Time--2017 A to Z Theme

My theme for the 2018 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is "Cleaning the Clutter"--I might literally be cleaning my closets or figuratively clearing the excess from some other part of my life. I'm sure you can think of other things this could mean for you as well.

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

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Monday, October 30, 2017

People You Don't Really Know


       In July of 1991 I moved my family to Downey, California in order to take a management job at the West Coast office of a large wholesale costume company.  The manager who I replaced was retiring due to issues with failing health.  Our warehouse was relatively small in size requiring only a permanent staff of a lady who did the office work and a husband and wife duo who ran the warehouse itself.  The business was primarily seasonal--a few months leading up to Halloween--so we would hire extra help for those couple of months, but most of the year it was me, Eva, and Tani and Luci.

      Estanislao Prado Gonzalez was a few years younger than I. He was a studious contemplative guy from Mexico.  I related well to him--or at least his interests--as he enjoyed listening to a wide range of music and reading a variety of books in English.  Though he spoke with a distinct accent, his English was excellent.  I relied on him to help me communicate with our Spanish speaking customers.  Since he seemed to be a passive quiet guy, Tani (as we called him) was easy to get along with.  The only times I ever saw him speaking in an aggressive angry tone was with his wife, Luz.

     Unlike her husband, Luz was a very hard worker.   Also from Mexico, Luz spoke no English, but that did not prevent her from doing her work without ever being told what to do.  And she was always doing something while much of the time Tani would sit at his shipping desk reading, listening to the radio or cassettes, or just idly daydreaming.  However they were an efficient team and together they got each day's chores done as they needed to be done.  

       The outgoing manager, a sickly heavy-set woman of about sixty, had told me that she suspected that sometimes Tani abused his spouse; that Luz would sometimes come to work with eyes blackened and looking roughed up.  I never saw any evidence that would have suggested any physical violence, but Tani did seem to exert a sort of control over her even though Luz came across as a pretty tough lady.

       Luz was an attractive woman who looked toughened by whatever her past had given her.  Probably about the same age as Tani, she had living with them two teenage daughters from a previous relationship.  Tani and Luz had a set of twins that had been born shortly before I arrived to my new job managing the costume company.

       The couple was a tremendous asset to me as I started a job that was quite different than the touring theater job I had previously held with the same company as I was now still working for.  Still, the pressure of learning a new job was soon complicated by my wife leaving me to raise our three young girls ages ranging from ten to three.  I lived very close to work and as manager I had a great deal of freedom to address the needs of my children and deal with a bad marital situation that was obviously headed toward divorce.  These were very stressful years for me.

      As the first few years passed I became comfortable with the new job while facing the personal challenges that had been thrown my way.  Fortunately people came into my life that helped things to flow more smoothly.   Soon after becoming the primary parent in charge I began having Luz's daughters babysit for me on occasions when I needed to be out.  The young girls were both teenagers and accustomed to childcare since they usually babysat the twins while Luz worked.  Both girls were competent and trustworthy.  

        They girls were beautiful, well-mannered, and seemed to be pretty intelligent.  I preferred the oldest, Edith, to babysit because she would always do some housecleaning while I was out without me ever asking her to do so.  Her sister, Gabriela, did her babysitting job with no cleaning.  Either way I was more than happy to have two babysitters I could rely on. 

         In 1994 things began to change at work.  Early in the year Eva died.  Eva was overweight, sickly, and she smoked to an excess which gave her a persistent cough.  Though it put a lot more responsibility on my shoulders, I was able to take over Eva's work even during the busy Halloween season since I could rely on Tani and Luz to manage what needed to be done in the warehouse and a couple months of temporary helpers made their work load bearable.  We got through that season with a lot of weekends and late hours, but we succeeded nevertheless.

       After Halloween the temp workers were let off and the quiet season of getting the warehouse back into order began so we could prepare for the end of the year inventory.   There was an election that I didn't pay much attention to other than noting the controversy surrounding Proposition 187 which was a law regarding illegal immigrants.  I didn't consider this to be of any great concern to me.   My interests at the time were more directed at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  

        I don't remember that particular Thanksgiving, but I do remember coming back to work on that next Monday to find myself the only one there--no Tani or Luci.   Surprised that they had not let me know anything beforehand, I went about my usual duties and waited to hear from them.  Finally a call came and Tani was on the line.

        Tani told me that they were afraid about the passing of Proposition 187 and had decided to move back to Mexico.  I was shocked since I had no idea they were working illegally.  I had figured everything had been taken care of by the lady who had hired them and I saw no problems with them being there.  Not wanting to lose such excellent employees I assured Tani that if they would come back to work, the company would get them an immigration attorney to iron things out.  He told me it was too late as Luz and the girls were already in Mexico.   Tani said he was in San Diego and wanted to come back to pick up their last paychecks which would be arriving in the office that coming Friday.  I told him that I would have to find out and that he should call me back.

        Later, the mother of Edith's boyfriend called me with great concern about the family's whereabouts.  I told her what Tani had told me, but she wasn't buying that story. She expressed a fear that something was not right and she was going to call the police.  Some time later a detective from the Downey police department contacted me.  He explained there was no absolute proof that they found, but there was enough to suspect that something dreadful might have happened.   There was what appeared to be blood on the carpets even though someone had very efficiently cleaned the now empty apartment with bleach and other strong cleaning fluids.   The other odd point was that the family had moved into the apartment just a few days prior to their leaving.  Tani had told someone at the apartments that they were going back to Mexico and that his wife and kids were already gone.

     The police had instructed me to make arrangements for Tani to pick up the checks and they would be waiting for him.  Sad and a bit nervous about Tani coming back, I waited at the center of a police stake-out.  I wasn't sure what would happen--if there would be some kind of violence or I would see Tani being hauled off glaring at me with a hurt sense of betrayal.  

       But Tani never showed up and nothing happened.  The police told me what I should do if I happened to hear from him again.   I never heard from him or saw him again.  Eventually the police tucked the issue away in the cold case file.  They didn't have the technology yet to help them tell the complete story behind the evidence the police had taken from the apartment.  Later, in 1996, some kids in Las Vegas found the remains of a body beside a street outside of town.  Upon further investigation the police found two more bodies nearby.   Police presumed the remains were prostitutes, but they could not identify those remains. 

      Finally in 1999 a Downey detective became curious about the case and started doing some investigation.   He tracked Tani to Las Vegas where he was working and living in squalid conditions with the twins.  Still it took a while to build a case without any convicting evidence.  Diligent detective work brought results and with the help of the Las Vegas police they were able to bring Tani in for questioning.   Tani eventually confessed to brutally murdering Luz Mucino and her daughters Edith, age 18, and Gabriela, age 17, and dumping their bodies.  It's likely that he had help, but though there is at least one suspect, no one else was charged with the crime.  Estanislao Gonzalez was sentenced to three life terms in 2004.

        Some readers might be thinking that this would be a good story for the television show Cold Case Files and it was--you can watch the episode here or on YouTube.   They actually brought a film crew to the warehouse I managed and followed me around that spooky place as they interviewed me.  They also filmed some of the scary props we had on display.   None of this made it into the episode.  Though no mention was made to me from the upper echelon of the company, I suspect that they too were contacted by the film company about the episode and it was all nixed for legalities and protection of our company image.  But I never asked and no one ever told me anything.  I didn't even get a DVD copy of the show like the producer had promised me.  That's show biz I guess.

       There are several  news accounts of this story if you search it out, but if you want to read a couple that appeared in papers in my area you can read the articles in the Los Angeles Times or the Long Beach Press Telegram

        What incidents in your life give you the creeps when you think about them?    Why do you think Tani would have murdered his wife and step-daughters so brutally?    Have you ever been interviewed for a television segment that was never aired?        

         


38 comments:

  1. Lee, what a most excellent account of some of your life and people involved in it. So interesting to read, I shall certainly look on YouTube. One never really knows what goes on in a person's life which is a shame because one could be of help. Once again thanks for a most interesting read.
    Have a great week.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Yvonne, thank you for reading and leaving your comment. Yes, we sometimes don't even know what's going on in the minds of those we see nearly every day.

      Lee

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  2. Eish! as we say here in South Africa Lee ...Plenty of cases gone cold here ... that's life. Today is Black Monday and many of us wearing black for all the farmers murdered but really for everyone ...

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    1. Susan S., there are probably more cases that are cold than are solved throughout the world. U.S. law enforcement do a pretty good job I'd say, but still there are probably more cases than there are personnel to stay on them for too much time.

      Lee

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  3. Lee,

    Oh, that's just horribly sad to hear! I'd say your boss was right about Tani's abusive behavior but unfortunately it's a case of a little too late and the inevitable happens - a nightmare!

    When I was a little girl, I remember a man shot and killed his wife in the presence of their young son. I don't know if it was accidental or not but I do remember the boy was placed in his grandparents' custody and he came to my school. Everyone heard the mews and didn't know what to say or how to act for weeks. Looking back, I really feel sorry for Kenny but these things blew over and soon Kenny was like any other kid to us. That was the most horrible thing that ever touched by life indirectly but...I do recall the tragic mews of my first cousin being shot down. Apparently, he was drunk and the person who shot him felt threatened somehow. I don't think the man was charged as they ruled it in self-defense but it was heartbreaking to a little girl of five.

    Thanks for sharing this interest read!

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    1. Cathy, sometimes our suspicions aren't enough to make an absolute claim on. When people crack, it often is unexpected, but not a total surprise.

      Some people manage to deal with trauma while others are affected for life. I think younger kids can learn to cope with the right support behind them.

      Lee

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  4. And here you worked with that couple and their daughters babysat all that time. I guess you can never really tell what goes on behind closed doors.
    I had a college professor lock her boyfriend in the closet and shoot at him. She was a bit off anyway, so no surprise.

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    1. Alex, shooting at someone in a closet? I guess that's a time when someone is happy to come out of the closet.

      Lee

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  5. Hi Lee - this is one extraordinary story - too dark to contemplate - not good at all ... and yes I have a relative's story from life out in Africa ... we never know what will turn someone. People ... with thoughts - Hilary

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    1. Hilary, the darkest places are in the human heart and mind.

      Lee

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  6. True life is freakier than fiction. I've never been involved or known anyone that committed a crime like that.

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    1. L.Diane, hopefully you never will know anyone who has done such a thing.

      Lee

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  7. That's such a sad, dark story!

    Though this was radio and not TV, my dearest, oldest friend worked for NPR for years, and got permission to interview me for a story about silent film. After she interviewed me and edited it to the length required, she was told they wouldn't run that story after all. Given how that NPR station is run by the infamous Alan Chartock, we were almost 100% sure why that was! He's so insufferable, and runs that station with an iron fist.

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    1. Carrie-Anne, there are any number of reasons stories get cut. Often I'm sure it's because of time constraints and too many other competing stories. I wonder if they keep the unused footage and recordings to be possibly used at some other time?

      Lee

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  8. What a gripping account! That's a fascinating chapter of your life story, Lee. How sad that Tani brutally murdered his family like that. One has to wonder what triggered it, although, you indicated there were some subtle signs. Easy to overlook those! At least he was finally caught. There's nothing in my life that would compare to this at all. Truth is often stranger than fiction, isn't it? Your memoirs would make a great book.

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    1. Debbie D, I'm still curious as to why Tani did what he did. His step-daughters had a lot of potential and they were so sweet. It's really a sad thing. Sometimes we get a sense of something wrong, but it's usually difficult to prove until something actually goes awry.

      Lee

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  9. Mary and I watch a lot of those true-crime shows, but I don't think I've ever seen that one. That anyone would be that cruel and heartless to take his wife's life is bad enough, but to take the lives of his daughters as well is horrific. All I can figure is that he had been fantasizing about killing them, for whatever reason, for some time, and built up enough motive in his own head to actually do it.

    Bill Kurtis (the narrator), incidentally, worked primarily in Chicago, then left and formed his own production company that creates true-crime programs like "Cold Case Files." People said he was nuts...

    I have an uncle who worked at WLS-TV in Chicago. Seems that every time someone from the station caught me on camera, it made it to the air. Fortunately, it didn't happen too often.

    We don't know any murderers, but we went to school with a guy who lives out in your neck of the woods who was convicted of using his weight-loss clinic as a front for an opioid distribution enterprise. Last I heard he was spending the rest of his life in prison. I also did some side work for a couple of lawyers, one a classmate of mine, who ended up suing each other, and the other one spends his weekends in prison for a scheme where he took money from people to file chapter 13 bankruptcies for them and failed to deliver. Weird to see their names in print for the wrong reasons.

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    1. John, it is weird to see someone you know in the news for something bad or even good for that matter--especially when whatever they did was totally unexpected. I guess any one of us could end up on the front page (or some other page) for some reason or another. I always prefer to be publicized for something good and fortunately I haven't been in the news for anything bad.

      Lee

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  10. I had some experience with the criminal mind when I was a prison guard with the Marines. Most of the time it reacts normally - except when it doesn't. Tani appears to be in that category.

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    1. Jack, I still don't know what to make of Tani and what he did. Before the crime I would have never expected such a thing from him, but then after the deed was done I started noting those little things that might have been indicators of an aberrant mind. I wonder how he's doing in prison?

      Lee

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    2. He will probably become some stronger prisoner's Luz. If he's lucky in who he gets, he won't share her fate. Either way, he'll live out his days in a man-made hell.

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  11. That is just so sad... only good thing is that no harm came to your kids...

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    1. CW, Tani was never around my kids and his step-daughters were as sweet as could be so I never worried when they were with my kids. It was sad what happened and when I lost good employees due to such a horrid thing.

      Lee

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  12. What a captivating and sad story. Wow. I probably saw it on Cold Case Files too.

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  13. Check out this article if you haven't already....you are mentioned but not by name. http://www.presstelegram.com/2015/05/31/downey-detectives-used-street-level-investigative-work-luck-to-solve-a-triple-homicide/

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    1. JoJo, you may have very well seen this on CCF. I rarely have watched the show though I saw the episode at the CCF website.

      I also linked to this same article which identifies me as "a manager" which I guess was okay as I was not particularly excited about my name being out there in relation to the case.

      Lee

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  14. That's a horrifying story, Lee, and does speak to the fact we never really know anyone as well as we think we do.

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    1. Patricia, hope I don't know too many people like that in my lifetime.

      Lee

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  15. Wow that was creepy for sure! Sorry about your friend and babysitter.I never experienced anything like that. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Cajun, it's a story I've had in the waiting to tell for years.

      Lee

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  16. Excellent and well-told story, Lee.

    We experienced a story quite similar to yours. We had a favorite electrician, a man that had repaired our AC, installed a new heat pump, worked on wiring, and installed our hot tub. His stepson had pressure washed our roof. He had been in our home over 10 times, had many conversations... my wife had even hugged him.

    Then the lead story on the local news one night had her sit bolt upright in bed. The man had murdered his wife and two of her three adopted children, including the nice kid that had cleaned our roof. He had executed them, and then, holding the little ten year old adopted girl from China hostage, he called the sheriff and told him that he had done something terrible. After a standoff, he released the little girl and shot himself.

    It is really freaky to think back on the experience and think: "what did I miss? How could this guy that we liked and thought we knew DO such a thing." Makes one pretty darned introspective.

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    1. VI, in theory I guess it could happen to any of us (shudder). I hope not, but I think of so many stories of horrible things that are done by people whose neighbors say how wonderful the person was. The human mind can be a scary and confusing place.

      Lee

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  17. I tried to comment on this yesterday, LEE, but as usual, the work computer would not allow me to. I think maybe it's an "Internet Explorer" browser issue. Can't imagine what else it might be.

    Anyway, this was a really tragic and wild story, and I'm surprised you never wrote a blog bit about it before now.

    I feel especially bad for the two girls who never got a chance to live a full life.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

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    1. STMcC, I'm not sure what the commenting issues are, but I find all sorts of weird things when dealing with the internet. It's probably another leftie commie plot devised by Simi Valley operatives.

      The story is among those posts that have remained dormant in my queue for years. I've got a few like that.

      Those girls seemed like amazing young ladies with so much potential. And their mother Luz was one of the hardest working people I've ever known. A very sad loss.

      Lee

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  18. I don't have any words to express my horror of this. No words at all.

    Had several students over the years who absolutely scared me. It was like they had prison #s on their chest. One girl became a prostitute and was murdered.

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    1. Susan K, what can one say? Certainly nothing to justify the actions. I'm so thankful that my daughters have managed to stay safe in their lives.

      Lee

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  19. I found this interesting, there are many people who are part of our daily lives that we really don't know

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    1. Jo-Anne, thank you for reading this and leaving your comment. It's always a shock when something like this happens to someone in our lives. It's not like just reading about it or seeing it on the TV news.

      Lee

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Lee