By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Muse and Healy joined forces with LAPD Detective Ron Chavarria and worked the Saenz case — hard — for years.
"He's here, there, he's right under your nose," recalls Chavarria, who started tracking Saenz after the 1998 double gang slayings. It was maddening, years later, to have to take on Saenz as a now-unsolved, "cold" case. "It's like chasing a ghost all those years. ... All of our leads were really blind leads. We were really just following anything," Chavarria recalls.
So when a shadowy tip recently came to the feds that Smiley was living above a beauty salon in Guadalajara, Muse, Healy and Chavarria saw no reason to get worked up. Somebody was checking it out.
As they enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with their families, they were stunned to get official word that a Mexican police SWAT team had captured the wily, feared fugitive — living in a nothing apartment in Mexico.
"I don't think we actually believed we had him — until we interviewed him that Sunday," Healy says.
Muse, Healy and Chavarria finally met Saenz three days after Thanksgiving, in a spartan interrogation room in Men's Central Jail.
"You think (Saenz) is going to be an asshole or stupid," Muse tells the Weekly. But he was charming and polite. He maintained eye contact, and he said a lot — but danced around the questions about his alleged crimes. "Someone who can run for 14 years, you've gotta have some kind of brain," Muse says.
The three detectives couldn't detail their nearly four-hour interview of Saenz. But Saenz bragged to them that he'd been stopped by police multiple times over the years, and slid away, protected in part by a good fake ID. But, he told them, he had screwed up and gotten sloppy. Stayed in his current apartment too long, used the phone too many times.
Chavarria believes he may have detected a hint of relief in Saenz. The chase was over.
"So much closure," Chavarria says. "You don't know whether to celebrate, or just sit down and sigh in relief. We're just so happy it's over."
Muse will attend Saenz's trial, but not as a homicide detective. She leaves her job Dec. 30. She and Healy, who together made up the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's very first female-female, on-scene homicide team, will no longer be partners.
A poster on the Homicide bureau's wall, announcing her retirement, shows Muse's cartoon likeness wearing a beret and hauling Neiman Marcus bags. She has dreamed of traveling to Paris and shopping without interruption.
Some ex-detectives keep a hand in, by helping probe the cold-case files. But Muse shakes her head. She can't worry any longer about the violent suspects who slipped through the net. There's victory in seeing the one who got caught.
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