'Sugar Land' Culprit Made New Life in Mexico

After having family killed, Bart Whitaker sought refuge south of the border.

April 28, 2009, 11:51 AM

April 29, 2009 -- 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.

Sugar Land Killer: From Idyllic Life to 'Nothing'

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.

"He said he didn't want to kill children anymore. He didn't want to kill people anymore," said Homero Salinas.

The Salinases were one of the wealthier families in town, and Whitaker's girlfriend once actually caught him jiggling the family's safe box, where the Salinases had allowed him to stash what little savings he had along with the family's valuables.

According to Salinas, Whitaker told her, "I want to open the box… To see what's inside. .... Then, you and I are going to keep the money."

On a different night, Salinas got a more terrifying glimpse of "Rudy's" real identity. She had smashed a guitar against the floor after an argument with her mother, and her boyfriend's comforting words weren't exactly what she expected.

"He said, 'Don't be angry at your parents. If you want we can kill them. And then you won't be angry at them anymore,'" Salinas said, adding that that was the only time she felt a tremor of fear.

Killer's Girlfriend: 'He Regretted' Murders

But Whitaker's quietness, and what appeared to be sadness, were much more revealing.

"I did a lot of bad in the past. It's things you will find out later on, but I would like to change the past and not have done it," he confessed to Salinas, who added that she firmly believes "he regretted doing what he did."

In his jailhouse interview, Whitaker told ABC News that he struggled with guilt in Mexico. "I went about as close to insanity as a person can go," he said.

Whitaker lived in Cerralvo for more than a year. Meanwhile, authorities in the United States had key witnesses and physical evidence linking him directly to the murders of his mother and brother. But his whereabouts remained unknown until, ironically, the man who sold Whitaker his new identity, the real Rudy Ríos, contacted authorities to sell his friend for money.

"I know where he's at because it's my family that's taking care of him," Ríos said during a phone call to police. Whitaker was arrested in Mexico without incident. He had harmed no one during his time as a fugitive.

Strangely, the news that "Rudy" had planned the murders his own family members did not come as a shock to Salinas, his former Mexican girlfriend.

"It surprised me a little bit because he was so mysterious," said Salinas. "I don't think he's the only one to blame. Even if he came up with the idea of killing his parents, he couldn't have done it by himself. I don't think he's brave enough to pull the trigger and shoot them."

In spite of knowing that everything Whitaker told her in Mexico "was a huge plot and a lie," Salinas says "he never would have hurt me."

Whitaker left a mark in Salinas' life so deep that she has even written a song for him titled "Mentiras," or "Lies."

Click here to watch Sindylu singing "Lies."

Mexican Family: 'We All Fell in Love With Him

Unlike his daughter, Homero Salinas was devastated when he heard the news.

"I truly loved him like my son, really. I swear," he said, with tears in his eyes. "And it was very painful for me when I found out what he had done. It hurt very, very much."

To this day, he can't understand how "we all fell in love with him," Homero Salinas said.

Whitaker may actually have an answer.

"Nobody is just evil, nobody is just good or darkness or light. And I think that whatever nastiness I had in me, I kept that pretty much undercover. The rest of me was what I'd like to think I truly am."

Whitaker says he loved the Mexican family and he only hopes "they don't hate me."

Thinking back at how he allowed Whitaker to get so close to his family, Homero Salinas had a different impression.

"We did have very near to us -- you might say -- a serpent. I can't describe it any other way," he said.

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