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Accused of murder, Tampa Bay's most wanted elude authorities


She keeps a yellowed newspaper clipping in her pocketbook. It's with her wherev­er she goes.

Michele Grimes unfolds it, stares at it. A man's face looks back.

Rick Joseph, the caption states.

Detectives say this man murdered her 17-year-old son four years ago, then vanished.

Grimes, 50, feels frustrated, angry. Where are you, she wonders.

"They know who killed my son," she says, shaking her hands in the air. "It's so frustrating."

Other mothers feel the same pain. Fathers, siblings, grandparents — children, too. They know who authorities think murdered their loved one, but they have no justice.

The suspected killers have eluded authorities.

In Hillsborough County alone, 42 people wanted for murder are still at-large. Pinellas authorities are seeking eight people. In Pasco, two are wanted.

There's the man stabbed to death at a New Year's party. The man shot over a soccer game. The woman accused of murdering her husband's mistress.

Hillsborough's oldest case is from 1978. Clearwater has one from April.

They're not cold cases; authorities say they have evidence to send the suspects to jail. The law just has to find them.

But finding suspects in serious crimes can be particularly challenging, even for officials with sophisticated databases and search methods.

"When you commit murder, you will do pretty much anything to not be found," said Cpl. Tony Vidal of the Hills­borough County Sheriff's Office warrants division.

They assume other identities, cut off ties with loved ones and never return home — drastic lifestyle changes that those accused of lesser crimes likely won't make, Vidal said.

Several of Hillsborough's wanted are believed to be in South and Central American countries. Extradition isn't as much an issue as getting local authorities to cooperate, Vidal said.

At home, good leads usually dry up quickly — after authorities have visited all of the places the suspect is known to frequent and interviewed friends and family members.

After that, detectives depend on tips. Sometimes, people recognize a face and call Crime Stoppers. Other times, an associate decides to come forward.

Detectives also routinely search their databases in case a suspect lets down his guard. Just last April, authorities nabbed a man wanted in a 2008 murder because a female associate registered for utilities in South Florida.

"Turns out she was ready to talk," said Hillsborough Master Detective Marvin Johnson.

The woman pointed to Tennessee, and authorities caught Gregorio Chino-Ronquillo, 29, in a traffic stop in Morristown. He's back in Hillsborough now, awaiting trial.

A big break like that hasn't happened in the search for Rick Elisee Joseph, 25, wanted in the 2007 fatal shooting of Michele Grimes' son, Marcus Johnson.

Detective Johnson said he believes Joseph fled the area, got underground and made new friends who have helped him.

Over the years, tips have trickled in, he said. And with the help of the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force, detectives have followed leads to Jacksonville and New York. They didn't pan out, Johnson said.

Detectives haven't received any new tips lately, he said.

But the file is on Johnson's desk, and Joseph's mug is featured on the sheriff's website's Top 10 Most Wanted. The detective said he figures Joseph can't run forever.

"We will get him. I have no doubt about it," Johnson said. "And when we do, we'll be jumping around the office."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or

Got a tip?

Call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477, report anonymously online at or text "CSTB (plus your tip)" to 274637.

Here are some of the suspects sought by Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies in connection with murder cases.

Suspect: Daniel Martin Jr., 58

Incident date: Jan. 23, 1981

Martin beat and killed Florence Annette Hagood, 42, in her Seffner home, deputies say. Martin was her live-in boyfriend.

Suspect: Donald Michael Santini, 53

Incident date: June 1984

Santini went out on a date with Cindy Ruth Wood, 33, and she never returned home, deputies say. Her remains were discovered four days later.

Suspect: Ferman Sanchez, 60

Incident date: May 25, 1987

Sanchez shot Tito Guerrero, 24, with a rifle as Guerrero sat on the hood of his car in a Wimauma migrant camp, deputies say.

Suspect: Gabino Cadena, 52

Incident date: May 13, 1988

Cadena shot Paulino Ibarra, 43, to death during an argument at a Ruskin migrant camp, deputies say.

Suspect: Ana H. Bonilla, 46

Incident date: Sept. 23, 2000

Bonilla shot her husband's mistress, Ingri S. Banegas, 20, to death at a Lutz home, deputies say.

Suspect: Jose Luis Fuentes-Garcia, 25

Incident date: Dec. 31, 2005

Fuentes-Garcia stabbed Johnny Mondonaldo-Padilla, 21, during a fight over money and CDs at a New Year's party in Tampa, deputies say. They believe Fuentes-Garcia may have fled to Honduras.

Suspect: Rick Elisee Joseph, 25

Incident date: May 3, 2007

Joseph fired several shots at a group of people that he thought were going to beat up his brother, deputies say. Two people were shot and Marcus Johnson, 17, died.

Suspect: Jose Rubio-Moya, 34

Incident date: July 1, 2007

Rubio-Moya shot Juan Contreras, 37, during an argument over a cast net, Hillsborough deputies say.

Suspect: Victor Martinez, 22

Incident date: Dec. 26, 2007

Three men approached Pascual Garcia-Lopez, 27, as he sat outside his Dover mobile home. Two of them pulled out guns, and Martinez shot Garcia-Lopez, deputies say.

Suspect: Jose Antonio Villegas-Cintron, age not available

Incident date: July 5, 2008

Villegas-Cintron stabbed Victor Cruz-Romero, 20, as he sat inside his vehicle, deputies say. They believe Villegas-Cintron is in Puerto Rico.

Suspect: Rodolofo Lopez Robles, 21

Incident date: Oct. 19, 2008

Robles shot Jeronimo Murillo, 24, during a fight at the Dallas Bull bar in East Hillsborough, deputies say. They believe Robles may be in Louisiana.

Suspect: Juan Jose Lopez-Rios, age not available

Incident date: Dec. 30, 2008

Lopez-Rios kidnapped Filadelfo Coria-Tirado, 36, from a Brandon home, took him to a parking lot and stabbed him, deputies say. They believe Lopez-Rios is in Mexico.

Suspect: Mario Sanchez-Mercado, age not available

Incident date: Oct. 5, 2010

Sanchez-Mercado and his friends got in a fight with twin brothers Felix and Gregorio Santana in Riverview, and during the argument, deputies say, Sanchez-Mercado shot the twins. Gregorio Santana, 23, died.

Suspect: Bryan L. Caldwell, 22

Incident date: April 3, 2011

Police say Caldwell shot Derrick Kelly Harris, 23, and William John Hamilton, 30, during an outdoor gathering near LaSalle Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Clearwater.

Source: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

Accused of murder, Tampa Bay's most wanted elude authorities 09/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 9:10am]
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