How could a man walk away from a heinous crime to start a new life as somebody else?
After masterminding a plot to murder his entire family, 23-year-old Bart Whitaker left his upper-class suburb of Sugar Land, Texas, and escaped to Mexico in search of a new identity and a new family.
"I was desperate, and I grabbed that stick that was floating my way instead of drown," said Whitaker, now on death row in Texas after being convicted of the capital murder of his brother and mother, in a recent jailhouse interview.
His move south of the border came seven months after he orchestrated a bizarre murder plot in which his roommate killed his mother and brother, wounded his father, and intentionally shot Whitaker in the arm to make him appear to be a victim.
After the crime, Whitaker was living with his father in the family home where the murders took place, when one day he suddenly vanished.
An off-hand comment from a busboy working in the neighborhood country club gave Whitaker the idea to flee the country.
"Why don't you just disappear to Mexico?" the busboy said. "I'll connect you with my family down there."
Whitaker didn't think twice. In less than a week, he was on his way to the border. And after paying a few thousand dollars for fake identification, he became "Rudy Ríos."
Leading a double life was nothing new for Bart Whitaker.
Just a few years earlier, he made his family believe he was going to college. But he wasn't actually enrolled anymore and was secretly scheming to kill them all.
Once he got to Mexico he settled in a town called Cerralvo, where a "guerito" -- a cute white man -- could not go unnoticed.
"It was a very unusual thing because you don't see workers, American workers, right here in a little town in Mexico," said Osvaldo Benavides, who became close friends with the likable foreigner. "He [told me his] name was Rudy. He was a real nice person, a good worker, and a good friend."
Whitaker designed a cover story to explain his wounded arm and conceal his identity.
"I was a soldier that was AWOL because I had been shot up and didn't wanna go back. That was told from the first minute I was down there to cover for me," he said.
Coming from an idyllic life and an upscale family, the sudden move was not just a cultural shock.
"For the first time in my life, I was forced to stand on my own two feet," he said. "I was a nothing, I was a nobody, I was a day laborer in a poor country in a poor city. It's very hard to be egotistical in a situation like that."
As Rudy Ríos, Whitaker began going to church and turning on the charm for a guitarist he met there.
"He would bring me flowers. He was so handsome. And ... I don't know, mysterious," said Sindylu Salinas, who became Whitaker's girlfriend.
He was also an immediate hit with her parents. Her father Homero even hired him to work at the family's furniture store. "I ended up loving him like a son -- very, very much," said Homero Salinas.
Back in the United States, the investigation into Whitaker's bloody ambush of his family was ongoing, but for "Rudy," in Mexico, it was life as usual.
"We would go to the movies, to dinner, to bars, clubs. We would go out with my family," remembered Salinas. "He was a good boyfriend. He was attentive, romantic."
At the same time, Whitaker gained the trust of her father by eliciting his sympathy with moving tales of war.