By Chris Parker
By Jesse Marx
By John Baichtal
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Jesse Marx
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Tatiana Craine
By Judy Keen
THE NIGHTMARE FOR David Cardenas Moreno's girlfriend's daughter began when he moved in with her mother in the summer of 2005.
Each morning, the girl's mother rose before dawn and left for work. Moreno, a small, sleepy-eyed man with a thin goatee, was left alone with the 13-year-old for hours.
One day, after weeks of uninvited groping, Moreno embraced the girl, as if for a hug. Instead, he wrestled her into his bedroom. As she struggled, he pressed her down on the mattress and wrenched down her pants. With her arms pinned to her sides, the girl was helpless as Moreno raped her. Afterward, he warned her not to tell anyone.
Over the course of the next year, she was raped by Moreno so many times that she lost count.
When the girl's mother found out, she brought the child to the police station. The cops arrested Moreno, who posted bail and skipped his court hearing.
Ramsey County Sheriff's deputies added his mug shot to their "Most Wanted" list. After four years, local law enforcement and the FBI were finally able to pinpoint his location in Mexico and extradite him to Minnesota.
This year, Moreno finally sat before a Ramsey County judge and pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct with a minor. He started an eight-year prison sentence last month.
Many people are familiar with the FBI's "Most Wanted" list that J. Edgar Hoover started on March 14, 1950, and which celebrates its 60th birthday this year. One of the original 10 was a jewel thief named William Raymond Nesbit, who was found that year hiding in a sandstone cave on the St. Paul bluffs.
There is no "Most Wanted" list for Minnesota. The list of the state's most dangerous criminals is spread across 87 sheriff's departments, hundreds of local police departments, the Department of Corrections, and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Some local law enforcement agencies maintain a formal list, but others don't, and their criteria for inclusion varies wildly.
For this list, we contacted dozens of sheriffs and police departments, FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, and state troopers. We pulled court files and discussed the cases with attorneys, law enforcement officers, and victims' advocates.
Though the stories vary, each offender has one important thing in common.
"They've gone off the radar," says Assistant Dodge County Attorney Gary ReMine. "In other words, we don't know what they're doing."
Clarification: City Pages reported that the Minneapolis Police Department had identified Johnston Bates as a witness in a probably cause statement alleging a crime committed by his cousin, Edward Francis Bates. Johnston is not the subject of any criminal complaint, nor has he been charged with any crime. Johnston's attorney points out that the victim was unable to identify Johnston in a line-up, adding: "The person who the victim misidentified as Johnston Bates drove Edward Bates' car and used Edward Bates' cell phone."
A 32-year-old woman awoke on the floor of a dark bedroom in an unfamiliar house. She had no idea how she'd gotten there or why she was naked, and a strange man was on top of her.
The evening before had started out as a typical Saturday night of drinking with friends. As the clock neared midnight, the woman was closing out the evening at Gabby's in Minneapolis when she met Johnston Bates.
Heavyset and bald, Bates bought her a drink. The rest of the evening happened in flashes. The woman remembers going outside to find her friends' car missing. She remembers returning to the bar in tears. Then she was in Bates's car.
She awoke on a carpeted floor with a man inside her. Terrified, she cried out for him to stop, but the man laughed and slammed her head into the floor.
Bates was lying next to her on the carpet and yelled at the man on top of her, convincing him to leave. After she passed out again, the woman awoke when she felt teeth sinking into her neck. When she cried out, Bates kicked the man out again.
The next morning, the woman woke up completely naked on the couch downstairs. Bates told her that the man who raped her was his cousin and roommate. Bates drove her home, asking her to forget about the whole thing.
Instead, a coworker drove her to Fairview Southdale Hospital for a sexual-assault exam. She had been raped both vaginally and anally. Her neck was covered in bite marks, she was scraped and bruised on her face, and large knots had risen on the back of her head.
"This is a delicate thing," says Brooklyn Center Police Commander Tony Gruenig, "but the exam indicated violent intercourse."
Police took a report from the victim at the hospital; the next day, a detective drove her back to the Brooklyn Center neighborhood where she identified Bates's townhouse.
Police questioned Bates as well as his cousin, Edward Francis Bates. Edward admitted he had sex with the woman, but claimed it was consensual.
Because she could not I.D. his face, DNA samples were taken and compared to the semen swabs of the rape kit. The match was Edward.
But it had been two months since his initial conversation with police, and by then he'd disappeared. Gruenig says the Bates's family ties could mean he's still in the Minnesota area.
"We always worry about people who are violent and commit sexual acts," he says. "He ought to turn himself in. He needs to take care of this. It's not going to go away."
Dale Harry Batt
To all outside appearances, Dale Batt was a well-liked middle manager at a manufacturing plant in Dodge County. But his home was a strange and violent place.
"There's a lot of really weird stuff in that file," says deputy Scott Rose.
Dale would strangle his wife Jennifer until she blacked out, wait until she came to, and then strangle her again. He would smother her with pillows, punch her, stomp on her back, and even attempted to electrocute her with a lamp cord. In one incident, Dale cut her hands with a hedge trimmer. He repeatedly told Jennifer he was going to kill her.
Just before dawn on a cold November morning in 1998, Dale came after his wife again. He climbed on top of her and pushed a pillow into her face, then wrapped his hands around her neck. As she struggled to breathe, he punched her repeatedly in the face, bruising both eyes and cutting her nose.
The attack woke the couple's daughter, who became hysterical. Dale ordered Jennifer to calm her down. But after the girl came downstairs, Dale attacked Jennifer again, screaming at her to take their daughter and leave.
At wit's end, Jennifer fled the house and called the sheriff. Dale Batt was arrested; Jennifer filed for divorce.
Dale proved to be an even more alarming character in subsequent police interviews. He talked about his interest in bomb-making, his fascination with militias and his hatred of the government. He owned several guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle.
He admitted to police that he enjoyed working with poisons like potassium cyanide and liquid nicotine. One time, he said, he filled a syringe with a homemade poison, tied it to the end of a pole, then stuck the family dog. The animal became sick but didn't die, so Dale was forced to euthanize him.
Dale was convicted of assaulting his wife, but allowed to serve his five-year sentence at home, provided he relinquish his weapons and enter a domestic-violence program. Local law enforcement muttered that he'd gotten off light.
Dale never went to his court-ordered therapy. He made it clear he would go ghost before he'd adhere to any of the court orders. When a warrant was issued for his arrest in August of 2000, Dale made good on his promise.
"He walked away," says Rose. "He left his car and all his belongings there."
Since then, there have been two sightings, one in Dodge County and another in Minneapolis. Dale is a highly certified scuba diver and has contacts in Rochester and Cass Lake. He's believed to be living under an assumed name, possibly somewhere in Minnesota.
"Obviously he has no intention of going to prison, so we have to be very cautious," Rose says. "He's a very unpredictable guy."
Crushed into the backseat of a car, parked in a field miles away from where she wanted to be, a 14-year-old girl fought to keep her pants up.
Francisco Chapa, a baby-faced 19-year-old with a long black braid down the back of his head, was on top of her. Outside the car, three of his friends stood guard.
Chapa lived in a chaotic household in Blue Earth with his brothers and parents. Fifteen years later, Chief Dean Vereide of the Blue Earth Police can still recall the address of the family's duplex—long ago razed to the ground.
"He kept us busy in the '90s," he says. "He was what I would consider a career criminal, even back then—burglaries, thefts, drugs."
It had been an uneventful Saturday evening. The girl and her friend sat idly on the steps of the local insurance agent's office building in downtown St. James. They'd noticed that four men in an old red hatchback had driven past a couple of times. When the driver pulled up and offered a ride, the 14-year-old took them up on their offer.
Once in the car, sandwiched between two men in the backseat, it didn't take long for the girl to realize she was in over her head. When the men told her they were driving her to another town 15 minutes away, she said she didn't want to go. Chapa kept going. She leaned forward and yanked back on his ponytail, demanding he turn the car around. Chapa did, but turned down a county road.
Chapa pulled over into an isolated field. The four men got out of the car and talked while the girl stayed inside. Eventually, one of the men got into the backseat with her and demanded she take off her pants. When she refused, he shoved her down, bashing her head on the window.
"Watch out, she's a smart one," the man yelled to his friends.
Chapa was next. He smelled awful—the odor made her nauseous. After penetrating her briefly, Chapa got up and the girl tried to pull her pants up. He told her not to bother—they weren't finished with her yet.
Finally, after all four men had raped her, Chapa drove the girl back to St. James. Before she got out, they warned her to keep her mouth shut.
"You know what will happen," one warned.
She initially kept it quiet, fearing retaliation, but when rumors began circulating around school, a counselor called her into the office and she broke down.
When Chapa found out the cops were looking for him, he hit the road. He made it as far as Kansas City before the FBI caught up to him. Yet he managed to escape capture by diving out of a second-story window.
But when he returned to Blue Earth to see a girlfriend, police collared him. Chapa was convicted of third-degree sexual assault and sent to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. He served two years and was released to community supervision in 2000. That's when he went on the lam.
Although Police Chief Vereide has had leads from all over the country, including North Carolina and Kansas City, he believes Chapa could return to Minnesota to visit family.
"Any time you have a third-degree sex offender, they're the most likely to reoffend," Vereide says. "To be honest, we didn't think he could stay out of trouble long enough."
Matthew Eric Linngren
Matthew Eric Linngren was a trusted friend to the kids at his Columbia Heights Lutheran church. The 25-year-old was the church's youth director and spent many hours alone with his young charges.
Linngren became particularly close with one 10-year-old boy. The two shared family through marriage, and would sometimes see one another outside of church.
Linngren asked the boy to help him plan a special summer event. He suggested they stay overnight at the church to work on it. They slept in Linngren's office.
As the boy awoke the next morning, he felt Linngren's hands under his clothes. He thought Linngren was trying to touch his penis.
The boy said nothing, but avoided Linngren from then on. It wasn't until five years later that the boy told Anoka County deputies what had happened.
After a contentious trial that split the community and the Linngren family, Linngren took a plea without having to admit his guilt.
"This has drug on far too long and should never have been brought in the first place," he told the court.
The judge gave him two years probation.
The case might have evaporated from memory were it not for a special FBI investigation into child porn on the internet. They zeroed in on Linngren for a cache of images he was sharing with about a dozen members of a Yahoo group. All told, Linngren had distributed 600 images of young boys in sexual situations.
Linngren turned on his former employer and blamed the Missouri Synod Church. He was gay, he contended, and the repression was why he was acting out.
The judge showed little sympathy in handing down a 15-year sentence earlier this year.
Soon after, the 38-year-old Linngren sent his friends and family a letter explaining that he would never survive prison. He wasn't going to stick around to find out. A week before he was to report to U.S. Marshals, his electronic monitoring bracelet alerted authorities he'd gone off the grid.
U.S. Marshals are particularly concerned about the case because of Linngren's careful planning.
"This could be a tricky one for us," says U.S. Deputy Marshal Kelly Sullivan. "He's just not your average criminal."
Curtis Lee Brovold
After months of her 14-year-old daughter's secretive behavior, the mother decided she had to know the truth.
As she clicked through the girl's emails, she found a series of messages sent to the same address. When she opened a drawer, she found a computer disk containing naked photos of her daughter. The girl had been sending them to a supposedly 29-year-old man.
"The mother was really on the ball," says Moorhead Police Juvenile Investigator Robert Porter. "But she couldn't piece it together fast enough."
Six months prior, the girl had met a charming guy in an online chat room. As their relationship grew, he began sending her phone cards to pay for calls to his home in Granite Falls. He sent flowers and chocolate.
Then he sent her a digital camera and asked her for naked pictures.
Finally, in July 2000, the man flew to Moorhead, rented a truck, and drove to a motel. The girl agreed to meet him at a nearby gas station.
After the girl's mom discovered the photos, she called the police. She gave cops the name of a hotel she'd found scrawled on a piece of paper in the girl's room. The desk clerk reported the girl had arrived with an older man, and that they had just switched to the Jacuzzi suite.
Officers knocked on the suite door. Two voices, one male and one female, went quiet. The cops knocked again. The door remained dead-bolted. A police officer tried to kick it in. Only then did the bolt slide back and the door open.
Standing in the frame was 47-year-old Curtis Lee Brovold, a tall man with sunken blue eyes and a shock of blonde hair. Behind him was the 14-year-old girl.
"She was protective of him. I think at the time she still thought there was a relationship," says Porter.
But as the day wore on, she finally admitted they'd had sex. Brovold was arrested. After his arraignment, he returned to his home in Granite Falls, packed a few belongings, and fled.
Even after an appearance on America's Most Wanted, the case remains unsolved. Porter sees it as an early harbinger of the internet's influence on child sex trafficking.
"Ten years ago, you weren't thinking about this, and here this guy was already doing it," he says. "I don't think he's stopped. I think he's still out there abusing children."
Oscar Michael Trevino, 57, was a short man with a creased, mustachioed face. The school bus driver lived quietly in the Blooming Prairie area for years and was an active member of its close-knit Hispanic community.
"I never saw him in any situation where we thought he was a predator," says Blooming Prairie Police Chief Paul Wayne.
What Trevino was hiding shocked the community: He'd been carrying on a relationship with a 13-year-old girl who rode his bus.
He had purposely altered his route in order to take her home last. Instead of bringing her directly to her stop, he'd drive her to a secluded dirt road.
He told her she should be his girlfriend. He started kissing her and fondling her under her clothes. Eventually, he started having sex with her on the bus before taking her home.
"To call it a seduction is kind," says Gary ReMine, the county attorney who prosecuted Trevino. "It's really an evil process."
Trevino pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and got 180 days in jail. Sheriff's deputies grumbled that he should've done hard time, but in an effort to protect the girl from taking the stand, the prosecution was content to let him plead to lesser charges.
Soon after he hit the streets, Trevino took off.
There have been a few sightings since. Chief Wayne is almost certain he saw Trevino driving in a car with children just before he disappeared. But it happened while he was at the scene of a serious auto accident and couldn't leave.
The memory still haunts him, Wayne says. "I just don't trust him. That predatory behavior is a scary thing."
Local DEA agents arrived at the third floor apartment following up on a rumor. Receiving no response when they knocked, the agents went in, where they made a stomach-turning discovery.
Somehow the two full-grown men—one 32, the other 29—had been strangled to death in their East St. Paul apartment.
A friend of the two men told police there had been a party in the apartment the night of the murders. That led police to Epitacio Maleno Duarte, a grim-faced 29-year-old. Duarte admitted he knew both victims and had been in the apartment the night they died, but insisted he had no idea what had happened.
As an investigation progressed, the cops found out that the DEA had been watching Duarte on suspicion of dealing meth.
But by then Duarte's apartment had been cleared out. He fled with his wife and infant in a tan Chevy Tahoe. Duarte may still be in Minnesota, though he may have run to Mexico.
"This is a level of violence that we haven't seen in our town," says Lynch. "That's a level that is more commonly seen on some of the border towns in Mexico."
Michael Duong's family saw him as the embodiment of their American dream. The son of immigrant parents from Southeast Asia, he was doing well at Highland Park Junior High, making friends and getting good grades. All that changed in an instant—and all because he wore the color red.
A small, thin, 13-year-old boy with black hair, Duong was outside talking to a girl, wearing the school colors of Highland High School, when he was spotted by Hugo Zavala.
Zavala was at the wheel of a friend's truck, just back from a drug buy and cruising the streets of St. Paul with two fellow members of the Suñeno 13 street gang and two girls. Zavala slowed the car.
"Look at that Blood, look at that Blood," Zavala said, pointing to Duong.
"Are you a Blood?" another asked.
Before Duong could answer, a bat smashed him in the head.
"He is not a Blood!" Duong's friend screamed.
"Shut up, bitch," they spat back, bringing the bat across her back.
As they kicked Duong, he began to seize. Only then did the crew pile back into the car, believing their victim was dying.
As Duong was rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull, ruptured spleen and brain swelling, Zavala and his friends returned to a party. They bragged about the attack and wondered aloud if they ought to kill the two girls who had witnessed the crime from the truck.
"We thought Michael was going to die," says Rome Hanson, the executive director of the Ben Doran Foundation, a victims' support group that drummed up reward money for the capture of Duong's attackers. "He was in really bad shape."
Zavala's roommate told police that he packed up his belongings two days later and left town. While the other attackers were caught and pleaded guilty to attempted murder, Zavala seemingly fell off the face of the planet.
Although Duong survived, he'll never be the same. In a statement read to his two convicted attackers, he wrote, "I do things very slow and it makes me feel uneasy. I feel like the world is putting weight on me."
Jimmi Charly Cruz-Garcia
In a field down a secluded county road, an 18-year-old woman called for help. No one could hear her. The man who'd forced her there, 27-year-old Jimmi Charly Cruz-Garcia, had taken her cell phone from her. He beckoned her back to his car.
The girl was an exchange student living with a local family. She and Cruz-Garcia, a dark-eyed man from San Salvador, took English classes together at a community center. One day after class, he asked if she'd like to get something to eat.
After 10 minutes in the car, she began to wonder why Cruz-Garcia was driving away from civilization. She asked to go back, but he said he only wanted to talk. Frightened, she texted a friend, saying she was being kidnapped.
Cruz-Garcia parked the car and began groping her. When she ran again, he chased her and dragged her back by her clothes.
In the car, he forced her to give him oral sex. Afterward, she was sobbing so hard that he stopped the attack.
The car had become stuck in the field. Cruz-Garcia asked a friend to pick them up, and the two men drove her back to Rochester. On the way, he snapped her cell phone into pieces and threw them out the window. When they let her out, she ran directly to a nearby motel, where the clerk called 911.
Police found the car still stuck in the field, but neither Cruz-Garcia nor his friend were ever located. Rossman says the brazen nature of Cruz-Garcia's attack is what makes him so dangerous.
"Obviously he's a violent person," he says. "He'll do it again if he's not prosecuted."
It was 3 a.m. when the 13-year-old girl's bedroom door swung open. She awoke to find her stepfather, Elias Cruz Torres, standing beside her bed holding a knife.
"It must have seemed to the victim like a violent attack that came out of nowhere," says Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner.
Holding her at knifepoint, he raped her. Afterward, he stashed the knife under the girl's bed and left the room.
The next evening, Torres was left alone with his stepdaughter. He told her he would kill her if she didn't get into his car. He drove her from her home in St. Paul to a building in Minneapolis where he worked as a cleaner. Forcing her into an empty room, he raped her again.
Meanwhile, the girl's mother had become concerned. She called their mutual employer, who drove to Torres's house in St. Paul, where the girl was found sobbing and shaking.
The cops arrived, and the girl was taken to Regions Hospital. Torres didn't come home and was never heard from again.
"There are fugitives, and then there are FUGITIVES, in all capital letters," says Gaertner. "This is the kind of crime that we would prosecute vigorously, no matter how long it takes to find the defendant."