Last dance

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

"Olivia was always here during the day, taking care of the kids. She'd leave for work maybe 6:30, 7 in the evening, and she'd always come home on time, around 2:30 a.m.," says Marlene Virgen, who asserts she did not know what Olivia did, in spite of the strange hours she kept.

"There is a certain stigma attached to the job," Luis says. "Just working in a nightclub can give you a bad reputation. And if she were in Mexico, forget it--people call you all kinds of things."

No doubt the disreputable nature of the work, along with Olivia's reserved nature and Humberto's jealousy, explains why she did not tell her in-laws exactly what her job consisted of. Initially, she did not even tell Maria Martinez, her sister.

"When she told us, even my husband was mad," Martinez says. "I tried to give her better advice, but once you have children and you are on your own, you have to make your own decisions. If I had told her not to work there, how would she have fed her children?"

All of this was clearly taking a toll on Olivia.
"She was depressed, not having anyone to go to," remembers Luis. "Here in the U.S. it is hard, harder than in Mexico, where she would have had her family. Here there is no support, and a woman alone can have really hard times."

Olivia, described by friends and family as "very serious, very reserved" and prone to "keeping her problems to herself," eventually began to reveal her dejection and hopelessness to the few friends she had.

"She was really tense, and I would see her very sad," says her sister. "It had been months since I had seen her really smile."

Even Sandra, who stands under a blue plastic canopy outside Mike's El Socio selling the meat tacos she grills on the spot, recalls Olivia as a quiet, lonely girl who once mentioned to her that she was saving money to go back to Mexico. Sandra, who has been feeding customers and meseras outside Mike's for more than a year, also remembers that Olivia never had company: "She ate her tacos quickly, standing by herself. She wasn't one to chat. Only three times did I see her with someone. The same man came with her three times, and bought her two tacos for dinner [on the night she was killed]. They seemed to be arguing."

Sandra's description of Olivia's friend that night matches the police's suspect: dark, slender, young.

She was one of the last people to see Olivia alive.

Jesse Trevino, a no-nonsense cop who's been solving murders in Dallas for more than a decade, points his cigar toward the weedy edge of Santa Fe Street in Old East Dallas. It is a stretch of road along an abandoned rail line, bordering a patch of green space known as Randall Park.

It is where Maria Perales' body was dumped, probably in the early-morning hours after Valentine's Day.

"Reviewing the crime scene here, what we see is the girl ended up face-up, right in front of this fence," Trevino says, motioning toward a teetering cedar wall where some graffiti has been painted out. "Her legs were in the street. You can see there aren't any street lights, or corner lights...which is probably why he dumped the body here. This was a successful episode for him."

Trevino's man, or at least his chief suspect, is a young Hispanic who was seen with each of the women leaving the clubs on the nights of their deaths.

That's about all police know.
"The man leaving the clubs with both women matches a very general description," the detective explains. "He's a Hispanic male, thin, about five feet eight inches tall, wears his hair short in the front and long in the back, and possibly goes by the nickname 'Flaco,' which is quite appropriate." (Flaco means thin or lean.)

He dresses in Western attire, may have had a light moustache, and possibly could have a defective right hand--all details provided by people at the bars.

"The guy probably is in pretty good shape," Trevino adds. "He's aware he can overpower a smaller female. He's probably gonna be a skilled laborer or construction worker. He's going to be physically fit."

There are links between the two murders in the women's employment, the manner of death, the description of the suspect, and the fact that both bodies were nude and dumped in lightly traveled areas.

In the case of Olivia Hernandez, there is evidence that she was killed where she was found, at a spot between several gravel piles in the 11200 block of Harry Hines Boulevard, just south of Royal Lane. A parking lot was under construction when the slaying took place. It has been completed since. Both bodies were found within hours of their deaths.

Autopsies also reveal that both women had engaged in sex before their deaths--perhaps voluntarily, because there was no evidence of force. Trevino refuses to confirm or deny whether police have DNA evidence linking the crimes, which would be easily obtainable because of the sexual contact. "We have evidence," he rumbles after being badgered a few times with the question. "Don't twist my arm."

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