Elsa Miriam Cancel had sought help from the police, consulted a lawyer and finally fled her husband. But it was not enough to stop her death.
The husband, Gabby Cancel, was arrested Friday after crossing into Mexico and is being held as a suspect in the shooting death of Miriam Cancel, 35, who was gunned down Thursday in a Santa Fe Springs clinic.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman said Gabby Cancel, 65, was taken into custody by Sheriff's Department homicide detectives, San Diego border agents and Mexican federal police, who were holding him in a Tijuana jail cell until he he could be transported to Los Angeles. It was unknown when that would happen.
Tracked Wife to Clinic
A friend of Miriam Cancel who witnessed the shooting told detectives that Gabby Cancel had tracked his wife to the Riviera Medical Clinic, demanded to see their child and then shot her three times, making good on a threat he had reportedly issued time and again.
Tensions in the Cancels' marriage had escalated in recent weeks, after Miriam Cancel discovered that her husband was simultaneously married to another woman, according to Miriam Cancel's friends and a sister.
Miriam Cancel learned of the other woman when she found income tax returns and auto insurance papers for Gabby Cancel's late-model Cadillac. The forms listed the other woman as his wife, said Miriam Cancel's sister, Norma Cuellar.
The Cancels were also fighting over custody of their 6-month-old son.
On Aug. 1, Gabby Cancel was arrested and booked on a spousal battery charge, but he made bail and was released, said Lt. Rob Watters of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division. A trial was pending.
Two weeks later, Gabby Cancel filed a petition in Superior Court seeking an order to prevent Miriam Cancel from taking their child, Gabby Jr., out of California.
Petition for Support
She was planning to counter with a petition for support and orders to keep Gabby Cancel away from her and the child, said Miriam Cancel's attorney, William Hinz.
"I've been sitting here all day, saying what could we have done? There is not anything (lawyers) can do . . . to stop someone bent on homicide," Hinz said from his office Friday afternoon. "Restraining orders are only good for someone who is law-abiding. . . . That's part of the real shame of it."
Cuellar and Carmen Semidey, a friend of Miriam Cancel and manager at the clinic, said Miriam Cancel had reported her husband's abuse to the police, had told them he was impersonating a police officer and asked that they take away his gun.
Cuellar and Semidey complained bitterly that the police "did nothing."
Lt. Watters said he was not aware of any reports from Miriam Cancel beyond the Aug. 1 arrest. But he conceded that there was little chance of arresting someone just because they make threats.
In recent weeks, Cuellar said, Gabby Cancel regularly beat his wife, disconnected the telephone, locked the doors so she could not escape and threatened her 14-year-old son with a pistol that he always carried.
"All the time, he would threaten and threaten her," Cuellar said. "If she left him, he would say he would kill her." Finally, she left two months ago, but he would continually track her down, Cuellar and Semidey said.
On Sept. 18, Gabby Cancel called the police to report that his wife and a man had pointed a gun at him. But police scoffed at the report.
"My personal belief is that he was just stating that to mitigate things in court or get even, I don't know which," Watters said.
Called Station Numerous Times
Watters said Gabby Cancel had called the police station numerous times to ask that his battery case be dropped. He had also been very angry at having been put in jail for beating his wife. "He indicated he didn't think we could do that to him," Watters said.
Gabby Cancel's lawyer in the child custody case did not return a reporter's telephone call Friday.
Those who knew the Cancels described Gabby Cancel as an apparently well-heeled businessman, a longtime resident of the area who often packed a pistol and boasted about working as a police officer. There are no records to indicate that he ever worked as a policeman.
He ran a small shop called the Botanica Broadway on Beverly Boulevard. It was closed Friday, but signs advertising medicinal herbs, candles used for religious ceremonies, incense and magical love potions could be seen through a window.
The men who work at a tire repair shop up the street from Botanica Broadway said the Cancels always seemed to get along well, that Gabby Cancel had been especially happy when Miriam Cancel was pregnant. But about three months ago, they said, the tenor changed.
"All he would talk about is how his wife had betrayed him, had taken his money, was taking the child," Daniel Mena said.
Miriam Cancel came to the United States seven years ago from her native Honduras. She met Gabby Cancel, who said he was from Puerto Rico, when she needed a notary public--a service he also provides out of the Botanica Broadway shop--and they married six years ago, Cuellar said.