Murder in Exile
. . . Exile Leaders Deaths Unsolved
By EDNA BUCHANAN
Herald Staff Writer
Easter Week, 1974: Controversial Cuban exile leader Jose de la Torriente is shot dead. Metro police hunt the sniper. They call it "a monumental task."
Easter Week, 1976: Controversial Cuban exile Ramon Donestevez is shot. Metro police hunt the killer.
During the two years between: bullets cut down Cuba-coexistance advocate Luciano Nieves, 43, in.a hospital parking lot; a dynamite bomb kills anti-Castro revolutionary Rolando Masferrer, 58; Bay of Pigs leader Higinio Diaz, 51, and exile activist Jose Antonio Mulet, 55, survive bullet wounds in separate shootings. There are no arrests.
In investigating these cases Metro Public Safety Department Homicide and Organized Crime Bureau detectives have interviewed thousands of persons, logged thousands of miles and compiled thousands of pages of intelligence data on organizations, international political criminals, common lawbreakers who cloak their crimes with phony patriotism and the lunatic fringe.
Police know a great deal about Torriente's assassination, they say, though they're still several steps short of prosecution. In that mass of information, they hope, are keys that will ultimately help provide the answers to the other crimes.
THEY ARE not lumping the murders together.
"Trying to tie these damn cases together is no way to handle it," says OCB Strategic Investigation Section Chief Lt. Thomas Lyons.
"We could say we're going to tie them all in together," Homicide Lt. Gary Minium says, "and we could tie them in. Sure. But we could also sit down and completely show why none of them are tied together.
"The answer is out there. It's out there with the people who pulled the trigger or set the bomb or gave the orders or agreed to do it or con-spired to do it.
"And when you ask if we're any closer today, we have to say, sure. We're somewhat advanced. We've moved forward. People have been eliminated. Other people have been established to have been at a certain location. Certain information has been developed today as versus yesterday and the day before and the day before."
THE KILLERS of Torriente, leader of the Cuban Liberation Front, left a cryptic calling card signed "Zero" at his door. A group calling itself Zero followed up with a letter branding Torriente "a traitor."
Torriente was awarded his zero, the letter said, because his only contribution to Cuba's cause was "nothing."
A postscript announced that Zero had a long list of traitors "but the cemeteries are big and to fill them we have a lot of time." Nieves was killed Feb. 21, 1975. Masferrer died Oct. 31, 1975.
Zero, or persons claiming to be Zero, surfaced from time to time.
A letter signed Zero but never disseminated is in police possession. The handwriting has been positively identified as that of Ramon Donestevez.
"We don't know what his object was for writing it. It was not sent. It was what they call a war communique," Minium says. "We've known for a period of time who it belonged to."
But was Donestevez really Zero?
"Is Zero Zero? Or is Zero somebody else?" Lyons asks.
"Or is it a combination of the above or none of the above?" asks Metro
public information spokesman Ralph Page. "Or is it a name on the wall that
anybody can pick
and say, I'm going to use Zero this week. You use it next week."
"Death lists," Lt. Lyons says, "with 15 to 30 people on each. All of them different. All from different organizations, some claiming to be the same organizations with different names. There's a contract on so and so he's a communist. There's a contract on so and so by the communists. There's a contract on so and so he's a dope dealer."
Investigating the threats, police made a startling discovery. "A lot of the people put themselves on their own death lists just to gain some notoriety," Lyons said.
"When you have people who nightly meet," Lt. Minium said; "and all they talk about are acts of violence they plan when they get to Cuba, but night after night it's talk of violence, violence. How we're going to bomb, how we're going to kill Castro, how we're going to get his G-2 agents. Where are we going to train? What new guns have we got? What explosives? Something has got to evolve. Everybody is running around with a new .45 and a new nine-millimeter with a big clip. I mean we just don't see that. We are not used to it. This is not what we've had or experienced previously. It's new to us and hard to understand."
LYONS' nine-man Terrorist and Security Unit, supervised by Sgt. Robertson McGavock, worked 10,413½ hours in six months 1,773½ hours over-time. Nobody counted the hours of their own time spent.
"You get so immersed, you don't just go home and forget it, even though you'd like to," Sgt. McGavock says.
There has been an overabundance of suspects in all the cases. Police began the Donestevez murder probe with 77. And that was just the start.
The 77 were crowded aboard Donestevez' 63-foot boat towed back to Miami by the Coast Guard after it became disabled at sea in December. Donestevez, on probation for violating U.S. neutrality laws and not allowed to leave Dade County, was at the helm. He said the trip was merely a test run for a mercy mission,
Police say the seasick, miserable passengers (five were hospitalized) believed they were bound for Cuba and paid $400 to $4,000 a person for the trip. Donestevez, they said, even charged last-minute overweight rates for baggage and then dumped it all overboard when engine trouble developed.
They got no refunds, they said.
The Organized Crime Bureau investigated for two and a half months and presented its voluminous evidence to the State Attorney's Office for, possible frauds prosecution last week. Before Prosecutor Hank Adorno could decide whether to prosecute, Donestevez was dead. So, therefore, were possible maritime law violations under investigation by the Coast Guard.
Another encounter between Donestevez and police came when a powerful bomb. was found attached to his boat at Crandon Marina the same day Judge Morphonios ordered him to jail.
Five bombs had been found on Donestevez' property in past years. But this one was different.
INTRICATE enough to show that its builder was expert, the dynamite
bomb could not explode because of an inadequate power supply. "A person
with the knowledge to construct such a device certainly would know the
bomb couldn't go off because the battery wouldn't conduct enough juice,"
Sgt. McGavock says.
"We're not saying we know Donestevez put the bomb on the boat, but it makes you wonder if the bomb was meant to go off or made to look like it was intended to go off."
The Metro bomb squad's most heart-stopping moments came a year ago when Donestevez reported a ticking time bomb on his factory's doorstep.
Experts Jerry Luack and Newton Porter had the delicate task of disarming 15 sticks of dynamite. Black tape covered the timer. They rendered it inoperative at 8:53 a.m. Two minutes later, as they stood there, a loud click was heard. The bomb would have exploded at 8:55 a.m.
Six months later, Donestevez surfaced in the Masferrer murder case. They each operated Spanish-language newspapers. Donestevez' paper, which was to be distributed the day a car bomb killed Masferrer, carried Masferrer's photo, inscribed with the Spanish initials meaning "Rest in Peace."
Donestevez explained to police that it was not meant in the context in which some may have taken it. He meant, he said that Masferrer was dead, not literally, but in local politics.
Now Donestevez, too, is dead and police are working overtime.
RED-EYED from lack of sleep, Minium, Lt. Lyons and Sgt. McGavock discussed the cases last week.
They believe they know people involved or responsible for killing Torriente and others.
"But information does not convict and is not sufficient evidence for warrants and arrests," Lt. Minium said. "When we've substantiated that three people did meet and they did talk, how do we get these three people to come into court and testify that they overheard somebody plotting somebody's murder? Especially if they flee now and fly to the Dominican Republic- or Venezuela, from where we can't extradite bombers, or to Chile, from where we can't bring back (Dr. Orlando) Bosch, or places like this. What are you going to do? Put a PSD officer on a plane and send him? We can't afford to send them to New York most of the time."
April 27, 1974: Reps. Dante Fascell and Claude Pepper ask the FBI to investigate the murders of Torriente and Arturo Rodriguez-Vives, an exile militant killed in New York four days after Torriente.
Nov. 3, 1975: Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre requests help from the U.S. Justice Department after Masferrer is killed in one of a wave of bombings.
"We work with the feds all the time," Lyons says. "They don't work out of our office but even before the Otero bombings (Rolando Otero is charged with Dec. 3-4 bombings at government buildings here) we had daily briefings, joint staff meetings with supervisors in various areas of the FBI, U.S. Customs, Immigration, Treasury, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms."
CONSTANT contact also is kept with police in New York, New Jersey, .California, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Central and South American countries.
"It's very difficult to accept and look at one terrorist organization as such and examine it," Sgt. McGavock says. "Because there are literally hundreds of splinter groups, even with the FLNC. And then we can't account for individuals going out on their own and doing something for recognition and acceptance into those groups . or to express dissatisfaction for inaction on the part of those groups."
"I find it unreal," Minium says, "that we always get a response from certain groups, statements condoning certain acts that we consider criminal here such as bombings. We look upon it as being an illegal activity and a criminal violation. Yet as soon as we say that these same groups may be involved in narcotics trafficking, extortion and fraud, we immediately get an 'Oh no! This is a patriotic group!' It's legal or it's illegal, one or the other.
"If they will involve themselves in illegal activities such as bombings, I cannot believe that they will not involve themselves in things such as narcotics trafficking, explosives trafficking, weapons and homicide," Minium says.
"We know that they have involved themselves in a series of extortions," Lt. Lyons said.
"If it's going to mean revenue to support the overall political cause as a means to an end, they don't rule out extortion, narcotics, arms sales and bolita," Sgt. McGavock says. "And of course, they don't rule out door-to-door collections.
"With a .45 in their belt," Minium adds.
Those people, police say, are the minority, the criminal element.
"The majority of the Latin community, Page says, "works hard. They go home at night, they have kids, they've got businesses, they've got organizations."
"And they're tired of going to the grocery store and having the supermarket blow up," Minium says. "They're tired of walking downtown to the drugstore and having a car come around the corner shooting at three or four people on the street. These people are tired of it, too: They don't like it."
YET HELP from the Latin community is almost nil, he said.
Minium blames the degree of cultural difference.
"In Cuba when police or a strong political group came to the door to collect, people paid because of their immediate fear of retaliation. When police came to investigate a murder or bombing, many times the case was cleared immediately because people knew they were going to be dragged off and tortured in the local jails. They feared for their families and children. The people here do not have that fear from the police but they still fear that same political party as they come to their doors with weapons and guns in their belts."
Many of Homicide's and the OCB's key officers are Latin.
"They're familiar with the culture, they've grown up in this atmosphere," Minium says.
"But these people still hit that wall, for one reason, the badge. They know the problems much more so than we do as Anglo officers. They still can't breech it.
"As an investigator in these homicides," Minium says, "you really sometimes find it hard to believe that all these people are dying in the name of patriotism. While they were alive they were accused of everything. Yet nobody comes forward after they're dead to say: I personally know he blew up this in the name of patriot-ism because I watched him make the bomb,' or I know he shot so and so in the cause of patriotism because that guy was a Communist and I know he did it be-cause I sat with him while he discussed it.'
"These people are dead. If their acts were patriotic and they believed in them that strongly well then where are all their compadres to come forward and say, 'Now we're going to tell you he did it.' I haven't had the first one come forward.
"Even robbers admit that their robbery partner pulled a robbery and these are acts of alleged patriotism."
IT'S ALSO easy, police say, for the public to accept the theory that all bombings stem from political motivations.
"The public has a tendency to overlook the fact," Sgt. McGavock says, "that it may be an act perpetrated by an individual with intents other than political, for example, a simple extortion plot against a narcotics trafficker.
"I'm giving a hypothetical set of circumstances," he said. "But if that person were in fact blown up and this person was in fact, in addition to being a narcotics trafficker, a political figure with a lot of notoriety, it would be easy to accept that it was politically motivated and the perpetrator would then be hiding behind that obvious theory."
Lyons' men solved 18 bombings last year; 23 are unsolved.
"Just try to define just what the hell a terrorist bombing is," he says. "Everybody's going to have a different definition."
"That word 'terrorist' is kind of, an all-inclusive misnomer," Minium says. 'If I'm anywhere near it it's a terrorist act. If I'm going out to get my mail and my mailbox blows up - it's a little terror for me. And if it flies out the mailbox and hits my wife it's gonna be one heck of a terror."
Last year's bombings ranged from vandalism of a mailbox to murder.
"Saying every bombing is a terrorist bombing just ain't so," Lyons says. "It just is not so."
Among the bombers caught last year were juveniles manufacturing bombs from shotgun shells.
"They were thrill-seekers. It was something new. There was nothing terrorist about it. Then we had an older guy, an adult who set off a couple of bombs in the middle of a field next to where his girlfriend was. She was bedridden and told him she was bored. He said, 'Well, watch out in the field.'
"A bomb goes off. The police cars come. The fire trucks come. The crime lab comes. Everybody's out there wondering what the hell bombs are doing going off out in a field."
The day Masferrer's car exploded, killing him, police seized his memoirs and private papers, seeking clues.
"I would have certainly liked to have had some of the information that was available to us afterwards prior to Masferrer's death," Minium says. "Masferrer had a lot of knowledge about narcotics, documented knowledge, accurate, documented knowledge pertaining to a lot of people."
In October top men were pulled from patrol and added to McGavock's elite squad, beefing it from five to nine men.
When each murder took place, Homicide and the OCB immediately merged efforts and manpower. Aerial photos were shot and laboratory personnel worked overtime.
In addition, bomb squad members have been exploding cars in tests to reconstruct and simulate criminal bombings.
"You have to know the tool used to commit the crime before you
can solve it," Sgt. McGovock says. "Maybe at the time we're doing it, it
won't prove a thing but later on it'll prove invaluable in establishing
the credibility of potential witnesses and suspects.