Tag Archive for Mexico

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Edward Hughes enjoyed a reputation as one of the best software engineers in the United States. He established his reputation building high-end, complex computer systems for the Department of Defense in the 1980s and later left the government to form Ocean Systems, an elite software company with two friends. In the early computer boom of the late 1980s, the three men sold the company, staying on as executives. In 1987, the company was reshaped yet again and after the death of one of Hughes’s founding partners, the board of directors began a search for a new president. Hughes and Brian McCarthy were the two top candidates, and eventually McCarthy, whose background was sales and marketing, won out.
 
Upset that the board would chose a neophyte with little computer expertise over him, Hughes clashed with his new boss. McCarthy wanted the company to grow, while Hughes saw ASI, as the firm was now known, as an elite organization of designers who would produce only high-end applications.
 
The relationship soured and in 1992, Hughes resigned as vice-president and negotiated an independent contractor agreement where he would consult for the company at two-thirds his annual salary.
 
He was assigned a territory in Mexico, installing and maintaining software for ASI’s customers who had plants there. When he wasn’t South of the Border, Hughes lived in Rhode Island. Over time, he started to spend more and more time in Mexico, purchased a home there and planned to permanently relocate there.
 
Despite the arrangement he had with ASI, Hughes continued to chafe under McCarthy’s leadership of ASI. He frequently bad-mouthed the company, its president and its products, going so far as to criticize the software in front of clients.
 
By 1994, McCarthy had had enough. He convened a meeting of the board of directors and got the board’s approval to buy out the rest of Hughes’s contract. In January 1994, he planned to visit Mexico to meet with a customer there in San Luis Potosi; he made arrangements to meet a sales manager and told both the manager and the board that while in Mexico, he would terminate the company’s relationship with Hughes.
 
It was a fateful decision.
 
A week later, on February 6, 1994, McCarthy celebrated his daughter’s 10th birthday and late that night caught a flight from Detroit to Mexico City where Hughes would be waiting to take him to San Luis Potosi, a city about four hours north.
 
Prior to agreeing to meet McCarthy’s plane, Hughes made ill-advised and unusual arrangements to avoid having any other ASI employees accompany the two men on the drive through isolated and dangerous Mexican territory.
 
According to company officials and those who knew him, Hughes hated to drive, but prior to McCarthy’s trip refused suggestions from ASI sales rep Martin Marquez not to make the trip at night because of the threat of kidnappers or bandits. Marquez also volunteered to drive with the two men.
 
Hughes, who had rented a car in Laredo, Texas, declined the advice of Marquez, saying he needed to talk to McCarthy alone.
 
McCarthy arrived in Mexico City on February 6, 1994 at about 10:30 p.m. local time and he and Hughes started out toward Queretaro, a city about halfway between Mexico City and San Luis Potosi.
 
McCarthy was never seen alive again.
 
The next day, Hughes boarded a flight leaving Mexico City at 5:15 p.m. and headed non-stop to New York City. He arrived there at 11 p.m.
 
The next morning, February 8, while still in New York, Hughes placed a call to the controller of ASI announcing that McCarthy had been kidnapped February 6 by bandits between the airport and San Luis Potosi when they stopped by the side of the road to relieve themselves.
 
Three men, Hughes said, attacked them, took McCarthy with them and then drove him back to Mexico City, returned his passport and visa, and put him on a flight to New York to collect a $325,000 (one million peso) ransom.
 
According to Hughes, when he left Mexico, he was told that McCarthy was still alive.
 
Hughes’s limp excuse for waiting more than 12 hours to report the kidnapping to ASI was that he didn’t have a phone card (a billing method used by long distance providers prior to cell phones).
 
ASI, which at that time did high-tech work around the globe, covered its executives with kidnapping insurance, contacted its insurer, who immediately hired the Ackerman Group, whose principal, Emanuel Ackerman, helped the company formulate a plan to meet the kidnappers’ demands and rescue McCarthy.
 
Unbeknownst to anyone in the United States, Mexican authorities had already discovered McCarthy’s bullet-riddled body half-buried in a shallow grave outside Queretaro. They had not yet identified the body, however.
 
With Ackerman’s advice, the ASI leadership decided that Hughes and another ASI employee should return to Mexico where the company would wire both of them the money. Hughes would then meet with the kidnappers to make the payment.
 
Hughes objected to the plan and proposed that the money, in cash, should be given to him and that he would then return to Mexico to complete the exchange.
 
He refused to say where the exchange would occur, saying only that he had been told to contact the kidnappers “in a public place.”
 
In the end, the company decided against Hughes’s plan and opted to follow Ackerman’s advice. One of the primary reasons for doing so was because customs laws prohibit Americans from carrying such large sums of cash across international borders.
 
Upset with the decision, Hughes left the company property, and headed back to his home where he said he wanted to shower and change clothes. While he was there, he called ASI and said he had no intention of returning to Mexico.
 
The company persuaded him to reconsider and he later agreed to carry out the Ackerman plan.
 
Mexican authorities, however, had not been sitting still with their find. Los Federales had traced a bloody parking ticket found in McCarthy’s pocket to his company car at Detroit’s Metro airport and from there identified his body.
 
When Hughes met the other ASI employee at T.F. Green Airport in Providence, R.I., he was informed that McCarthy’s remains had been found.
 
He became visibly ill and refused to travel. The next day, he contacted ASI and resigned from the company.
 
Despite Hughes’s odd behavior, authorities still were operating from the perspective that McCarthy had been kidnapped.
 
The plot unraveled rather quickly, however, when statements by Hughes failed to be borne out by the facts.
 
First, he stated that McCarthy was taken because he was wearing a business suit. However, when he left Detroit and when he was found, he was wearing the same clothes: a casual shirt, jeans and boots.
 
Second, Hughes said McCarthy had to stop along the way because of an intestinal complaint. His wife told authorities he was quite healthy when he left the United States, the flight crew said no one indicated they were ill on the flight to Mexico City and the autopsy revealed no signs of intestinal problems.
 
In late 1994, Hughes was tried for murder in Mexico, but acquitted. Unlike the United States, Mexican prosecutors can appeal such verdicts and shortly afterward, an appeals court found him guilty and sentenced him to 17 years in prison.
 
By that time, however, Hughes had been indicted for attempted extortion. After a 10-day trial, he was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. After he serves his sentence in the United States, Hughes will be returned to Mexico, which considers him a fugitive. Because of his fugitive status, he will not get credit for the time served in an American prison.

Dumb Luck

Weston G. Frome probably thought good luck was responsible for his winning a shiny new 1938 Packard in a Community Chest raffle. How else could he explain spending 50 cents on a ticket and driving away with a luxury car?
 
There was luck attached to the Packard, but it wasn’t the kind Frome expected, and he probably went to his grave cursing the day he won the auto. Frome was a well-to-do Berkeley manufacturing executive with a loving wife and family when he won the Packard in a Delaware raffle. Because he didn’t need the car, he gave it to his 23-year-old daughter, Nancy, who had recently graduated from college.
 
When Nancy decided to take a cross-country trip to visit a sister who lived back east at Parris Island, S.C., she had first planned to make the trip by herself by train. Her mother, Hazel was concerned that Nancy would not be safe on the long trip. Instead, they decided to travel together taking the new Packard. Hazel and Nancy were experienced travelers who enjoyed taking long motor trips and seeing the sights along the way.
 
(The sister would later suffer a tragic loss during World War II: Her husband, a U.S. Marine, was a prisoner of war aboard a Japanese ship that was sunk by an American sub.)
 
Bidding Weston goodbye in Berkeley in late March 1938, the women first headed south along the California coastline until they reached San Diego. Then they took the road then known as “The Dixie Overland Highway,” U.S. 80, which ran across the southern United States from California to Georgia.
 
The trip was uneventful until they reached El Paso, Texas where the Packard apparently developed some sort of trouble. It would take a couple of days to repair the car, so Nancy and Hazel decided to take a jaunt south of the border to Juarez, Mexico.
 
One day turned into five as the Packard underwent repairs and the ladies took several trips across the border to kill time. Finally, on March 30, the Packard was ready and the Fromes headed east from El Paso toward Dallas. The two women never made it.
 
The next day the 50-cent Packard was found abandoned about 60 miles outside Van Horn, Texas, the sleepy county seat of Culberson County. The women were nowhere to be found and the only clue left behind in the car was a slashed spare tire that was missing its inner tube.
 
Searchers combed the sparse region near the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande on foot, horseback, and plane for three days without luck. Then a long-distance trucker heard about the missing women and contacted the Texas Rangers. He thought that he had seen the Packard and a smaller car on the side of the road back a bit closer to Van Horn.
 
The Rangers eventually found tire tracks matching the tires on the Packard running off into the brush. It wasn’t long before they uncovered the bodies of the two women about a half-mile off U.S. 80.
 
“This cruel country is the perfect place for cruel murder,” wrote AP reporter Robert Johnson, Jr. 15 years after the crime. “It is a land where only the Mexican eagle and the coyote feel at home.”
 
It was cruel murder. The women both died from a gunshot wound to the temple fired from a Spanish-made .32, but each had been tortured before they were slain. Both mother and daughter were clothed only in their underwear, but neither had been raped.
 
Nancy had been burned on each knuckle of her right hand by either cigarettes or cigars and a couple of additional burns were seared into the back of her hand for good measure. She had apparently put up a good fight because black hair complete with roots was found clutched between her fingers, and skin and blood were caked beneath her nails. The bones and muscles in her abdomen were broken and torn as if someone had jumped hard on her stomach. In the hand with the hairs, Nancy also held a man’s handkerchief embroidered with the letter “F” and a matchbook.
 
Hazel was also brutalized. She had been beaten and a chunk of flesh was torn from her arm.
 
At first it appeared that robbery was the motive for the murders because some jewelry and cash had been stolen from each woman. However, the killer or killers left equally valuable jewelry that was in plain sight.
 
The Rangers believed that the Fromes were killed by more than one person based on several accounts given by witnesses. The best lead came from the truck driver who was able to describe both the other car seen with the Packard and the couple who it apparently belonged to.
 
The sighting stuck in his mind because he had been passed by the Packard and a blue coupe that appeared to be traveling together. The cars pulled ahead of him and several miles later apparently doubled-back, passing the trucker a second time. He told investigators that one woman was driving the Packard and a man and two women were riding in the blue coupe.
 
The Frome murder hit the news wires and was prominently reported across the country. A $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests prompted hundreds of tipsters to contact the Texas Rangers, who dutifully ran down each and every fruitless lead. Eventually the case file filled three drawers of a filing cabinet.
 
Only one tip really helped the case, and it was only good enough to give authorities another theory for the motive.
 
Around the same time that the Frome Packard was being repaired in El Paso, a similar Packard was seen roaming around Van Horn. The informant believed that the occupants of that car were involved in smuggling narcotics from Mexico.
 
Although that information never led anywhere, it did seem to make sense. Was it possible that a drug dealer was expecting a shipment smuggled inside a Packard — in the spare tire, perhaps?
 
Perhaps that dealer thought Nancy and her mother were trying some kind of double-cross and tortured them to get them to tell him where the drugs were hidden. If so, the women died because they were unable to tell what they didn’t know.