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May 19, 2004

TRAVERSE CITY: Two bodies found

photo
Record-Eagle/John L. Russell
State police use a metal detector to search an area west of Omena. Area residents said police have conducted air and ground searches in the northern part of Leelanau County after a blood-spattered car riddled with bullet holes was found.


Victims linked to bullet-riddled rental car

By
Record-Eagle staff writer
and

By
Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - "Oh God. Oh God."
      Angie Longoria could barely get the words out over the phone from her Dallas home when told her brother, Manuel, had been found in a shallow grave in Leelanau County alongside missing Raul G. Ramirez.
      "Everybody is falling apart right now," Angie Longoria said, fighting through tears. "They kept telling us he was still alive, but I called the FBI today and they were about to come to my house and tell me he was gone."
      Authorities have been searching for Ramirez, 58, since May 12 after his deserted rental car was found in Bingham Township riddled with three bullet holes fired from inside the car, as well as traces of blood.
      State police said the bodies were discovered Monday evening in rural Leelanau County after a state police helicopter spotted the shallow grave several miles from where the car was discovered.
      Bob Weaver, an Omena fruit farmer, said police searched several barns and other agricultural buildings in southern Leelanau Township since Sunday, apparently looking for clues associated with the homicide.
      "They were searching every barn up and down this road," Weaver said, adding that police have been "combing" the area.
      "It's kind of scary. That's not supposed to happen up here."
      Longoria said she was told by FBI officials early Tuesday afternoon that her brother, 34, had been identified as one of the two dead men.
      Police officials say Ramirez apparently rented the car at O'Hare Airport in Chicago and checked into a Traverse City hotel that same day - the last day police have a report of him being seen.
      Lt. William Elliott, commander of the Michigan State Police post in Traverse City, said during a press conference that drugs may be involved in the double homicide and that the Drug Enforcement Agency offered information about Ramirez, who apparently has had past run-ins with the law for trafficking narcotics.
      Police discovered no drugs or weapons at the scene. Currently, the men's bodies are undergoing autopsies to determine the exact methods used to kill them.
      Elliott said police are now looking for Matthew O'Non, a known acquaintance of Ramirez, and Kristen Drow. Both Leelanau County residents are wanted for questioning in connection with the two deaths.
      Elliott said repeated attempts by police to track down O'Non or Drow have been unsuccessful. The two are believed to be traveling in Drow's 2000 Saturn SL1, a four-door car silver in color with Michigan plates UST-662.
      O'Non has a criminal record, pleading guilty four years ago to a charge of breaking and entering in Leelanau County. Subsequent probation violations, including an assault charge in late 2001, led to a state prison sentence in 2002, according to court records.
      Angie Longoria contacted the Record-Eagle on Monday from her home in Dallas, fearing the worst after reading about the missing Ramirez. Family members said Manuel Longoria left Texas with Ramirez on a train and hadn't been in contact since April 27.
      She said she was afraid her brother may have gotten involved in selling drugs in northern Michigan and that one family member said Longoria talked of coming to this area to pick up close to $20,000.
      Pat Jellerson, a family friend in Niagara Falls, N.Y., said members of Longoria's family there confirmed to him that the amount involved could be as much as $200,000 for an apparent "drug deal."
      Jellerson said Longoria has a brother who is a business owner and is a "prominent" resident of Niagara Falls.
      Angie Longoria described her brother, Manuel, as a happy man who had made some mistakes in his life but was a dedicated father with two grown children, a 6-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter.
      "When the FBI asked me for a photo of him, all the pictures I have he was always joking around," she said. "He was a nice man. He wasn't a violent man. When it came to arguments or fights, he was too afraid."
     

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