Cowboy Down

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

Public interest in the Rob Krentz murder case skyrocketed.

Part of it stemmed from the remarkable timing: SB 1070—the Arizona Legislature's thumbing of its nose at the feds over illegal immigration—was nearing a final vote.

If odds of its controversial passage seemed great before the Krentz murder, it was a given afterward.

The Krentz family ranch has been in business for more than a century.
Paul Rubin
The Krentz family ranch has been in business for more than a century.
Rob and Sue Krentz
Rob and Sue Krentz

But authorities weren't prepared to say officially (they still aren't) that the homicide was committed by an undocumented alien, even if Dever, the Krentzes and many others seem convinced that it was.

The bill's sponsor, right-wing state Senator Russell Pearce of Mesa, said in an interview, "The murder of Robert Krentz—whose family had been ranching in Arizona since 1907—by illegal-alien drug dealers was the final straw for many Arizonans."

Someone suggested they should dub the bill "Krentz's Law."

For their part, the Krentz family issued a statement, saying they held "no malice toward the Mexican people for this senseless act, but do hold the political forces in this country and Mexico accountable for what has happened.

"Their disregard of our repeated pleas and warning of impending violence toward our community fell on deaf ears shrouded in political correctness. As a result, we have paid the ultimate price for their negligence in credibly securing our borderlands."

A rosary for Rob Krentz was recited at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Douglas, followed by a memorial Mass at Douglas High attended by more than 1,000 people.

Afterward, close friends and family went to the old Gadsden Hotel in downtown Douglas for a private get-together.

The Arizona Cattlemen's Association soon announced a reward of $15,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Rob Krentz's killer, and the federal Department of Homeland Security later added $25,000 to the kitty.

Predictably, Governor Jan Brewer—who is in a heated political fight to win the Republican primary late this summer—signed SB 1070 into law in late April. It is slated to go into effect July 29, though lawsuits have been filed seeking to enjoin the state from implementing it.

Rumors about the Krentz murder ran rampant on the Web and in print.

According to one missive, Rob's brother and best friend Phil was the real killer, for reasons unspecified.

Another spun an elaborate yarn about how Rob had come upon an illegal alien lying on the ground saying he was sick.

It held that Rob had contacted the Border Patrol for help, but the alien shot him anyway. Mortally wounded, he called the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, and several ranchers who overheard the call "drove to his location."

Rob was dead, but the ranchers tracked the killer back to the border, where they, according to the yarn, "cornered him in a bushy draw."

Somehow, the guy evaded the makeshift posse, Border Patrol helicopters and a bevy of law-enforcement agents before fleeing to Mexico.

On May 3, the Arizona Daily Star published a story headlined, "Focus In Krentz Killing on Suspect in U.S.—Authorities Say Slaying That Sparked Outcry Over Border Security Was Not Random."

The Tucson piece cited "high-ranking government officials with credible information" who had come forward as anonymous sources "citing a desire to quell the fury over illegal immigration and drug smuggling set off by the shooting of longtime rancher Robert Krentz.

"[The sources] said Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever is investigating a person in the United States, not in Mexico, in connection with the shooting."

Phoenix New Times was at Dever's office in Bisbee on the morning this story broke, and he angrily insisted it was flat wrong.

One day later, May 4, the Star published a correction:

"The story, as originally reported, said the suspect is believed to be in the United States. It was changed to 'American' in the editing process. While the suspect is believed to be in the U.S., the nationality is unknown."

It is mid-May in Cochise County.

The Krentzes have seen politicians come and go at their ranch. The pols have paid their respects and stood before cameras to decry how the feds have ceded control of the border to Mexican drug cartels.

Political posturing on the illegal-immigration issue is at an all-time high, in Arizona and nationally.

Just a few days earlier, five Arizona legislators from the Phoenix area, all conservative Republicans, dropped by to visit Sue Krentz. They were shuttled to the ranch in what Sue describes as an armored car, protected by heavily armed state troopers.

"Hope they felt safe," Sue says, smiling wryly. "They were 'fact-finding.'"

Naturally, Sue's life has been out of whack since Rob's death, and she says she hungers to find "a new normal."

But she knows that the life she knew and loved is gone, stolen from her in a moment by a murderer's bullet.

"One bad decision killed one person and impacted a lot of people for the rest of their lives," she says. "I'm a widow now—just like that. Think about it: My mom is 87, and my dad is 89, so I'm going to live 50 years or something like that by myself."

Sue is sitting at her cluttered kitchen table, which serves as the center of a whirlwind of activity.

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