The fugitive and the chameleon

Fifty years ago, a shooting that nearly killed police officer Daril Cinquanta set in motion a decadeslong chase across the American West

The fishing rods were already in the van when Mario Montoya and his father, Ramon, pulled out of the driveway. An elementary school in northern New Mexico, where the Montoyas lived in the late 1980s, had once used the vehicle, an old, powder-blue Ford Econoline, for deliveries, so there were no back seats. Mario often rode on the floor, leaning against a wall as the Econoline creaked around corners. But on fishing days like this, when father and son ventured to the lakes north of Santa Fe or along the Rio Grande, Mario sat up front, next to his dad. 

Radio tuned to a local Spanish-language station, the van’s faded plaid orange curtains swaying as Ramon cranked the wheel, they reached this day’s spot: a bank near the river’s bend. The Black Mesa loomed nearby, rising from the desert shrubs.

Mario, 10, knew how to catch a fish. How to gut it and clean it. The Montoyas didn’t have a lot of money. Ramon cobbled together odd jobs, laying flagstone, building fences, fixing cars. He and Mario often spent entire days trying to catch their next meal. Dinner that night could be meager if they didn’t, so both were attuned to the familiar tug on the line when their prey had taken the bait. But this afternoon the tug at Ramon’s line didn’t come from a trout. 

Instead, an eel, slick and spectral, maybe two feet long, zagged just below the water’s surface. “Get the net,” Ramon yelled, “get the net.” The boy scooped the black, squirming creature out of the river only to watch it slide through a hole in the nylon net and writhe at his feet. Ramon quickly dropped his rod and grabbed the eel with two hands. But it escaped again, slipping from Ramon’s grip. 

As the eel disappeared back into the water, Mario stood wide-eyed and, not for the first time, in awe of his father. Ramon Montoya was always quick to action. Yet he was a careful man, so slow to trust other people, watching strangers warily, listening quietly. He hated to draw attention to himself. Mario would eventually develop the sense that his dad was always looking over his shoulder. 

What Mario didn’t know at the time, as they stood at the river’s edge, stalking their own quarry, was that, beyond the Black Mesa and the desert, up north in the Rockies, someone was hunting Ramon Montoya. 

Not Ramon Montoya exactly. Mario’s father had gone by many names. Luis Archuleta. Lawrence Pusateri. The man the son knew as Ramon was just a fraction of his way into what may be one of the longest fugitive runs in U.S. history — a 50-year game of cat-and-mouse that played out across the West, from the streets of Colorado to the shores of California and many dusty, sun-bleached points in between.

A young Daril Cinquanta photographed during his time at the Denver Police Academy in 1970.
Denver Police Academy cadet Daril Cinquanta, 1970

In this saga of mixed identities, not even the identity of Ramon’s pursuer is fixed. Daril Cinquanta, a one-time “super cop” who waged a half-century campaign to collar Mario’s father, cultivated a crime- thriller-ready persona he characterized as “chameleon.” 

“Mario would eventually develop the sense that his dad was always looking over his shoulder.”

Over time, one thing became certain, a part of verifiable history, stamped into the public record. In the fall of 1971, the man eventually known as Ramon Montoya shot the man known then as officer Daril Cinquanta during a brief encounter in Denver. Cinquanta bled in the street. Montoya ran. Like a modern Inspector Javert, forever in pursuit of his Jean Valjean, the cop didn’t let up. And just as in Victor Hugo’s famous tale, the two men became locked in a chase that spanned decades, each changing through the years to adapt to the circumstances. 

Caught in the middle was a son whose own identity would come unglued. Because Mario Montoya, who grew up listening to Spanish-language radio and identified as Hispanic, whose surname suggests a Latino ancestry, had another lineage. His father, it turned out, wasn’t Hispanic at all.

Depending on which record you consult, an FBI bulletin or the recollections of an old friend, Mario’s father was born Lawrence Pusateri in Brooklyn, New York, or the Bronx, on Jan. 6, 1943. Italian immigrants like his parents settled in both New York boroughs. But the Pusateris didn’t stay. When he was still a child he moved to California, where his mother, Ida, remarried a man from East Los Angeles. 

That part of the city drew immigrants from around the world, but it was slowly becoming a Mexican American neighborhood. Many migrants to the United States were drawn to the affordable housing and jobs in East LA, which had a reputation for being more welcoming to outsiders than elsewhere in the city. Pusateri learned Spanish and assimilated with the culture. He started to identify as a Chicano. The word was once a pejorative for someone of Mexican descent born in the United States, but by the 1960s, it had been embraced by political activists seeking social justice.

The Southwest Detour is back
The dreams he carried

Pusateri believed in this movement advocating for civil rights for Chicanos. But he also got in trouble. Arrested before he turned 16, he dropped out of high school. In June 1964, at age 21, he was convicted of burglary. In 1966, and again in 1967, he was convicted of possession of narcotics. In 1970, he was convicted once more of both burglary and drug charges and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. 

More than a year into his sentence, at a low-security facility for non-violent offenders in Vallecito, Pusateri hatched what would be the first of two escapes.

One spring day in 1971, he tucked pillows under a blanket so that it looked like he was lying in bed and slipped away. Maybe he walked 80 miles to Sacramento or disappeared into the pine trees to the east. By the time anyone noticed he was missing, Pusateri was far enough away that authorities couldn’t find him. Eventually, he made it to Denver, where Crusade for Justice, a Chicano rights organization, was based.  

Both Italians and Mexicans lived in the Sunnyside neighborhood in North Denver. A small green space in the community was called Columbus Park, named for the Italian explorer. But it was central to the Chicano movement, and even the police called it “La Raza Park.” When Pusateri showed up, he introduced himself as Luis Archuleta. No one suspected he was Italian. Everybody liked the eager newcomer. He wore a Crusade for Justice pin on a green cap. They called him Tingo.

He was out one night in October 1971 with another activist when the men met two women. They decided to go to the Quigg Newton housing project not far from La Raza Park. The next morning, Archuleta and the women were sitting and talking outside the project in a Chevy that one of the women owned. 

That’s when patrolman Cinquanta drove by. 

Half a century earlier, another family embarked for the United States from Italy. Joseph Cinquanta and his wife moved to Ridgway, Pennsylvania, where, in 1917, they had a son, Frank. He married another Italian immigrant, Rosetta. In 1948, Dario Francis Cinquanta was born. But Frank and Rosetta’s love story wasn’t a long one; she left, and he leaned on his mother and brothers to help raise his son. When Dario was seven, they all moved together to Riverside, California. A few years later, they settled in Colorado. 

Retired police officer, Daril Cinquanta, who was shot by Lawrence Pusateri in 1971.
Daril Cinquanta

The Cinquantas were a restaurant family. In Riverside they ran an Italian spot called the Alpinian, and in Boulder, Dario helped his dad and uncle haul rocks to cobble together a new establishment. He peeled potatoes for the family recipes the Matterhorn served. At night, they all slept upstairs. 

Dario was a mischievous boy, sneaking Communion wafers and wine at the Catholic school where he attended elementary school. The nuns ruled with yardsticks and rubber-tipped pointers, and they twisted Dario’s ears and slapped his hands, but it didn’t inhibit his increasingly wild behavior. In fourth grade he was expelled for sneaking to the neighboring junior high school and getting into a fight.  

Public school didn’t suit him any better. He got into more scuffles and was kicked out of Fairview High School, bouncing to Boulder High School for his senior year. But before he could get his diploma, he was expelled again, “for being wild, drag racing, drinking beer and smoking in the parking lot,” he later wrote.

He wasn’t a likely candidate to become a police officer; he had racked up so many tickets that he lost his driver’s license. But a cousin encouraged him to apply to police academies. He got his GED and when he started as a cadet at the Denver Police Training Academy, in March 1970, he was no longer Dario, a name he had always hated. He was Daril.

In a photo the department took of the 21-year-old recruit, Daril Cinquanta smiles shyly, eyes cast to something outside of the frame, hair swept neatly to the side. A badge gleams on his breast  —  number 7014. He was excited. Back then, he recalls, police were treated with respect and were “liked by citizens and feared by bad guys.” Cinquanta wanted to catch “bad guys.” 

Patrolling District One in North Denver one day, he thought he saw one. 

Cinquanta’s shift was almost over on Oct. 3, 1971, when he stopped to get doughnuts and chocolate milk at Winchell’s. It was a gloomy, cold morning, and he wanted to pick up a newspaper at Sunnyside Drug. He planned to go to his dad and stepmother’s house later to see the brothers and sisters who came along after his dad remarried. Most Sundays, they gathered for a spaghetti dinner. 

He was about a block from the drugstore when he passed a black Chevy parked outside of the Quigg Newton project. The man in the passenger seat was sporting sunglasses and a green cap that Cinquanta thought looked like something Fidel Castro would wear. He had a goatee. And, Cinquanta would later say, the man didn’t turn to look at him.

Cinquanta parked, walked up to the front passenger window and asked the man for identification. He acted like he didn’t understand, speaking with what Cinquanta thought was a Mexican accent. Then he handed the officer a wallet. Inside was a Social Security card. The name on it, “Luis R. Archuleta.” 

Cinquanta told him to get out. 

He wanted to pat the man down to make sure he didn’t have any weapons. That’s when the man drew a revolver, he said. Cinquanta punched him. The sunglasses and hat went flying. Then there was a shot and the man sprinted away. Cinquanta crawled, bleeding, to the radio in his cruiser and called for help. Collapsed in the car, he listened for the sirens.

The bullet had ripped through his uniform, his liver, out his back. Medics rushed him to Denver General Hospital, and he was wheeled into surgery in critical condition. The mayor and police chief stopped by. His dad and stepmom brought spaghetti and meatballs. By Wednesday, Cinquanta had recovered enough to give interviews. 

He told the Denver Post he was touched that so many people had inquired about his health. He said he was eager to return to police work. And when a Rocky Mountain News reporter asked if he would feel animosity toward Chicanos, considering the man who had shot him had been identified as one, he shook his head. 

“I don’t think so,” Cinquanta said. “That would be like hating all cops because a person had a run-in with a bad one.”

Archuleta slipped across the U.S.-Mexico border, where he was arrested in Monterrey in December 1971, two months after the shooting. He claimed he was tortured as a suspected soldier in the guerrilla army of a Mexican revolutionary — according to Chicano historian and activist Ernesto Vigil — but court records state that he was picked up on drug trafficking charges. He spent about six months in jail there before Mexican authorities delivered him to Denver police officers waiting on the other side of the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas. 

FBI Bulletin for Luis Archuleta (AKA Lorenzo Pusateri) four years after his second prison escape.
FBI bulletin for Archuleta (AKA Pusateri), four years after his second prison escape

In photos taken around that time, the goatee was gone. A thick mustache hung heavy over his lip. The Denver County District Attorney’s Office charged Archuleta with assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon and assault with the intent to murder. Prosecutors alleged that he had shot Cinquanta with “no considerable provocation” and that the circumstances of the shooting “showed an abandoned and malignant heart.” 

They had also figured out who he was. The criminal complaint against Archuleta included an alias: “AKA Lawrence Pusateri.” 

He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and at one point his public defenders sought unsuccessfully to change his name in the case. His actual name, according to the motion that was filed, was Lorenzo — not Lawrence. His lawyers argued that he had only ever used the name Lorenzo Pusateri, and that charging him as Luis Archuleta denied him his constitutional right to a fair trial. It was the prosecution’s job to prove that he was Luis Archuleta if the state wanted a conviction, they said. 

Among the witnesses Denver County paid to fly to Colorado for the trial was a woman from Montebello, California: Pusateri’s mother, Ida Ortado. Prosecutors asked her to identify a child in the photo found in the wallet handed to Cinquanta before the shooting. According to the officer, who was in the room that day, Ida said it was Larry Jr., a son Pusateri had back in LA.

Cinquanta also testified during the trial, and the jury listened to a recording of him crying for help when he radioed dispatch after he was shot. He showed jurors where the bullet tore through his body. On March 13, 1973, the jury found Archuleta guilty of assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon but acquitted him of assault to murder.  

His lawyers appealed to the judge. In the weeks after the shooting, they said, Cinquanta initially identified another person as the shooter. He also said during a cross-examination that he didn’t even see a gun until after “he had struck the person who later assaulted him,” according to the lawyers. The judge nevertheless sentenced Archuleta to nine and a half to 14 years in prison. He would be eligible for parole in 1978. 

He wasn’t going to wait around that long.

On Aug. 15, 1974, Pusateri and four other incarcerated men arrived at Colorado State Hospital in Pueblo for medical appointments. There were only two corrections officers accompanying them, but Pusateri and at least one other man, Sidney Riley, were shackled with irons around their arms and legs. 

Daril Cinquanta photographed at the Denver Police Department in 1974, three years after he was shot by Lawrence Pusateri.
Daril Cinquanta nearly three years after the shooting

One of the officers, Henry Schulze, had left the room where the men were waiting when the second officer, Stanley Thomas, told Pusateri he could use the restroom. One minute passed and then another. Thomas noticed that the restroom door was open but Pusateri didn’t emerge. As he approached he heard Pusateri asking for help. But when he reached the door, Pusateri was pointing a weapon at him. Somehow the inmate had acquired a revolver. He ordered Thomas into the restroom and used the arm and leg irons he had been wearing to restrain him. Then he stuffed a handkerchief in Thomas’ mouth. 

Schulze was returning to the waiting room when he encountered Riley, who had also obtained a gun. As he marched Schulze down the hallway, Pusateri joined them and they nudged Schulze into the restroom with Thomas and then fled through a back door. 

How Pusateri and Riley got their weapons, and whether they had help, is unclear. But a witness said they saw a brown sedan pull away with the men in it. Police in Pueblo recovered the stolen car, and a few days later, Denver officers arrested Riley. But Pusateri got away again. 

Lawrence Pusateri — Luis Archuleta — vanished. But another man emerged: Ramon Montoya. And within a few years, around the time the FBI was putting out a wanted poster for the prison escapee, Montoya had met and married his wife, Darlene. The couple had three children: Mario, the eldest, and two girls. The family moved again and again and again. 

One house didn’t have running water, and Mario would splash himself with well water to bathe. Their food came from fish they caught or animals Ramon would slaughter in the yard. If they needed wood to warm their home, Ramon would chop it. Sometimes, if Mario misbehaved, his dad would send him to swing the ax instead. But Mario loved splitting the logs outside. Ramon, meanwhile, never seemed quite content. 

As a kid, Mario was often left alone. His parents didn’t ask him how school went, he says, and if he needed help with his homework, he would read and reread the material to try to understand. Like his father, he could be solitary. Like his father, he didn’t like to stand out. Still, Ramon kept a close circle of friends, and he was loyal to them. Sometimes, they would play music; Ramon took his guitar nearly everywhere. He loved to play “Stand by Me,” by Ben E. King, and he crooned “Amarillo by Morning,” a bittersweet tune about a down-on-his-luck rodeo cowboy still holding his head high.    

Mario’s parents separated around the time he was in third grade, and he moved in with his grandmother, though he still saw his dad on weekends. The contrast between the two homesteads was stark. In his grandmother’s fridge, Mario would find deli meat from the grocery. At his dad’s, he might get sent outside to kill a chicken. 

When Mario graduated from high school, his dad bought him his first car, a three-cylinder Subaru Justy. Ramon was always working on cars; he had a red Ford Festiva that he kept running for more than 500,000 miles. The Justy didn’t make it so long. Mario got a job working for a law firm, where he was responsible for procuring bottled water and soda for clients. On one trip to Sam’s Club, he overloaded his car and cracked the transmission. It was the sort of thing his dad maybe could have fixed, but not Mario, who was visiting Ramon less and less. The son was growing up, and as he did, his life forked away from the life of his father.

Daril Cinquanta liked to catch fugitives. “That’s what his specialty was,” says Larry Britton, a former Denver police captain. As he made more and more felony arrests, and his profile grew, Cinquanta reveled in the attention. He clipped newspaper stories about his cases and hung them in frames on a wall in the home office that he called his “Ego Room.” 

In October 1977, he made detective. Within a year, Denver Magazine published a profile that called him the city’s “toughest” and “most-feared” officer. By then Cinquanta had become known in the media as a “super cop” and he looked the part — prodigious mustache, hair grazing his shoulders, pant legs flared wide. He carried around what he called his “Bad Guy Book,” a collection of mug shots and notes about suspects and informants, what kind of car they drove, how they walked.

Cinquanta was prolific, but he wasn’t universally beloved. One source, a person who identified as Mexican, told Denver Magazine he felt harassed by Cinquanta in front of his kid. There was tension in the police department, too. Cinquanta had printed personal business cards that said “Crimefighter,” drawing the ire of a division chief who called him arrogant. Jerry Kennedy, another former division chief, was warned against bringing Cinquanta into his unit. 

“This guy is nothing but trouble, Jerry,” Kennedy recalls the colleague saying. Kennedy disagreed — Cinquanta was a racehorse. “And my theory was you have to put a racehorse in with the rest of them and then they have to keep up with him, otherwise they’re just a bunch of plough horses,” he says. 

Cinquanta would later dismiss the blowback as petty jealousy, resentful people threatened by his success. And he blames that ill will for the 17 felony charges that were brought against him and another officer accused of perjury, doctoring evidence and entrapment in 1989.

The case stemmed from a burglary and allegations that Cinquanta helped set it up. He’s backed up by Kennedy, who calls the whole thing a “humbug deal.” 

“They never proved a thing on Daril,” he says. “But they had an opening and they wanted to get him and they got him.” 

Cinquanta pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct and retired on disability due to a lupus diagnosis. But he was sad to leave policing behind, and he felt abandoned by some officers he had considered friends. 

Soon, however, he was forging a new persona. Cinquanta started a business he called Professional Investigators Inc. He sent letters to defense lawyers soliciting work, digging up dirt that could help their clients. And though it paid nothing, he kept chipping away at the case that first put him in the public eye. He was still looking for Pusateri. 

He had come close once, the year after his shooter escaped prison. He got a tip that Pusateri was staying in a hotel in San Jose, California, but by the time police arrived, he was gone. As Cinquanta continued investigating, reaching out to informants, calling Pusateri’s friends and relatives, Cinquanta heard he had traveled to Denver and Los Angeles but also New Mexico.

Cinquanta sent three letters to “America’s Most Wanted,” asking if the TV show would feature the case. In 2009, the host, John Walsh, traveled to Denver to interview Cinquanta and film a fictionalized shooting. The actor playing Cinquanta wore the exact uniform the officer was wearing when he was shot.

The episode shows Cinquanta at his computer, working on his forthcoming memoir, “The Blue Chameleon: The Life Story of a Supercop.” Walsh appealed to viewers to help Cinquanta finish it. “There’s one chapter of Daril’s book that he’d really like your help on,” he said. “You see, right now he’s not real happy with what he’s got to work with for an ending. The bad guy in this chapter is the only man who ever got the drop on Daril.”  

Ramon Montoya was driving outside of Española, New Mexico, one night in November 2011 when a state police officer pulled up behind him, lights flashing. Montoya kept driving. The officer then turned on his siren, but Montoya still didn’t stop. He heard the crackle of a loud speaker. The officer’s voice blared on the street as he ordered Montoya to pull over. Finally, he hit the brakes. 

Cinquanta sent three letters to “America’s Most Wanted,” asking if the TV show would feature the case.

Someone had reported a red Ford Festiva hitting a curb and running a light. Montoya claimed he had only had two beers, according to an arrest affidavit. But the officer thought his eyes looked bloodshot and watery. In his police report, he said Montoya slurred, couldn’t walk straight during a field sobriety test and smelled strongly of alcohol. 

The officer cuffed Montoya’s hands behind his back and put him in the patrol car. He was booked at the state police office in town on a charge of driving while intoxicated. Later that day, he was released, and the following year he got lucky. The case was dismissed after the officer failed to show up for the trial. 

The day Daril Cinquanta turned 72 — June 24, 2020 — his phone rang. It wasn’t one of his siblings calling to wish him happy birthday or a grandkid chirping hello. “I thought about it,” the caller said. “And I decided to tell you where he is.” Then the person suggested Cinquanta look up Ramon Montoya in Española, New Mexico. 

Soon Cinquanta found himself squinting at the mugshot from Montoya’s 2011 drunk driving arrest. He had bags under his eyes and his face was creased with age. A white goatee was trimmed close to his face and, below thick black eyebrows, his gaze was unfocused. Court records said he was born in February 1944, only a year after Lawrence Pusateri. Cinquanta hadn’t laid eyes on the man who shot him in nearly five decades. But he was sure. 

Cinquanta told Española police what he had pieced together: Pusateri, aka Luis Archuleta, was living in Española under the alias Ramon Montoya with a woman named Esther Chacon, his common-law wife. He gave them an address. 

Two FBI agents were assigned to investigate Cinquanta’s tip. They searched for Archuleta in a national crime database and found three arrest warrants. One of the agents and an Española officer drove to Santa Fe to interview a woman named Darlene Montoya. They showed her an old FBI wanted poster for Luis Archuleta. There were three photos of the same man, all taken in the early ’70s. The poster listed his tattoos and known aliases. Ramon Montoya wasn’t among them but the words “True Name” were printed in parentheses next to “Lawrence Pusateri.”

At first Darlene said she didn’t recognize the man in the photos. But as they kept talking she admitted that she did; she had lied because she was scared, a federal criminal complaint says. The man in the photos was her ex-husband, Ramon. She said they had divorced because he was mean and violent, according to the criminal complaint. (Efforts to reach Darlene Montoya were unsuccessful.) She suggested that the officers talk to her son. Among her three children, he would have the best recollection of their father, she said. 

On June 29, the officers showed Mario Montoya the FBI poster. Yes, he said, the man in the photos was his dad. He had last seen him around Christmas, at his father’s home in Española. Ramon Montoya’s “true name” was also familiar to the son. He told the officers that several years earlier, his father had revealed his last name was actually Pusateri, according to the criminal complaint. He had wanted Mario’s help finding his mother, Ida. But he was too late. Social Security records show that a woman named Ida Ortado died a few days after her 90th birthday, in 2004.

On Aug. 5, officers approached a tan, 1,000-square-foot house owned by Esther Chacon. A chain-link fence separated the property from the street. Pots blooming with flowers lined the covered porch. Pusateri was inside.

Lineage on the line
The water that couldn’t save

In October, I read a news article about the arrest and about the retired police officer who tracked down an escapee who had shot him nearly 50 years earlier. After searching for a number, I picked up the phone and called Professional Investigators Inc. Cinquanta answered. He told me he had already given more than 20 interviews about the case and I could see some of them if I searched for his name on YouTube. But that afternoon he agreed to at least one more.  

He told me about his book, which came out in 2017. “The Blue Chameleon” is 400-plus pages of romantic conquests, professional triumphs and perceived slights. Again and again the author prickles at moments when either he or a colleague did not get their due. It’s why the walls of the office at his Denver suburb home are crowded with framed commendations and yellowed news stories. “I started hanging up because I got no recognition,” Cinquanta says, “or very little, I should say.”

In February 2021, he gave me a virtual tour of the “Ego Room,” turning the camera away from his face, grayer and older than that shy cadet. He panned over a photo of the police chief shaking his hand in 1972, when Cinquanta got a medal of honor after the shooting. Another with John Walsh from “America’s Most Wanted.” The FBI poster seeking Luis Archuleta. Cinquanta’s old uniform. He pushed his phone forward so I could see the bullet hole, the dried blood that soaked into the cotton like a wine stain. 

When he enrolled in the police academy, he says, he didn’t even like to speak in front of people. But he grew defiant in the face of a department that he thinks tried to foil him, and he’d go out of his way to make headlines so that his “detractors” would have to read about him in the paper the next day. I wondered if they had seen the same stories I’d read about the ex-cop who helped catch the man who once shot him.

“Oh, they went nuts!” Cinquanta says. “Are you kidding? They thought I was dead and gone.”

About two decades ago, he married Chris, “a wonderful gal” who cut his hair for years before he proposed at a restaurant in Boulder. He often watches her grandchildren, who are now his grandchildren, too. He still has a spaghetti dinner on Sundays. “Family, family, family,” his brother Matt says, “that’s what makes Daril tick.” But he still keeps working. “He refuses to go away like the rest of us,” Kennedy says.

Cinquanta told me that an FBI agent reached out and said that no fugitive had been on the run as long as Pusateri before he was arrested. In fact, at least two men were wanted for longer before they were captured: A Pittsburgh man convicted of murder had posed as a traveling pharmacist and was on the lam for 49 years before he was caught in 2020; an Ohio man who pled guilty to manslaughter slipped away from an honor farm in 1959 and hid out for 56 years before authorities apprehended him in 2015. But Pusateri’s case stands out for his multiple escapes and multiple identities over the course of 49 years — 46 of them spent evading Cinquanta. 

When it came time for the accolades Cinquanta sought, though, he missed out again. Instead, he lamented to me, the FBI presented a special award to the Española Police Department for its help arresting Pusateri. But the agency snubbed Cinquanta, he says. “They never even said, ‘Hey, nice pinch.’” 

In the booking photo taken after his most recent arrest, Pusateri’s chin is tilted up in defiance or exhaustion or both. He wears what looks like a green hospital gown; a clear plastic oxygen tube hooks over both ears, tracing a line over his mustache, still thick all these years later. His beard has grown longer and whiter. His hair is thinner. 

The first court date, held virtually over video because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was in August 2020. The next day, in a shaky, cursive hand, he waived his right to an identity hearing and signed a name he hadn’t used in years: Luis Archuleta. He was released from federal custody to face charges from the state of Colorado. Before officers brought him from New Mexico, he asked for medical personnel to be available en route for undisclosed health reasons.  

Authorities have taken stock of Pusateri’s life, measuring his education and employment history and criminal record to try to gauge how closely he’d need to be supervised in custody. He was frequently unemployed. He had been suspended or expelled at least once. He had financial problems. He had suffered from alcohol and drug abuse. He was considered “a social isolate.”

Over the course of several months, I tried to reach Pusateri, his partner Esther Chacon and his lawyer by phone, email and mail, but I didn’t receive a response. A plea hearing was scheduled for June 29. Court filings show that prosecutors floated a deal: two years to be served concurrently with the remainder of his sentence in the 1971 shooting. When I told Cinquanta about the agreement, he exhaled. “Is that all? For being gone 46 years? That doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

Next year, Pusateri will be 79. I asked Cinquanta if he believed in redemption, if Pusateri could have changed in the years since he drew that gun and shot him. No, he said. He doesn’t believe in rehabilitation. 

“A lot of people thought it was just pathetic, I chased a poor, old, sick man and arrested him for escaping,” Cinquanta says. “They thought I was terrible, and they told me to get a life, that I needed help. … If you think he’s led a pure life, no he hasn’t. Has he done anything for society? Not that anyone’s told me.” 

In some fundamental ways, though, Cinquanta and Pusateri don’t seem so different. Two Italian Americans, the descendants of immigrants, who reinvented themselves in the American West. Pusateri guarded his history, folding up his past and stuffing it away where he hoped the wrong people wouldn’t find it. Cinquanta, meanwhile, has tried to control his legacy. 

Nearly everyone in this story is suspicious of something, and the more I reported I counted myself among them. I didn’t know if I could trust the names and birthdates in government records; the Colorado Bureau of Investigation lists 21 aliases for Pusateri, four birthdates and two places of birth. Contemporaneous news accounts of the shooting contradicted each other. After 50 years of secrets and faded memories, the truth felt elusive.

I’ve wondered about the words “True Name” printed next to Lawrence Pusateri on the FBI’s wanted poster. Cinquanta was born Dario, but for most of his life, he’s gone by Daril. Does Pusateri identify as Ramon, or has he always felt like Lawrence? In the Colorado criminal justice system, he is Luis Archuleta, an alter-ego calcified in court records. When I wrote to him in jail, I wasn’t sure how to address him. Eventually, I just started thinking of him as Mario’s dad. 

After his father was arrested, Mario Montoya ordered two books: Daril Cinquanta’s memoir and “The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent,” written by Ernesto Vigil. He was trying to make sense of what had happened — to understand who his father is, and who he, Mario, is. 

The books complement and contradict each other. Cinquanta describes thinking that Pusateri looked tough the day he saw him parked outside the housing project. But Vigil’s account of the Chicano experience in Denver made Mario suspect that Cinquanta had racially profiled his father. Lots of men look tough, Mario says, “but that’s no reason to pull them from their car.”

Mario has always considered himself a Hispanic man, but he has lately found himself grappling with this identity. The first thing he sees when he enters his home is a family coat of arms bearing his name: Montoya. He doesn’t know what to make of the revelation that his father’s name is actually Pusateri. 

A few years ago, he told Mario some memories of New York, describing his school and the streets he walked down as a child. Mario opened Google Maps and followed along, toggling in and out of the street view to show his dad places he hadn’t been to in decades. 

“Everything he told me, go here, turn here, this is the corner of such and such, this was school and I walked down this street,” Mario said. “He nailed it all without fail. It was one of the cooler moments I ever had with my dad.”

He cherishes other memories. He loves the smell of tire stores because they remind him of the times his father would bring home small black bouncy balls made from rubber scraps he had melted. He cooked the best breakfasts, frying up eggs, potatoes and bacon. For years, they would talk about the night they saw a shooting star arc overhead. 

But he’s also questioning other aspects of his childhood, reframing what he remembers with the newer information he’s obtained. If he tripped and fell when he was a boy, his father would get upset. Mario didn’t understand why. He wonders now if his dad was worried about what it foretold. 

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“Maybe he felt that if I was clumsy as a child, then I would grow up to be clumsy and possibly make a stupid mistake like he did,” Mario says. A lifetime of missteps, looking over your shoulder even as you try to move forward. Mario’s father, like so many fathers, tried to protect his son.

One day, when Mario was maybe eight, he remembers his dad brought home a small film canister of black powder. He shook a little into a line on a piece of paper or foil and then laid down a stick and rolled it up tight, wrapping it with tape. 

“He was making a bottle rocket,” Mario says. They stood together in the backyard and his dad lit the rocket. It slowly lifted off the ground, sparks snapping in the air. But just as it was about to clear the house, it turned and landed on the roof. His dad rushed to get water, and then he scurried up to make sure their house didn’t burn down.

This story appears in the July/August issue of Deseret MagazineLearn more about how to subscribe.

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