INDIO — A young man in a local restaurant is chatting. "We were out in Berdoo Canyon, up where they found that boy's body," he says.
"That boy?" snaps a woman sitting across from him. "His name is Anthony."
Two months after the bound body of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez was found in a desert ravine, 70 miles east of where he was kidnapped from behind his Beaumont home, his name and face are far from forgotten. And the search for his killer is far from over.
"Anthony is every son and daughter who plays in the back yard, which should be a place of safety," said Capt. Ron Dye of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, the lead agency in a task force to find the killer. "We want this guy bad. If he beats us, he beats every cop in California."
The Indio-based 20-member task force has looked at 16,000 leads, made more than 100,000 phone calls and logged 10,229 work hours.
A fingerprint that can identify the killer. But no one has found the man, or even a name, to match the print. "I can't tell you how many hundreds of thousands of prints are in the system. You'd think out of this massive database a guy like this would be there. He may never have been arrested," said Walt Watkins, a sheriff's detective who leads the task force.
Watkins, a blue-eyed man with a shock of white hair and a long mustache, has both the plain-spoken manner--and the look--of Mark Twain. "I don't have fancy degree upon fancy degree. I can't tell you whether this guy liked his mother," Watkins said. "But I do know he'll do it again."
Two lists, written on a board, sum up the chase so far.
In the column entitled "We Have" is: fingerprints, DNA (hair), trace fibers, determination and resources. Under "Suspect Has," all the words are followed by question marks: No record? No prints in system? Family protection? Job?
The 20 investigators are in the windowless basement of an abandoned courthouse, meticulously reading and rechecking the work done on every lead. For the next two weeks, they will concentrate on two questions: Did we miss something? And, have we already talked to this guy?
"This is the nuts and bolts. Even from our perspective, the amount of paper and time is boggling," said Sgt. Skip Royer. "It's mind-numbing when you look at where we've been and what we've done. And, at this point, we still have a question mark.
"But you stay focused. You think of Anthony . . . " he said as his voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears. And then he said what so many people say after a show of emotion about Anthony: "I'm sorry, but I have a son about that age."
Anthony was abducted April 4. A man described as white, with a slender build and blue eyes approached five children and asked them to help him find his lost kitten. After two children ran away in fear, the kidnapper pulled a knife out of his waistband, grabbed Anthony and fled in a four-door, white sedan.
The small blue-collar town of Beaumont drew together, plastering the town with yellow ribbons and signs that said, "We love you, Anthony."
The FBI joined local police in a frenzied search for the boy.
Hope ended April 20 when the town learned that a body found half-buried in a pile of rocks was Anthony.
Now a couple of times a week someone or another stops by City Hall to pick up a new box of fliers, the ones that read: "Help us catch a killer."
"It's just individual citizens, nothing organized," said Bob Sherwood, Beaumont's community affairs director. "But you'll notice that the fliers you see everywhere aren't worn or ragged. This town will not forget."
Summer vacation for Beaumont's schoolchildren started last week and many of them are spending it in the community pool two blocks from Anthony's house.
An hour and a half away, in a basement of fluorescent lights, Watkins is settling in for the long haul.
"He's going to make a mistake and we'll be there" he said of the killer. "I don't want him to sleep. I want him to lay awake 24 hours wondering when we're going to knock on his door. The big fear is not whether we're going to catch him--we will. The fear is whether we find him before he tries this again."