Love Hurts

When it comes to crimes of passion, Hialeah is Dade's undisputed champ. Unfortunately, the competition never lets up.

In ancient Rome the festival was called Lupercalia. It was held on February 15 and was designed to protect the populace from wolves. This was accomplished by dispatching young men to whack their beloved with animal hides. Women were said to encourage the whipping, which they believed made them more fertile. When the Romans conquered Britain, the ritual was adopted by the natives, toned down considerably, and eventually renamed in honor of a saint named Valentine.

Today, of course, the holiday's violent roots have long been forgotten. We celebrate Valentine's Day as a benign rite of spring, a time for the amorous to trade goofy poems and boxes of chocolate. Given the profitability of the occasion, a revival of Lupercalia appears unlikely. But were traditionalists to call for one, they might consider moving their headquarters to a city whose citizenry is similarly attuned to the intimate link between romantic love and mayhem.

A city, say, like Hialeah.
In the past fourteen months, a dozen women and children have been slain in Dade's second-largest city, killed by once loving ex-husbands, boyfriends, fathers. More murders of passion were committed since the beginning of 1994 in Hialeah than in the rest of Dade's cities combined, if you exclude Miami and, of course, unincorporated Dade (which together accounted for 29 slayings).

The Dade medical examiner's records indicate that 1994 was not an anomaly. Historically Hialeah has contributed a hugely disproportionate number of corpses to the pyre of unrequited love: Since 1956, some 73 residents have died in domestic homicides specifically spurred by love gone wrong.

Behind the figures lies a mystery as cold and unforgiving as the barrel of a gun: Why do men (and sometimes women) kill those they love? And why so darn many in Hialeah?

Jorge Alfonso told his daughter Eliecer that he could hardly wait for December 31, 1993, "because New Year's Eve is a day everyone remembers things." Alfonso, it's fair to assume, was feeling pretty forgotten. His wife of fourteen years, Milagros, had left him two months earlier. He had been fired from his job.

Still, the estranged couple had spent New Year's Eve with their four children at the Hialeah home they once shared, and everyone had seemed happy. At about 10:00 p.m., Alfonso drove his wife to her mother's apartment, where she had moved after leaving him. She wanted to pick up a cassette tape of music. With 90 minutes left in 1993, Alfonso cornered Milagros in a bedroom, pulled out a revolver, and shot her in the head. The next shot orphaned his children. It was the 475th deadly bullet fired in 1993, and the last.

For Hialeahans, it was a gruesome introduction to 1994.
Last February, a few days before Valentine's, Jaime Benitez opened fire on his girlfriend, Josefina Garcia, and the man he believed to be her new boyfriend, Joaquin Salvador. The 33-year-old Benitez killed Salvador and critically injured Garcia in plain view of Garcia's ten-year-old son, who had been dozing on the living-room couch. When police interviewed Benitez's brother, Arnaldo Benitez blamed the incident on Garcia's promiscuity.

In June Hialeah police were called to a modest townhouse by a hysterical woman. In the downstairs bathroom, they found the bodies of 53-year-old Florinda Almirall and her former husband Blaz Drevensek, age 56, slumped side by side in a bathtub. A .357 Magnum lay between Drevensek's legs. According to relatives, Drevensek had hoped to re-establish romantic relations with Almirall and was infuriated by her alleged involvement with other men. Police also found a microcassette tape recorder on which Drevensek had preserved the last minutes of his and his ex-wife's life.

Albert de la Rosa, too, was distraught about a separation from his wife. He left his Hialeah apartment for the last time on July 15. He picked up his daughter Joanne, age fourteen, and drove her to lunch. He then parked his car in front of his estranged wife's home, shot Joanne, and turned the gun on himself.

Less than a week later, Rafael Manuel Pe centsn gunned down his estranged wife Carmen Rosa Rodriguez in the parking lot of Miami-Dade Community College's Hialeah campus, where the two Cuban refugees had met four years earlier in an English class.

In August Rafael Aguila avenged his wife's decision to divorce him by taking his two daughters hostage. He killed the girls, ages eight and ten, then shot himself.

On September 12 at about 8:15 p.m., a Hialeah police dispatcher received a 911 call from a panic-stricken teenager named Jackie Valle.

"Oh my God, oh my God!" the girl cried. "He's going to shoot my mother. Oh my God, I'm scared!"

"Can you see him?" the dispatcher asked.
"I can't see anything."
The dispatcher then heard a flurry of gunfire in the background. "Mami!" Jackie Valle screamed. "Mami, go outside! Go outside, Mami! Wake up, Mami. Wake up!"

Police arrived to find Victoria Valle and her ex-husband Frank dead. Frank had also shot a family friend in the leg before taking his own life. Victoria Valle had filed two restraining orders against Frank.

Fourteen days later, Rene Parra, another down-on-his-luck ex-husband, broke into Carmen Parra's home and fired ten shots. He killed Carmen's boyfriend Jorge Begante and then himself. Carmen Parra and two friends managed to escape.

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