He was still on his bicycle after pedaling all night around Key West as the sky began to lighten on May 31, 2010.
Saunders, whose real last name is being withheld, was one of scores of night wanderers of this city, one of the homeless men and women who bounce from one vagrant encampment or gathering place to another, seeing who was about and what was up.
As Saunders rode his bicycle across the parking lot behind First State Bank on Simonton Street, he saw his friend Tracy lying face down on the asphalt, her bicycle standing a few feet away. Stillness inhabits a dead body so thoroughly that the absence of life is apparent a hundred feet away. Saunders knew she was dead even before he saw the blood pooled around her head.
Tracy Leigh Heshmaty, 37, with three sisters and a mother in Georgia, was a homicide victim, and the killer was someone in the clan. Like Saunders and the battered woman he had just discovered, the murderer was a restless soul seeking satisfaction on a nighttime bicycle ride. Elijah called the Key West Police just after 6 a.m. and waited with his deceased friend for the law to arrive.
Once at Heshmaty's side, Detective Scott Standerwick and a crime scene investigator analyzed the murder scene. A large piece of coral rock stained with blood and tissue was just beyond the victim's head. CSI Donald Guevremont also photographed a bloody shoe print, left behind by someone wearing athletic shoes. If the victim had carried a purse, it was now nowhere to be found.
Saunders told Standerwick and another Key West Police detective, Frank Duponty, that he had seen Heshmaty with a Hispanic male about two hours earlier at the all-night CVS store at Truman Avenue and Simonton Street. He described the man as thin with long, black hair parted in the middle. The man had been on a silver mountain bike and talking with the victim outside CVS, Saunders remembered.
Duponty drove the three or four blocks down Simonton Street from the murder scene to the CVS and watched the security video. As he watched video that had been shot around 4:30 a.m., the time Saunders said he'd last seen Heshmaty alive, he saw the suspect on the screen. With the night just outside the doors, the high-quality video captured Heshmaty entering the store. In the next few frames, a man on a silver bicycle rolls past the store's entrance in the dark parking lot. The man is thin, with black hair parted down the middle. A few frames later, the man walks into the store, looking to his right toward the beer coolers, the direction Heshmaty had just walked. Finally, the two are taped leaving the store together. Detectives now had a suspect.
The thin man in the video is Pablo Solano Jimenez, a 29-year-old drifter from a small town outside Vera Cruz, Mexico. He has no history in the United States before making it to Key West. Jimenez was living in a mobile home across Simonton Street from the Gato Building at the time of the murder. His trailer is between the CVS and the murder scene several blocks up Simonton Street.
"He is a cipher," Wilson said. "We know nothing much beyond the intersection of the two and how it ended. She is from Macon, Ga., and he came to Key West from Mexico. She was sleeping on friends' couches and he was staying with friends at a mobile home."
There are no witnesses to the murder so the question of motive may never be answered. All police have is Jimenez's version of events.
A former resident of the trailer park said Heshmaty and other women would occasionally go to the trailer park to perform sex for money. The former resident said he saw Heshmaty, long before the night of her death, knock on the door of the trailer where Jimenez and his male roommates lived.
That adds the possibility that the two had been discussing a sexual liaison on the night of the murder, but doesn't answer what led to the attack that killed her.
When police found him on Duval Street at 3:45 that afternoon, Jimenez denied knowing anything about Heshmaty's murder. In fact, Jimenez later suggested that African-American men who had been outside CVS may have killed her. He also told detectives that one of his roommates had talked of murdering someone.
The following detective notes indicate that his story kept changing:
- He saw the victim at CVS around 4 a.m. as he was buying beer. "He and the victim had gone to his trailer, kissed and had sex. She said something about looking for her roommate Richard and she left and he never saw her again."
- Jimenez then told police the two had walked down Simonton to a corner near the murder scene, where she left him, still alive. He then told police he last saw her "at the corner of CVS."
- Jimenez said he went to CVS with the victim, but stayed outside. He said he was waiting by Simonton Street but when told about the video showing him in the store, he changed his statement, saying he had waited for Heshmaty by the shopping center's Truman Avenue exit.
The next day, on June 1, detectives found the clothes and shoes Jimenez wore in the CVS video; the athletic shoes that matched the bloody footprint had been put in the trash can outside the trailer.
The question: Why?
When asked what happened, Jimenez told detectives:
"He had stolen a car and found two packages of cocaine in the trunk. He hid the packages and later he shared the cocaine with Heshmaty. At one point she started to demand money in exchange for her not to tell the owners of the cocaine about him. He also was [inexplicably] assaulted a couple of times," detectives wrote. "The morning of the incident she told him the guys were in town and she wanted money. She mentioned her daughter and he hit her with the rock."
Because the Monroe County Medical Examiner had found no cocaine in Heshmaty's system, detectives did not buy Jimenez's statement that he killed her to protect himself from drug dealers.
As Jimenez sat in his cell at the Monroe Count Detention Center a few days after his June 1, 2010, arrest, detectives dropped by to ask follow-up questions. Here is the report they gave of that conversation.
"Jimenez did not remove any of her jewelry, only her purse and he threw it in the trash. He said his friends [in the trailer] were not involved and knew nothing about the incident. Jimenez said he never threw the rock. Only hit her while holding the rock. He did not remember his exact hand placement.
Jimenez said he did not do drugs; [that he] only had five beers and he did not know why it happened. Jimenez said he went to Denny's after a beer and a cigarette. He bought coffee and nachos.
Jimenez said they did not have sex in the parking lot. He said he pushed her down and hit her and believes he hit her in the back first. Jimenez said they did not fight. She scratched him as he pushed her. He grabbed the rock after she fell down. She never yelled after he hit her only at first during verbal argument.
Jimenez said he was not sure why it happened but it may be over anger, vengeance, reaching a limit, or hate."
--John L. Guerra