By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Del Toro had sped around the Gulf Coast in his grandmother's car, doing cocaine to fuel his drive to Sarasota, but his nerve to kill wilted quickly as he crouched in wait, wearing jungle camouflage purchased for the occasion. Sheila seemed a loving mother, not a monster. Questions came forward in his mind. What would happen if he were to back out? What could Blackthorne do to a disloyal errand boy if he was capable of having his children's mother murdered?
The silent debate ended when Sheila spied the 6-foot-tall figure lurking by the clothes dryer. "I was about to leave when she noticed that the door was open," Del Toro later recalled. "I had left the door open. She stood right in front of me."
The towel Del Toro had wrapped around the gun as a crude silencer jammed the pistol after the first shot. As a last resort, he fetched a wooden-handled knife from a kitchen drawer. Sheila sustained dozens of slashes on her forearms and hands as she fended off the blade, but eventually the tip bent against the spinal column after tearing through her jugular vein. Del Toro then fled through the garage door and raced to the highway, once getting lost and stopping to ask directions at a service station. In his rush, he had left a fingerprint on the dryer and one on the plastic cover of the gas-station map--not that authorities knew with whom to match them until a landscaper offered an unusual but invaluable tip: "Yes, Bob runs. Sixty-two girls."
Earlier that morning, Jacob Mast, a timid, gray-bearded gardener, had seen a white Mitsubishi cruising the Gulf Gate subdivision of palm trees, paved gutters, and groomed lawns. The driver, hat tugged low, did not return Mast's friendly wave. A while later, the Eclipse had returned and was parked near Mast. The driver, a military man, it seemed, emerged and walked in the direction from which he just had come. It struck Mast as odd. So as he pushed a lawn mower over four lots, Mast used a nonsensical expression to memorize the car's license numbers. "Yes, Bob runs. Sixty-two girls" stood for license number YBR62G.
Aided by another witness who recalled that the car had Texas plates, investigators soon found the 1995 sports car outside an Austin apartment complex on East Riverside Drive, where one of Del Toro's girlfriends lived. A search revealed road-trip trash: sunflower seeds, Sprite bottles, stationery from Sarasota's Hampton Inn, and a green bag containing the .45 pistol.
Since Del Toro was nowhere to be found, his girlfriend, a criminal-justice major, pointed investigators toward his second cousin Sammy Gonzales, a chubby high-school dropout who worked at a San Antonio driving range.
Gonzales' dad had invited him to church the morning of November 12, but the 27-year-old chose instead to make a confession that afternoon when he was confronted by investigators who had already been piecing together the mystery at the Texas Rangers office.
His admission during interrogations spread over three days. Gonzales barely knew Blackthorne--he once briefly carried the millionaire's golf clubs and then was stiffed for a tip--but, he said, he had helped the businessman arrange his ex-wife's murder.
Gonzales said he was recruited--badgered, as he described it--into aiding the murder-for-hire by a close friend, an accomplished amateur golfer and bookie who regularly golfed and gambled with Blackthorne. In fact, Daniel A. Rocha was on the links with Blackthorne the day Sheila was killed.
Authorities arrested Gonzales and Rocha days later, on November 17. Within a week, Mexican officials arrested the fugitive Del Toro in Monterrey. As the month came to a close, Texas Ranger Sergeant Gary De Los Santos noted in his first report on the case, "Blackthorne's arrest is anticipated in the near future."
The next report, and the many others that followed, simply stated, "this investigation continues," as they detailed the painstaking search for proof of the conspiracy in bank statements, phone bills, and false leads. Mexican lawyers, meanwhile, delayed Del Toro's extradition to Florida, and Blackthorne held to his golf regimen--which tormented Danny Rocha, locked in solitary confinement and facing life imprisonment.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing, because he was horrible," Rocha would later say. "I loved it. I made sure I made as many bets as I could."
The stakes started at $100 a hole, but Rocha raised them at every opportunity. Blackthorne scored a respectable 74, but he owed $12,000--$4,000 to each opponent--by the time he proposed double-or-nothing on the last hole. All declined except Rocha, who won. It was the beginning of a parasitic friendship.
The two became regular companions. Blackthorne would lose as much as $10,000 to Rocha--Blackthorne's wife recalled $30,000--in a day of golf, plus his football wagers with the bookie.
At first, Rocha felt prosperous booking bets. Married with three young sons, he used his new illicit income to buy a home and two sport utility vehicles. But the job lost luster before long. Gambling addicts would call in the middle of the night to place bets. Laundering profits in bogus real-estate ventures also proved a risky chore.