Last dance

In Dallas' cantinas, where the company of pretty young meseras is doled out by the drink, a killer lurks

"He was very pleasant, very much a gentleman," says Luis, an old friend of Olivia's from the Golden Palace. At 42, tall and lean, Virgen seemed to offer the security Olivia needed. His brothers and sisters all lived near each other in homes they owned in a tree-lined middle-class neighborhood in northwest Dallas. Humberto himself was a legal resident.

"She told me they were going to build their life together," Luis says. "Humberto was jealous, so he told Olivia to stop working. She did." They moved together to a small apartment on Northaven Road, where Olivia stayed home with Carla, whom she'd sent for. "She had told me they were going to get married," Luis remembers.

Soon afterward, little Carla began calling Humberto "Daddy." Olivia became pregnant again, and seemed very contented, "smiling a lot, like when she was a little girl," says her sister. They were living as a family.

Yet one of the portraits crowding Maria Martinez's living-room cupboard stands as a silent witness that again, something went wrong: In it, Olivia--"so pretty she didn't need any makeup, just lipstick," says her sister--smiles at the camera with her youngest daughter, Juliana, in her lap. Beside her one. Maria Martinez cut out Humberto's face from what was once a family portrait.

"I did it after what happened," she explains.
Little cracks had begun to appear in Olivia's picture-perfect family existence. Humberto was not the husband she expected; In fact, he was not her husband at all, never having made good on his pledge to marry her. He did, however, have two previous marriages, and two children from those past relationships.

"At first, Olivia told me they were going to get married. She wanted to get married," says Luis, who had known Olivia since her first stay in Dallas. "Then time passed; she got pregnant. I asked if they weren't going to get married, and she said Humberto had never mentioned it again."

Says Martinez: "Olivia had all the dreams of a young woman--she wanted to have a family, plan for the future. But the truth is, Humberto was not the husband she wanted. Olivia wanted someone who would come home from work and spend time with her. She was almost always alone, and that made her unhappy.

"He wasn't the type to hit a woman or say mean things to her," she continues. "He was just the type to do whatever he wanted without worrying about the person he was with."

Just what Humberto was doing with his time became clear last December 3, when he was arrested in a huge federal drug bust.

Humberto, known as "Beto" in his crime circle, and 25 other men were indicted on federal drug trafficking charges. Their ring moved 15-pound lots of homemade methamphetamine from California and much larger amounts of cocaine--as much as 115 kilos at once--over the Mexican border to Dallas.

Run by Humberto's cousin, Daniel Virgen, the ring included several of Humberto's brothers--a family that previously had been bakery workers--and was centered at several family-owned homes and rented apartments in northwest Dallas and Garland. "They moved a lot of drugs," says Jerri Sims, the assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case. "Various of them had weapons, but we didn't prove up much violence. They'd threaten each other, but we never had any evidence of anything being carried out."

The investigation--which ended up with 519 federal, state, and local cops on the witness list--included extensive wiretaps, and Sims says authorities were familiar with Olivia, who was usually referred to in Virgen family conversations as Erika, one of her mesera names. At the clubs she also went by the name Veronica.

Apparently, Olivia knew little of the family's drug business. "She was never arrested and never testified at any hearing," Sims says. After her slaying, authorities explored and quickly rejected any link between her and the drug prosecutions.

In early July, just a week after Olivia's death, Humberto pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines and cocaine, as well as money laundering, and was sentenced to 30 years.

"I don't think Olivia knew everything about Humberto," Martinez says. "She never told me. I found out through the TV news. Humberto dressed very simply, without any excesses, and they lived in a simple apartment, like she always had. She kept it looking nice, because she had a knack for those things. She liked sewing, and would make her own curtains, her own clothes."

After Humberto's arrest, Olivia moved in with his sister, Maria, and Marlene Virgen, whose husband, Blas Virgen, had also been arrested in the bust.

For the first few months, Olivia believed Humberto when he told her he would be out soon. She waited, pawning her jewelry and then selling the car she had in her name to maintain her children.

"She needed to buy diapers, milk, and food, and help me with the mortgage payments," says Marlene Virgen. "My husband was in jail also, and I have two sons."

As Humberto languished in the federal lockup in Seagoville awaiting trial, Olivia became convinced she was on her own again. She returned to the one job she knew she could easily get--one that would allow her to support herself and her daughters while watching them during the day. She became a mesera again, this time at Mike's El Socio.

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