Special Reports

Body shop slayings suspect jailed: Texas police arrest suspect in Tri-Cities' worst massacre

Six years after five men were massacred in a Pasco auto body shop, a suspect has been arrested in Texas.

Pedro Reyna Mendez, 31, was arrested Sunday night in McAllen, Texas, in connection with the case considered to be the worst mass murder in Tri-City history.

Mendez was arrested at 8:20 p.m. (6:20 p.m. Pacific time) by the McAllen Police Department and the FBI. Authorities were reportedly responding to another incident involving Mendez, possibly a domestic dispute.

He was being held Tuesday in a Texas jail on a Franklin County Superior Court warrant for five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Mendez and his brother, Vicente Mendez Ruiz, are accused of killing five men and wounding another on Oct. 13, 1987, at Medina's Body Shop in Pasco near A and Oregon streets.

The brothers were charged and arrest warrants were issued within days of the slayings. Mendez was identified by the lone survivor, Jesse Rocio, through police photos.

On Tuesday, Pasco authorities were waiting to hear from Texas investigators whether Mendez will fight being returned to Pasco to face the charges.

In 1987, police reported that the 5-foot-5, 140-pound Mendez had 15 aliases. Police said he had tattoos on both arms and chest.

And police records showed Ruiz had nine different aliases and had given three different birth dates.

The brothers have different last names because Mendez uses their father's last name and Ruiz uses their mother's maiden name.

The two brothers were never picked up and were suspected to have left the area, fleeing to Mexico. They were reportedly traveling with another brother, Ramundo, who was not a suspect.

The crime is believed to be drug-related, although Pasco police said at the time that the specific motive was uncertain. The gunmen may have thought the victims gave information to federal agents that led to a drug raid earlier that day, or maybe it was a case of a drug deal gone bad.

Pasco officers said they suspected Vicente Ruiz was a drug dealer, though he never was arrested. After the shooting, police seized 15 to 20 pounds of marijuana and a little more than a half-pound of cocaine from the apartment rented by Ruiz and another brother.

The survivor, Rocio, said in 1987 he did not know why the gunmen wanted he and the others dead.

He said neither he nor anyone else in the garage at 1101 E. A St. took the gunmen seriously until Ruiz, holding a pistol in each hand said in Spanish, "This is it, it's over" and began shooting.

"I thought they were playing around," Rocio recalled in 1987.

Rocio was grazed by a bullet on the right side of his body as he crawled under a car.

The other men in the shop were not so lucky. Killed were:

* Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, of Pasco. He had gone to the auto shop because he was having car problems. He was single and living with his sister, having moved from Mexico two years earlier to work in Pasco.

* Misael Barajas, 21, of Pasco. He was single and had lived in Pasco about three months.

* Francisco Cortez, 21, of Kennewick. He had gone to the shop an hour before the shooting to see about buying a car. He was married but apparently had no children.

* Juan Garcia, about 20, of Pasco. He was single.

* Eliceo Lamas, 20, of Pasco. He had gone to the shop to work on a car after eating dinner at a restaurant with his wife of 11 months.

Pasco Police Capt. Andy Anderson was a sergeant the night of the slayings. On Tuesday, he said the brutality of the murders stunned even veteran officers.

"The way they did it was so cold and calculated," Anderson said.

He said officers already have begun trying to locate the witnesses in the 6-year-old case.

Texas officials could not be reached Tuesday by the Herald about the circumstances leading to the arrest of Mendez.

But Anderson said he believed Texas officials discovered the Pasco murder charges through a routine computer check on Mendez while police were investigating another incident.

"It was kind of what we expected," Anderson said. "One of these days they were going to do something and the warrant would come up."