Elio Dominguez Benavente, on the run for 27 years as the sole suspect in an unusual double homicide, was arrested last week in Mexico and is now in the Tulare County jail, Visalia police said Tuesday.
The arrest brings a measure of closure to the victims’ families, Police Chief Jason Salazar said.
“I think a lot of time we hear about cold-case homicides ... where people assume that after awhile it goes away and nobody is paying attention to it,” he said.
But the Police Department never gave up, Salazar said.
“In this case, it shows that good hard work, persistence on the (part) of our officers and working with the victims ensured that this case stayed active and ultimately led to an arrest today that I think brings closure to the families,” he said.
The case was featured on America’s Most Wanted in 2003, and a $50,000 reward was offered, but it looks as if no one will collect the reward because the tip that broke the case was anonymous, Salazar said at a news conference.
Benavente, 46, was arrested by Mexican police, walked across the border Friday night and turned over to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. He waived extradition, and Visalia police took him into custody Monday and brought him to the Tulare County jail.
About 3:30 a.m. April 8, 1989, Steve Guerra, 25, was driving his girlfriend to pick up her car from the parking lot of a Visalia bar at Murray Street and Willis Avenue where she worked.
The driver of a vehicle had been following them and flashing his headlights at them, girlfriend Deanna Daniels told police.
Guerra stopped his car in the parking lot, got out and approached the mini-pickup – only to have the driver fling open the door and hit him with it. An altercation began, two men emerged from the car, Guerra was stabbed and ultimately bled to death.
Daniels said in an interview a few years ago that she went to the truck to try to swipe the keys, saw a bloody knife on the seat and looked at the face of a man she later identified as Benavente in a photo lineup.
The reason the mini-pickup was flashing its headlights is not known, but Sgt. Kevin Kroeze said he hopes to find out when police interview Benavente.
Shortly after the altercation, police found the mini-pickup several blocks away on the 400 block of Strawberry Street with a dead man inside.
Jason Alvarez, 21, a friend of Benavente, apparently had been stabbed during the altercation, police said.
Hours later, police located Benavente but didn’t arrest him because of a lack of evidence. By the time authorities issued an arrest warrant several months later, he had fled.
In 2012, an anonymous tip was received that he was living in Mexico under an assumed name, Salazar said. Last year and during the last few weeks, investigators developed the tip and tracked him down to the state of Chihuahua, Salazar said.
The victims’ families kept the case active by contacting police regularly and urging the media to do stories about the case, Salazar said.
“It certainly helped generate information and ultimately an anonymous tip in 2012 that brings us to this point,” Salazar said.
Benavente is being held without bail on two counts of first-degree premeditated murder with special allegations of using a knife, District Attorney Tim Ward said. He is expected to be arraigned Wednesday.