killer' suspect in Houston jail following surrender
Suspect's sister arranged surrender
July 14, 1999
HOUSTON (CNN) -- Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, the rail-riding fugitive suspected of killing at least eight people, arrived in Houston under heavy guard Tuesday following his surrender to U.S. authorities on the Mexico-Texas border.
His incarceration in the Harris County jail comes after a month-long nationwide manhunt and two days of secret negotiations between law enforcement personnel and the suspect's sister in New Mexico.
FBI officials said Resendez-Ramirez had been hiding in Mexico and gave himself up because of "intense pressure" created by the $125,000 bounty on his head.
"He was as widely known and wanted in Mexico as he was in the U.S.," said Don Clark, the Houston-based FBI agent in charge of the manhunt. "There was no place for him to run."
Clark said that, in his opinion, the reward money should go to Resendez-Ramirez's sister in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who negotiated his surrender. Her name has not been made public.
"The investigative process did exactly what it was supposed to do," Clark said. "It left no place to turn."
Investigators involved in the manhunt described him as "a particularly heinous fugitive." The 39-year-old native of Mexico was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. He is a suspect in eight killings in Texas, Illinois and Kentucky and is wanted for questioning in as many as 14 others, from Miami to Detroit and Phoenix, sources have told CNN.
Sister's negotiations 'crucial'
Texas Ranger Capt. Bruce Casteel said Resendez-Ramirez's surrender followed two days of "intense" discussions between U.S. authorities and Resendez-Ramirez's sister, who maintained contact with the suspect in Mexico through a brother.
Casteel said he was not sure whether the suspect was contacted by his sister or whether he contacted her. "I think it's very crucial that she became involved," he said, adding that a clergy member close to the family also played a role.
Law enforcement officials said the sister called Texas Ranger Drew Carter on Sunday to arrange the surrender, which took place at 9:05 am (10:05 ET) Tuesday at the Immigration and Naturalization Service port of entry in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, Texas, near El Paso.
Carter met the suspect as he crossed the bridge connecting Mexico and the United States.
"Carter told me he extended his hands, they shook hands and he surrendered," Casteel said. "He was very pleasant. He was not aggressive."
Resendez-Ramirez was taken to the El Paso County jail and later flown to Houston, where he faced a Wednesday morning court appearance on burglary charges connected to one of the slayings.
At a court appearance in El Paso, a handcuffed and shackled Resendez-Ramirez wore dirty jeans, work boots and gold-rimmed glasses. He was unshaven and his hair was medium length. Investigators had said he disguised himself, sometimes wearing glasses, sometimes growing facial hair.
In court, he said nothing other than tell the magistrate he had no questions. But once in Houston, after nearly eight hours of questioning by police, Resendez-Ramirez tried unsuccessfully to plead guilty to the burglary charge.
In Houston, Resendez-Ramirez was having his blood drawn for DNA testing. It will then be compared with crime scene evidence at the home of a Rice University professor who is thought to be one of his victims.
Suspect eluded investigators
Resendez-Ramirez is one of many aliases the suspect has used.
His real name is Angel Leoncio Reyes Recendis, according to a birth certificate. But because most of the public knew the wanted man as Resendez-Ramirez, the FBI continued to use that name.
Up until the surrender, his ability to elude law enforcement had been an embarrassment, topped by his release to Mexico by Border Patrol agents June 2, although he was wanted by the FBI, and the Houston police had earlier told the immigration service it wanted him for questioning in a murder.
Two days after his release, authorities believe, he killed a 73-year-old woman west of Houston. The following day, they say, he killed a 26-year-old Houston schoolteacher at her home.
His fingerprints then were found June 15 in Gorham, Illinois, at the scene of the slaying of a 79-year-old man and his 51-year-old daughter, police said.
In addition, Lexington, Kentucky, police obtained warrants last month for Resendez-Ramirez' arrest in connection with the August 1997 murder of University of Kentucky student Christopher Maier, who was attacked with his girlfriend as they walked near some railroad tracks.
The girlfriend, who was raped, survived. The charges are murder, two counts of first-degree robbery and single counts of rape and assault.
The Maier slaying was the earliest of the eight killings in which Resendez-Ramirez has been charged or is wanted for questioning.
In and out of custody
INS officials said that when Resendez-Ramirez was in the custody of the Border Patrol, which apprehended him for illegal entry into the country, they didn't have any information on his criminal records or of any outstanding warrants.
But Immigration Commissioner Doris Meissner said the INS, parent of the Border Patrol, had multiple entries on Resendez-Ramirez in a computerized photo and fingerprint database that provides immediate identification of aliens apprehended by the Border Patrol.
That computer system also is supposed to record lookouts for individuals wanted by other law enforcement agencies but neither the FBI nor Houston police interests in him were recorded there.
The Justice Department inspector general has been ordered to investigate why the computer did not contain those requests.
INS first encountered Resendez-Ramirez in 1976 after he was arrested in Michigan. He was returned to Mexico, but since that time has been deported from the United States on three occasions -- in 1985, 1987 and 1991. He was also apprehended by Border Patrol agents eight times since January 1998.
Meissner said the Justice inspector general would look at why Resendez-Ramirez "was not detained and whether INS knew about Resendez-Ramirez criminal activities after being contacted by local law enforcement earlier this year."
Justice Department Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.
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