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Murder in a Head Shop

Will David Cruz's killer ever be found?

By William Dean Hinton

ON MAY 10, right around 8:30pm, Jonathan Cruz dropped in on his brother at the Rainbow Smoke Shop on West San Carlos Street. Nothing much was happening that night, a Tuesday, so Jonathan hung around and the two talked about paintballing. Jonathan owns two paintball guns but David, his older brother by five years, had never traveled to the paintball battlefields.

About half an hour later, Jonathan left his brother, who was preparing to close the shop and head over to the Rainbow owner's home for dinner that night. What happened next is still somewhat of a mystery. Shortly after Jonathan departed, someone walked into the shop and killed David Cruz with a single bullet wound to the back of his head, just above the left ear. No money was taken from the register, and the store wasn't ransacked. When the owner, Suzie Andrews, was allowed back inside, a month after the shooting, everything appeared to be normal except for the bloodstain in the doorway leading to a small body-piercing room.

The killing was essentially the end of Andrew's shop. After 10 years as owner, she was afraid to be in her own store. She began carrying a .38 with hollow-point bullets and closed the Rainbow's doors two hours earlier than before David's death. She finally closed the business permanently on New Year's Eve, sticking the remaining bongs, handpipes, hookahs, T-shirts and porn tapes into storage, where they might eventually be sold on eBay.

David Cruz's killer, meanwhile, has never been identified. Police can usually determine a murder suspect within 48 hours of a shooting, even if they're unable to apprehend him. The Cruz case is approaching the nine month mark with no credible theory why David was shot.

Jonathan Cruz, who taught his brother how to pierce, believes David might have been shot execution-style. In the shop a week before the Rainbow closed, he stands in an aisle, amid the glass cases, and points to the spot where his brother was slain. Based on the location of the body and the trajectory of the bullet, Jonathan believes David was shot on his knees, facing away from the killer. He bases his conclusion in part on a fist-size hole in the wall, near the baseboard, where he says the bullet shattered once it exited David's head. Maybe David, husky and athletic, fell as he attempted to evade the shooter. Or maybe he was overtaken as he tried to wrestle the gun away. None of it makes sense because, to Jonathan's knowledge, no one wanted David Cruz dead.

"David didn't have any enemies," Jonathan says. "He didn't talk crap to people. I couldn't imagine someone doing something to him unless someone wanted to rob him, and he tried to take their gun or kick their ass or something. He was a football player. That was his attitude. He felt he could physically take care of himself."

The family likes and trusts the detective handling the case, Randy Bynum, a New Yorker who wears a cowboy hat and boots to work. Bynum, who has worked for the sheriff's office for 20 years, calls the execution theory colorful. "It's not a bad theory," Bynum says. Except that the sheriff's crime lab found no bullet or bullet holes in the wall, not even in the baseboard. In fact, the bullet never exited David's body, according to his autopsy, which determined Cruz died from a "distant range gunshot wound."

To help police obtain new leads, the Cruz family and friends have collected $50,000 reward money. "That will loosen some tongues," Det. Bynum says. "Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money."

Green Light

The Rainbow Smoke Shop was essentially a medium-size room filled with hallmarks of the counterculture. Inside its cases or posted behind the counter are references to marijuana, most notably the rainbow-colored marijuana leaf painted on the east wall. The Rainbow's owner, Suzie Andrews, has been among the leaders in the Bay Area medical marijuana movement. Last spring she halted production of a cable access television show to begin filming a full-length movie about the therapeutic value of her favorite drug. In the mid-1990s, she admitted to selling several ounces of pot out of the Rainbow before county officials denied her a marijuana dispensary license. She eventually opened a dispensary in San Francisco that has since been closed.

Running a head shop is a strange business because selling drug paraphernalia attracts an unpredictable crowd—anyone from well-groomed yuppies wearing matching North Face jackets to construction workers amped up before a smoking session. On New Year's Eve, the Rainbow's last day in business, customers constantly try to engage Andrews in conversation, as if they know her. Andrews, normally chatty and flirtatious, is in no mood for small talk. It's clear her tolerance with customers has reached a limit. "People come in here to try to hustle me," she says. "They want something for free. They want to trade, but we're not a flea market. People think there's more opportunity here. I don't understand it myself. You kind of have to be on your guard because you never know what's going to come out of their mouth."

Andrews says that over the years her store windows have been busted out, kids have ridden bikes through her front door and a friend was slashed across the stomach on the sidewalk outside. She says Cruz, who worked at the store six days a week, was usually gentler on customers than she was. "David was the nice one," she says. "I was the tyrant. I was the one who tossed them out for one reason or another."

Among the information that has filtered back to Det. Bynum is the possibility that someone from the neighborhood, possibly a gangbanger affiliated with the West Side Mob, killed Cruz, either in a mistaken act of retaliation or as an initiation ritual. Bynum has even interviewed ex-employees who, rumor had it, might have put the gangbangers up to the killing because they were jealous of Cruz's success. He had planned to buy into the Rainbow and possibly expand its operation to include cell phones and gifts.

Det. Bynum doesn't have much faith in the theory. "One of the problems with a case like this is that so many statements are out there," he says. There was a white female inside the Rainbow at the time of the shooting but Bynum calls her testimony "unreliable."

Police are reluctant to discuss the gang connection because they say it might add to the allure of gang life. But a gang-prevention counselor, who has worked at Juvenile Hall but asked not to be identified, said the Cruz shooting doesn't sound like the work of the West Side Mob, a Norteno gang that numbers about 125 members. The West Side Mob, which operates in the Burbank area and beyond, has a history of violence dating back 30 years in San Jose, usually turf wars with Surenos, though the West Side Mob occasionally fights with other Nortenos.

Assassination initiation rituals, however, are rare, especially in the Bay Area. Targets are usually selected or "greenlighted" if they interfere with the gang's drug business—selling pot and meth. "It would have to be because this person had a green light on him," the counselor said.

Orange Hair

Even so, Det. Bynum doesn't think the Cruz murder was a random act. He's convinced somebody went to the shop to commit murder. There were too many risks: businesses adjacent to the Rainbow were open and police were responding to a disturbance a few blocks away at the time of the shooting.

"We can't find any justification for this happening," says Bynum. "It's not like one bad guy was hitting another bad guy for retaliation or some guy was wrapped up in the underworld or anything like that. It doesn't have any of those earmarks. [David] wasn't trying to undercut or undertake someone's business. He had no prior fights, no disagreements—his personal life was in order. He was an average guy working in a business who gets killed while doing it."

Bynum has been hampered in part because few witnesses are willing to come forward. Most of the information he's received has been provided through family members or friends. He suspects that some witnesses are reluctant to contact him because they fear they'll be arrested on outstanding warrants. "I stress to individuals I'm not a drug cop," Bynum says. "I don't care about your warrants unless you're wanted for murder."

Bynum would like to speak to a guy who goes by the street name of Junebug. Bynum doesn't believe Junebug was the triggerman, but word on the street is that he's someone with knowledge of the murder.

"Everybody who knows Junebug doesn't know his real name," Bynum says. The detective has discovered that Junebug, an adult, black male, has spent time in Sacramento.

And so the vigil for justice continues. Two weeks ago, Jan. 23, Teresa Cruz, David's mother, visits his grave at Mission City Memorial Park as she has done nearly every Sunday since he died. The clouds hang low, there's a chill in the air, and the grass is wet enough to stick to the top of sneakers. With her are Jonathan and David's little sister, Candi, and two other members of the family. Amid the flowers and figurines at the head of the grave sits a single unopened bottle of Corona beer. The family gathers around David's grave and reminisces, an informal eulogy. They talk about how David Cruz was more like a father than a brother to Jonathan and Candi, how he once dyed his hair orange, how he reserved Sundays for football and barbecue, how he handed out candy and sodas at Easter last year. Wiping away a tear, Teresa Cruz says, "He was an outstanding person."


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From the January 26-February 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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