Cowboy Down: Rob Krentz's family talks about the life and death of the murdered Arizona rancher

Cowboy Down: Rob Krentz's family talks about the life and death of the murdered Arizona rancher

Sue Krentz answered the phone about 6 p.m.

It was March 27, a Saturday, and she was in Phoenix, tending to her aged parents as a sister attended a conference.

Sue usually doesn't stray from her family's venerable cattle ranch in Cochise County for too long at a stretch. But she was planning on staying through the weekend, as another sister was coming into town for a visit.

Cattle rancher John Ladd at the border in Palominas.
Paul Rubin
Cattle rancher John Ladd at the border in Palominas.
The U.S.-Mexico border "fence" in eastern Arizona, not far from the Krentz killing site.
Paul Rubin
The U.S.-Mexico border "fence" in eastern Arizona, not far from the Krentz killing site.

She and Rob, her husband of 32 years, hadn't been on a vacation in years, what with endless tasks on the ranch, about 35 miles northeast of Douglas, Arizona, near the borders of New Mexico and Mexico.

The call was from her 27-year-old son Frank, who also works on Krentz Ranch.

"We can't find Daddy," he told his mother.

Sue last had spoken to Rob early that morning. He had told her he planned to check on some water lines on the sprawling property, an everyday responsibility to preserve the ranch's lifeblood.

Sue packed her bags, jumped into her car, gassed up, and headed for home, trying not to panic.

"We'd been shouting for years about the Mexican drug smugglers coming through our land," she tells New Times, the first time she has spoken publicly about that day.

"Things are dangerous for ranchers and other residents. But I tried to convince myself that no one would ever hurt Rob, who was the kindest person you'd ever hope to meet."

Sue got home just before midnight.

Home is at Krentz Ranch headquarters, five bumpy miles up a dirt road off State Route 80, the major north-south route east of Douglas.

She and Rob raised their three children in their modest adobe-and-plaster home, built around the turn of the 20th century and where Rob himself was raised.

Sue stepped outside into the chilly night to gather herself. The moon was nearly full, and the sky was flush with stars.

A helicopter soon came into view, maybe 10 miles away on the south side of Route 80. It circled around briefly before descending.

Dread overwhelmed Sue.

Within minutes, family members and friends sped up the road in their all-terrain vehicles with grim news.

"Rob was dead, and someone had shot our dog Blue, too," Sue says. "Blue was alive, but they had to put him down. He was a real good dog. How can I say this? There was evil out there that day."


Word of Rob Krentz's murder — the first of an Arizona border rancher in anyone's memory — flew around Cochise County within hours.

Within a day or two, the entire nation knew about it.

Krentz became an unlikely martyr, his violent death symbolizing to many everything that's wrong at the border. To them, he surely was the victim of an illegal, drug-smuggling alien.

He became the face of then-pending Senate Bill 1070, the madly controversial legislation whose point is to identify, arrest, and deport illegal aliens from Arizona.

To the crusty, close community of southern Arizona's border ranchers, Krentz was just "good old Rob," the co-patriarch, with younger brother Phil, of his family's more-than-a-century-old cattle spread.

By every account — except for unsubstantiated, anonymous comments on the Internet — Rob Krentz was an old-school cowboy with no known enemies and a big heart.

The Krentz brothers seemed to come from another time and place, strapping men who performed their cattle-ranching chores without complaint, battling droughts, economic malaise, endless government regulations, and, since the mid-1990s, an onslaught of Mexican drug smugglers on their land.

It was incomprehensible to those who knew Rob Krentz that someone would murder the 58-year-old grandfather as he sat in his Polaris four-wheeler in a remote pasture.

"All we wanted was to be able to live in safety on our own land," his widow says. "We don't want anyone on our property who isn't invited — drug smugglers, Minutemen, anyone. I guess that was too much to ask."

Some details of what transpired on March 27 have emerged over time. But critical facts, including the most important one — the identity of Rob's murderer — have not.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever held a press conference in Bisbee on the Monday after Krentz's body was found.

The somber sheriff, who liked and respected Krentz, provided details of the case, with New Times adding others from additional sources:

Rob and Phil Krentz were working on different parts of the expansive ranch that Saturday morning.

Rob called Phil on a handheld radio (cell-phone service is spotty there) between 10 and 10:30.

Sheriff Dever tells New Times that Rob told Phil he had just seen an undocumented alien near a water well on the property. The alien appeared to be "in need of help," the sheriff recounts, and Rob asked his brother to contact Border Patrol.

Later, sheriff's investigators spoke with two ranchers who share a radio frequency with the Krentzes and other neighbors.

One of the ranchers, Fred Edington, said he was listening to the ranch radio when Rob called Phil about being out there "with one illegal or several illegals. He could not remember [how many] but remembers hearing [Rob] say an illegal was hurt and to contact Douglas Border Patrol."

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