Though fictional, Stephen Ringler’s novel Fled to Mexico was inspired by true and deadly murders in Santa Barbara, where at least six homicides have been committed by foreign nationals who later fled across the Mexican border, where they presumably remain free today.
“A few years ago, I saw a front page article above the fold of the Santa Barbara News-Press with the facial photos of the six known killers who had committed homicides in Santa Barbara,” explained Ringler. “They had passed into Mexico and disappeared. They had literally gotten away with murder.”
He began thinking that, if this could happen in a “peaceful city” like Santa Barbara, it was probably happening elsewhere, too. “What about large cities with a closer proximity to the Mexican border?” he wondered. “How many murders have they witnessed?”
Ringler’s curiosity took him to the office of the Santa Barbara Police Department’s Detective Tim Roberts, who was working those six “fled-to-Mexico,” or FTM, cases. Roberts met with continued resistance by the Mexican government, which cited its constitution and discretionary extradition treaty as reasons to keep the known killers from U.S. law enforcement.
Ringler also checked out other jurisdictions throughout California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. “When I turned to the U.S. Department of Justice, I discovered FTM data far beyond capital felony homicides to unfortunately include egregious and violent FTM cases of child molestation, forcible rape, kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault crimes numbering in the hundreds,” he said. “Our U.S. justice system has become emasculated, rendered neutered to enforce the law of the land by an ineffectual extradition treaty with Mexico who will protect their criminal citizens from U.S. justice at all costs.” Such frustration was shared by every law enforcement officer and Department of Justice official Ringler met, including members of the U.S. Border Patrol, DEA, ICE, Texas Rangers, and many others.
“Then I had to find a solution to this ongoing injustice,” explained Ringler of why he started to write his novel. “In fiction, I’d be able to create an action/adventure themed around the murders to raise awareness of the real-life crimes.”
Entertaining and well-written, Fled to Mexico follows a group of retired Delta Special Forces agents tracking the murderers in Mexico with spy techniques and reconnaissance knowledge. “It was a difficult balance to achieve,” Ringler said, “to keep the subject matter serious but the story entertaining.”
Ringler succeeds in interacting with his subject matter because of his respect for realism. “My 10 years of Mexican residency provided me with an intimate knowledge of the country and culture in all 32 states of the republic,” said Ringler. “My local research there for my first book, Discovering Mexico City, gave me a primary foundation for a Fled To Mexico subplot revealing corruption between two opposing criminal justice systems. The knowledge also helped me flesh out the novel in interesting ways.”
Unfortunately, the number of FTM homicide fugitives continue to rise. “Though the increased awareness of the crimes have begun to bring about changes in U.S. law,” said Ringler, “the search for justice has become a Herculean odyssey, both in the novel and in the real world.”