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Los Tocayos Carlos
Chapter 1
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Part I: The Death of Wanda Lopez

Chapter 1

Murder

Wanda Lopez died at work at a Sigmor Shamrock gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas on February 4, 1983.1 She was twenty-four.2 Wanda’s only brother, Richard Vargas, heard her say her last words, but they gave him no solace or peace. They just made him angry.3

Richard was at his parents’ house that Friday night, waiting for Wanda to get off work so they all could go out to dinner. Wanda had insisted. She had good news to share.4

Wanda worked the 3–10 p.m. shift5 alone at the small gas station and store in a poor part of town.6 She stood behind an eighteen-inch counter with a lift-top entryway. Unlike at some other stations,7 no glass or barrier separated her from the customers.8 To her right was a single cash drawer.9 Beside it sat the console used to regulate the gas pumps. Above the register and console, a window looked south over the pumps10 and beyond to South Padre Island Drive, a controlled-access highway people call “SPID.”11 Behind Wanda, another window faced west, across a dark narrow street to a “gentlemen’s club” named Wolfy’s.12

Wolfy’s was a landmark back then. Its giant cutout of a buxom, scantily-clad woman loomed over SPID.13 The club attracted a rough crowd of bikers and men from the area.14 The bar’s customers often stumbled across the street to the Sigmor to buy cheap cigarettes or beer.15 Wanda dealt with them as best she could on her own.16 She warned her brother more than once that she’d better not catch him in a place like Wolfy’s.17

North of the station, to Wanda’s left as she faced the counter, was a poor residential neighborhood, a warren of narrow streets and shabby frame houses with front and back yards open to each other or bounded by rotting slat fences.18

Wanda was a divorced high school dropout with a young daughter to support.19 Her husband left when she was four months pregnant20 and she hadn’t heard from him since.21 To support herself, she took whatever work she could get, while her parents minded the baby.22 She was a good worker, cheerful and reliable, and she followed the rules.23 She had only been at the station for a few months and already was an assistant manager.24

Richard and his parents worried about Wanda, trapped in that 4’ x 6’ space, with only a counter separating her from whoever came in the door.25 They told her she needed a safer job in a better neighborhood. Sometimes, her father would sit in the Sigmor parking lot in his pick-up truck until her shift ended.26 Robert Mayorga, a police officer Wanda went out with now and then, also checked on her when he could.27 They worked out hand signals for when he was too busy to leave his patrol car.28

* * * * *

Neither Wanda’s father nor Officer Mayorga was at the gas station on the night of February 4. Richard and his father were at home watching TV and waiting for Wanda to get off of work and for her mother to finish her weekly bingo game.29 Earlier in the week, Wanda had told them she wanted to celebrate that Friday night after getting off work and sharing her good news.30

At first, Richard had declined Wanda’s invitation. He worked late himself most nights and had the month’s bills to pay. Right away, Wanda said she’d do Richard’s paperwork so they could all go out. Richard laughed and said he would celebrate with her.31

State of Texas Death Certificate for Wanda Jean Lopez, Nueces County Medical Examiner (Feb. 4, 1983) (“Date of Birth: 8–26–58”; “Pronounced Dead: 2–4–83 at 9:55 P.”; “Age in years last birthday: 24”).

Pl.’s Ex. 15, Vargas v. Diamond Shamrock, No. 84–4951-D, 86–5900-D (Nueces Cty., 105th Dist. Tex. June 3, 1988) (photograph showing south window of Sigmor store, overlooking gas pumps).

Def’s Ex. 1, Vargas v. Diamond Shamrock, No. 84–4951-D, 85–5900-D (Nueces Cty., 105th Dist. Tex. June 3, 1988) (photograph showing aerial view of Sigmor gas station, with the SPID highway running in front (south) of it);

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Robert Stange, Shamrock Gas Station Manager, in Fredericksburg, Texas (Feb. 24, 2005) at 15:16:34–15:18:12.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:58:36–06:58:53 (describing a club across the street from the Sigmor-Shamrock that played “loud music” and “drawed lots of cars.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Rene Rodriguez, Lawyer for Wanda Lopez’s Family in Suit Against Diamond-Shamrock, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 8, 2005) at 05:39:03–05:40:46 (“[Wolfy’s] had a big old two-story figurine of a woman in a bathing suit, a very revealing bathing suit, so it attracted a lot of people. All kinds of people.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Rene Rodriguez, Lawyer for Wanda Lopez’s Family in Suit Against Diamond-Shamrock, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 8, 2005) at 05:39:03–05:40:46 (“[Wolfy’s] at the time was owned by a local motorcycle club, similar to the Hell’s Angels, called the Banditos. So there were all kinds of people. You saw people, real rough looking people, and you saw, what I’d call the suits.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Rene Rodriguez, Lawyer for Wanda Lopez’s Family in Suit Against Diamond-Shamrock, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 8, 2005) at 05:39:03–05:40:46 (“There was plenty of cars around, from [Wolfy’s]. It’s right next to the Shamrock. Drunks walking over to buy cigarettes and whatever.”);

see Transcribed Videotape Interview with Becky Nesmith, Cousin of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 8, 2004) at 05:11:59–05:12:50 (“The Diamond Shamrock that Wanda worked at was a very small store, and it was next to a topless club, and she had been asking not to work alone at nights, for fear that something may happen.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:59:13–07:00:02 (explaining that Wanda dealt with the customers and the subpar working conditions because “[s]he had to work, she had to make a living. And the reason she picked that one was because it was close to home and they hired her there.”);

Sita Sovin & Lauren Eskenazi’s Notes on Interview with Carmen Taylor, Former Employee of Shamrock Gas Station (Nov. 7, 2004) at 1, 2 (“People from Wolfy’s came into the station store to buy beer. Carmen had a couple of incidents where a couple of guys stole beer. . . . Carmen had a lot of ‘run offs’—where people did not pay.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:59:04–06:59:09 (“[Wanda said] [s]he better never catch me at one of those places.”).

Def’s Ex. 1, Vargas v. Diamond Shamrock, No. 84–4951-D, 85–5900-D (Nueces Cty., 105th Dist. Tex. June 3, 1988) (photograph showing aerial view of Sigmor gas station, with residential neighborhood behind (north of) it).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:39:52–06:39:58, 06:40:39–06:40:47 (“I think, she dropped out. She didn’t quite graduate.”; Wanda had “[a] little girl.”).

State of Texas Death Certificate for Wanda Jean Lopez, Nueces County Medical Examiner (Feb. 4, 1983).

Dep. of Mary Vargas at 8, Vargas v. Diamond Shamrock, No. 84–4951-D, 86–5900-D (filed April 20, 1988) (explaining that Wanda and her husband, Jerardo Lopez, divorced “after the baby was born”, and that, even before that, Mr. Lopez had left her. “He went out of town to Colorado and he left her.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:40:56–06:41:40 (“I don’t know if . . . my niece [Wanda’s daughter] has ever met him. I’m not sure. But he was not in the picture.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:41:40–06:42:35 (“She would just go for, you know, whatever she could as to make money. And also she was staying with mom and dad, to help them. So she started working convenience stores.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Robert Stange, Shamrock Gas Station Manager, in Fredericksburg, Texas (Feb. 24, 2005) at 15:22:06–15:22:45 (“Wanda, she was always happy.”);

see infra Chapter 4, notes 18–22 and accompanying text.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Robert Stange, Shamrock Gas Station Manager, in Fredericksburg, Texas (Feb. 24, 2005) at 15:21:10–15:22:06, 15:19:45–15:20:27 (“Wanda wasn’t that long term in my store. I can’t tell you how long she worked there. It was a period under 6 months.”; “I was the manager of store 47. Wanda was the assistant manager, and I believe at the time I had a clerk by the name of Roger . . . .”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:57:55–06:58:04 (“[P]rior to that, we had even asked them to build some kind of glass container to keep the attendants safe.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Rene Rodriguez, Lawyer for Wanda Lopez’s Family in Suit Against Diamond-Shamrock, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 8, 2005) at 05:39:03–05:40:46 (“[Wanda] was afraid . . . because a lot of people would go in there, most of them drunk, and they would try to flirt with her or whatever, and she was just scared. So her father started coming and staying there because they wouldn’t hire anybody else.”).

Bruce Whitman’s Notes on Interview with Robert Mayorga, Corpus Christi Police Officer Who Dated Wanda Lopez (Nov. 18, 2004) at 1–2 (“Wanda and Robert began dating . . . . Wanda called Robert when she was having trouble in her life . . . . They would talk and take comfort in their visits”;Mayorga met Wanda in 1981 and dated on and off after that . . . . [He] met her at the [White] Rabbit Club.”);

see Transcribed Videotape Interview with Robert Stange, Sigmor Gas Station Manager, in Fredericksburg, Texas (Feb. 24, 2005) at 17:19:20–17:19:49 (answering question whether he remembered Wanda dating a police officer: “I believe she did, I believe she did. But I don’t know that for a fact. That sounds awful familiar. Somebody fairly young in the Corpus Christi police. He was a patrol officer.”).

Bruce Whitman’s Notes on Interview with Robert Mayorga, Corpus Christi Police Officer Who Dated Wanda Lopez (Nov. 18, 2004) at 1 (“Robert patrolled the D[iamond]S[hamrock] at 2600 and SPID on his shift and had arranged a signal system for Wanda to let him know when he drove through the parking lot if she was having any trouble.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:45:13–06:46:35 (explaining that, on the night of Wanda’s murder, “I got home to Mom’s and Dad’s home and ready to go and we get this disturbing knock on the door.”);

Dep. of Mary Vargas at 18–19, Vargas v. Diamond Shamrock, No. 84–4951-D, 86–5900-D (filed April 20, 1988) (She “was at the bingo” when the boy came by the house on his bicycle, and she heard the news when her husband came over to get her).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:55:54–06:56:15 (when asked about the first time he heard the audiotape that played Wanda’s last words, Vargas responded, “Something I never heard that made me very furious was the 911 calls.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:45:13–06:46:35:

[T]he night before [the murder] she had asked that I go with her, we go out with her because she wanted to celebrate an evening with us. And I told her I might not [be able to], because [I] worked late, and I had a lot of bills to pay. She right away said that she would take care of my bills. She would go get them done before the evening was out so that we could all go out. I said, “No, you don’t have to do that.” She said, “I will if you go out with me.” I said, “Ok.”

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:46:43–06:47:13 (“She was so excited for us, I guess, to meet some new friend she met. Being that her life was always trying to be the best you can and take care of yourself, probably she had, I’m thinking, found somebody that she was proud of and wanted us to meet him . . . .”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:45:13–06:46:35:

[T]he night before [the murder] she had asked that I go with her, we go out with her because she wanted to celebrate an evening with us. And I told her I might not [be able to], because [I] worked late, and I had a lot of bills to pay. She right away said that she would take care of my bills. She would go get them done before the evening was out so that we could all go out. I said, “No, you don’t have to do that.” She said, “I will if you go out with me.” I said, “Ok.”

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:45:13–06:46:35:

Well, the night before she had asked that I go with her, we go out with her because she wanted to celebrate an evening with us. And I told her I might not [be able to], because [I] worked late, and I had a lot of bills to pay. She right away said that she would take care of my bills. She would go get them done before the evening was out so that we could all go out. I said, “No, you don’t have to do that.” She said, “I will if you go out with me.” I said, “Ok.”

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:46:43–06:47:13 (“She was so excited for us I guess to meet some new friend she met. Being that her life was always trying to be the best you can and take care of yourself, probably she had, I’m thinking, found somebody that she was proud of and wanted us to meet him, to meet him . . . .”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Robert Stange, Sigmor Gas Station Manager, in Fredericksburg, Texas (Feb. 24, 2005) at 17:22:39–17:23:10 (“I believe the store closed at ten. That would have put her out at 10:20 or 10:30, depending on how quickly she could get everything arranged and closed out.”);

Crime Scene Photograph 25500024, Corpus Christi Police Dep’t (Feb. 4, 1983) (photo of front door of Sigmor station showing closing time of 10 p.m.).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:43:52–06:44:48.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:58:18–06:58:32 (“Maybe go to other stations they [clerks and customers] are pretty separate, that station [where his sister worked] has a flaw. The counter is face to face with the customer.”).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Richard Louis Vargas, Brother of Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Dec. 4, 2004) at 06:57:55–06:58:04 (“[P]rior to that, we had even asked them to build some kind of glass container to keep the attendants safe.”).

Pl.’s Ex. 11, Vargas v. Diamond Shamrock, No. 84–4951-D, 86–5900-D (Nueces Cty., 105th Dist. Tex. June 3, 1988) (photograph showing cash drawer under the counter in the Sigmor store).

Chapter 1
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