Originally Published: June 6, 2018 6:16 a.m.
Like their fellow Americans in Bahía de los Angeles in Mexico, part-time Prescott residents Jo Anne Butler and Ray Ball kept returning, year after year, drawn by the small-town feel, the area’s stark natural beauty, the warm Gulf of California waters that lapped almost at their door, friends said.
But the shooting deaths of the two U.S. retirees together with their dog early Saturday at their waterfront house south of town has shattered the tranquility of this community some 380 miles from the U.S. border. Sustained largely by tourism and fishing, Bahía has a year-round population of 1,000, but is also a part-time residence for more than 100 Americans, according to local authorities.
“We have no memory of having a shooting here,” said Tom Mitchell, a San Diego resident who has had a home in Bahía de los Angeles for four decades. “This has taken it to a level that no one here has experienced.”
Friends and authorities said Monday that the killings appear to be over a boat — a 22-foot McKee Craft with a Yamaha 250 outboard motor that the couple kept at their house and frequently used for fishing excursions.
“It was an attempted robbery, and an individual went to defend his property, and that’s when they shot him,” said Octavio López, the delegado, or top local government official, in a telephone interview from Bahia de los Angeles. “This is the first time we’ve had something like this happen.”
A neighbor who remained fearful and asked that his name be withheld said he had been awoken at about midnight by gunfire that “sounded like somebody pounding on a metal roof.” Looking outside, he saw a SUV pulling a boat toward the water, “and the thing just buried itself in the sand.”
Unable to move the vessel, the thieves abandoned it, said the neighbor. He then heard them fire more shots, he said.
Realizing this was Ball’s boat, two neighbors went to investigate, and found the couple’s bodies in the house, near a back door. Neighbor Roger Mears, the former off-road racing champion, was the first to discover his friends had been killed, said his wife, Carol. “This has been devastating,” she said.
An initial report by the Baja California Attorney General’s Office recorded the deaths at 2:46 a.m. Saturday. Investigators counted 18 gunshot wounds on Ball’s body, while Butler had two gunshot wounds to her left leg, the report said. Also at the scene, investigators found a dozen shell casings from a 9mm weapon.
Butler, 69, and Ball, 72, were not married but had been a couple for about 14 years. She was a former school teacher and accomplished artist, while he had worked as a contractor, and was a gifted craftsman who built custom furniture, said Bill Boyce, a friend of Ball’s since college days and part-time resident of Bahia de los Angeles since the 1980s.
“It’s so surreal and beautiful,” Boyce said of the quiet community. “Every day you wake up and it just grabs your soul.”
Jo Anne Butler wrote in a blog for family and friends that Ball had first come to Bahía in the late 1980s “and fell in love with the beauty and the world-class fishing.” After visiting in 2003, she said that she had become equally captivated.
A lifelong craftswoman specializing in stained glass, Butler wrote that “the natural beauty of this place is a constant source of ideas and inspiration.”
A year ago, she sold her house in Escondido, and they purchased a new home in Prescott but they also kept their house in Mexico.
Authorities are not discussing the chain of events leading to the killings, saying that they remain under investigation. But friends and neighbors said that it appeared that Ball had heard a noise, and gone to check, holding a bat in his hand. He apparently was shot as he opened the back door, they said.
“Ray was a guy who would have protected his place and his belongings, this was not surprising to me that he was trying to protect what he had,” said Boyce.
“This was so out of character for our community,” said Mitchell, another longtime friend and neighbor. “These guys didn’t hesitate to kill. They basically murdered both of them.”
In January, another U.S. citizen was killed in Bahía de los Angeles. Charles Crabtree was struck repeatedly with a hammer on his head and body outside his trailer in the Campo Amigo park. The 28-year-old suspect was captured, and is currently behind bars, authorities said.
On Monday, community members met with the municipal delegate, and the local police commander, pressing for a greater law enforcement presence. Bahía de los Angeles is part of the municipality of Ensenada, and on Wednesday, residents are expecting to meet with Mayor Marco Antonio Novelo.
Story and images used with permission of the San Diego Union Tribune