DADE CITY — The detectives talked to any witnesses they could find and canvassed the neighborhood and met with community leaders. They knocked on doors and passed out fliers. It has been nearly three years since three migrant workers were gunned down in the small area of Tommytown.
Their murders are unsolved.
No one wants to talk.
"What are we going to do?" Sgt. Mel Eakley asked in a staff meeting recently. Those at the meeting were brainstorming ways to get new leads on these cold cases. They wanted to reach as many people as possible through one effort.
"Why don't we do a billboard?" someone suggested.
"Let's do it in Spanish," Eakley said.
The donated billboard recently went up at U.S. 301 and Lock Street, a few streets away from the murder scenes. Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said it's the first time in memory that the agency has used a billboard to get information on cold cases.
Eakley wants the public to know that these men have not been forgotten and that detectives are still working to find their killers.
We are "genuinely concerned," Eakley said. "We need to solve these."
The first murder appears to have been a straight-up robbery, making it that much more difficult to solve because there were no apparent ties between the robber and the victims, Eakley said.
On the evening of May 16, 2008, two men were found dead at the corner of Hutchinson and Porter streets. Santos De La Cruz, 33, and Quirino Velasquez, 46, were migrant workers who had just cashed their paychecks. Many migrant workers don't have bank accounts and carry cash, making them vulnerable targets, Eakley said.
No witnesses have come forward. There was no DNA evidence. It doesn't appear that the killer knew the victims.
"If it wasn't these two gentlemen, it could have been two others" the killer selected, Eakley said.
The third killing came two days later, although authorities say the crimes do not appear to be related.
About 2:30 a.m. May 18, a fight spilled outside a nightclub called La Onda at the corner of 14th and Lock streets. The fight continued at an empty lot next to the dance club. A dark-colored SUV rolled up to the scene. Someone inside the car shot and killed Miguel Arellano, a 22-year-old who was at the dance club with his brothers.
There have been no significant leads in either case, Eakley said.
Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in either case. But calls also can be anonymous. Eakley knows that many undocumented workers are reluctant to call the Sheriff's Office to report crimes or give information because they are scared of being deported.
"We are not concerned with their status," Eakley said. He said officials are worried that people are being victimized and not reporting the crimes, which just emboldens predators who prey on migrant workers.
What is important "is their safety and the investigation of their crime," Eakley said.
And he wants these crimes solved. Migrant work can be transitory, and he hopes that someone coming back to the area might see the billboard, realize that the crimes have not been solved and feel compelled to share some information, even if it seems insignificant. It could be important.
"The possibility exists that somebody may call," Eakley said. "That's what we have to go on."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.