Cowboy Down

Rob Krentz's Family Talks About the Life and Death of the Murdered Arizona Rancher

The second rancher listening in was Wendy Glenn, a lifelong Cochise County resident who lives on Malpai Ranch with her husband, Warner.

"There was no urgency in Rob's voice when he spoke with Phil," she says. "He said he had seen an illegal that looked like he might need help and that Phil should call Border Patrol. That kind of thing happens quite often here. That's right when he went missing."

The brothers were supposed to meet somewhere on the ranch about noon, but Rob didn't show and wasn't responding to Phil's repeated calls.

Cochise County cattle rancher Rob Krentz and his dog, Blue, shortly before their deaths.
Cochise County cattle rancher Rob Krentz and his dog, Blue, shortly before their deaths.

Phil Krentz notified other family members and friends, who cast out on their ATVs around Krentz Ranch, which covers about 65 square miles, an area about the size of Glendale, Arizona.

Time slipped away.

Dever says he learned Rob was missing after a rancher called him at 6:15 p.m.

That is approximately when Frank Krentz called his mother in Phoenix.

The sheriff says he immediately contacted his agency's search-and-rescue team, which was training in the Cochise Stronghold area, about 90 minutes away.

Cochise County deployed six police cars and two ATVs to Krentz Ranch. The Border Patrol and other federal law-enforcement agencies also responded.

It was dark by then.

Five long hours would pass before a pilot in an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter spotted Rob Krentz's ATV south of Highway 80, still running and with its lights on.

Rob was the victim of a gunshot wound to his left side that, according to sheriff's officials, proved fatal within minutes.

His rifle and a pistol were tethered in a scabbard and holster on the ATV, unused.

Blue, his loyal 8-year-old heeler, was lying in the rear of the small vehicle, also shot. The dog was alive but mortally wounded.

The killer had about a 14-hour head start on the cops, plenty of time to get over the Mexican border, about 8 miles south.

Following tire tracks, county investigators traced the ATV back about 300 yards to where Rob and the dog apparently had been shot.

There, they found three expended bullet shells (Dever wouldn't reveal the caliber to the media). An agent from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement identified the dusty footprints of one individual at the scene.

Trackers from several agencies followed the footprints south, toward the Mexico line, where the trail ended.

"There is absolutely no reason this had to happen," Dever concluded at his press conference, "other than the bad intentions of one sick, sorry individual whom we hope to be able to catch up to very quickly."

Dever's comments raised many still-unanswered questions:

Why would anyone connected to the drug trade risk the wrath and intense scrutiny (from both sides of the border) that killing a popular rancher in cold blood would bring?

Why did the killer also shoot Blue? Had the dog come upon an advance scout for the Mexican drug cartels who smuggle in untold amounts of dope through Cochise County every year?

Why did it take so long for authorities to find Rob Krentz's body after his family had called in a missing-persons report?

As for the latter, Dever says, "Rob was found kind of down in a little arroyo. You wouldn't see him from any of the nearby roads."

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed her agency had "responded immediately to the murder. Immediately following the shooting, Customs and Border Protection [the Border Patrol] deployed additional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to the area of the shooting. Border Patrol trackers located the footprint sign of the suspect and tracked him back into Mexico."

Not quite, says Dever. He says his agency requested, without success, Border Patrol "air assets" hours earlier.

Dever speculates that long-standing radio-communications problems between Border Patrol stations in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and Douglas may have caused the delay.

The Border Patrol did respond by air, Dever says, but not until after the state Department of Public Safety had dispatched a Ranger helicopter from Tucson; they soon found Rob's body using heat-seeking sensors and other technology.

And the biggest question, especially to politicians and the general public: Was the murderer an illegal alien?

Dever told Phoenix New Times after the shooting that "it makes sense that Rob ran into a guy who was involved in drug trafficking. The tracks tell us that the guy was heading south to Mexico, which suggests what it suggests. Whether he's an illegal or not remains to be seen. But it wouldn't surprise me."

Dever mentioned retaliation as a possible motive, saying that Phil Krentz called the Border Patrol one day before the shooting after spotting a group of what looked like undocumented immigrants on the ranch.

The agents soon arrested eight migrants and found almost 300 pounds of marijuana in the vicinity.

But federal prosecutors never did file drug-smuggling charges in the case, supposedly because they couldn't establish a direct link between the men and the pot.

The sheriff said Rob Krentz, like all border-area ranchers, had been deeply frustrated by the influx of drug smugglers onto his land.

But he noted that Rob, conversant in Spanish, was known to have helped ordinary migrants over the years by providing them with water and food.

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