Inside Texas cold cases: Teen disappears with two men and is found dead a week later, his battered body shoved between two rocks

Raul "Pete" Arevalo
Raul "Pete" Arevalo (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – Texas has its share of homicide cases that have gone cold.

While some have heated up and been solved when people come forward or evidence is retested, other cases remain on the books without answers for families whose loved ones were lost.

KPRC 2 is taking a look back at both the solved and unsolved cases featured by the Texas Department of Public Safety to acknowledge the ability to solve cold cases and perhaps seek justice in cases that remain cold.

The oldest unsolved cold case on the Texas Department of Public Safety website is the brutal beating and shooting murder of a 17-year-old in Sonora, Texas.

WARNING: This story contains graphic images.

What happened

It happened in 1953.

That 17-year-old was Raul “Pete” Arevalo. He was working as a gas station attendant back when gas stations had attendants. Raul was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed about 130 pounds. The Devil’s River News wrote that on the night he went missing he wore a leather jacket and a green cap with “Phillips 66” written on it. He wore a blue shirt and pants and ankle-high boots.

He lived and worked in Sonora, Texas, known as the area “where the Hill Country meets West Texas.” It’s small town on the way to or from Big Bend, as its website says.

It’s where Raul worked at Pat Lyles Buick Company. It’s reportedly where two “strange” men pulled up on February 23 and said they’d run out of gas a few miles east of town on the Junction Road.

Raul left with the two men in the company’s truck, and when he didn’t return, someone called authorities.

The search begins

Authorities found the vehicle nearly eight miles away, west of Sonora.

Then -- a slow trickle of discoveries: on Tuesday, Raul’s wallet with only a Social Security card inside found 12 miles west of Sonora, then other documents, including an application for a birth certificate -- found 20 miles west.

Found, but so many questions remain

On Sunday, March 3, 1953, Raul’s badly beaten body was discovered.

Very little information about this case is available beyond the Department of Public Safety’s profile. On a Facebook page called “Justice for Raul Arevalo” newspaper clippings purportedly from 1953 editions of the Sonora paper show the boy’s haunting black-and-white photo and chart developments in the case, from his status as missing to gruesome, explicit images taken shortly after his body was located.

News article of the finding of Raul Arevalo's body. 1953

Posted by Justice for Raul Arevalo on Saturday, July 21, 2018

One newspaper clip describes what happened when a Mrs. Rayford Lee Hull was out on a Sunday drive with her husband. Around 5 p.m. she spotted him, clippings say. The Devil’s River News clipping notes that the body was “only 13 feet from the pavement” and “well hidden” amid catclaw bushes about 1.4 miles east of Sonora. She’d spied his green Phillips 66 cap first, blown away out into the open and then spotted his shoes. His killer or killers had hidden his body under a “clump of catclaw” and “wedged between two large rocks.” The newspaper noted “a trail of blood from the road showed that he had been carried to the hiding place.”

Nearly a week after he’d gone missing, photos in his hometown paper showed his badly beaten body almost in full.

A notice on the same page announced his funeral. He was buried in the Sonora Cemetery.

Raul’s death was ruled a murder. An autopsy reportedly showed that he’d been “severely beaten around the groin area and other parts of his body.” His jaw had been broken, as well as his skull in several places. He’d also been shot through the back of his head with a .45.

Raul had been dead about three days when he was found, according to reports citing doctors. That meant that his killers who had taken him more than a week before had held him somewhere for a time before he was ultimately killed.

At the time, forensic investigations were not what they are today. The secrets his body and the crime scene could have exposed remain untold, a result of living and dying in another time.

A publication noted that “officers said it was the most vicious killing in the county’s history.”

The case goes cold

Early in March, The Devil’s River News reported that a search had produced two leads and investigations had been made in Del Rio and San Angelo, though officers weren’t ready to release the results. Two men arrested in San Antonio after a gas station holdup were photographed and their photos were going to be sent to Simon Arevalo, Raul’s father who had apparently seen the two men that Raul went with the day he went missing. He’d told one publication that one of the men was about 38 years old and spoke to him about the cold weather.

“This man walked up to where I was working while they were getting the truck ready. He said to me, ‘It’s (expletive) cold this morning.’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s pretty cold all right.”

Simon Arevalo said the man had a “pleasant manner” and spoke like a person who lived in the general area. The man wore working clothes that were “not dirty but not exactly clean, and was wearing a dirty yellow or possibly tan baseball type cap.”

However, no one came forward, even with a $1,000 reward and then a $2,500 reward offered. A $3,000 reward is now being offered.

The killer or killers were never caught. If one of them was indeed about 38 years old in 1953, he would be approximately 105 years old today. Though they may no longer be alive, someone still might help provide a measure of justice in this case. That’s what a Facebook page is still seeking for Raul, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety. If you have any information, submit a tip online through the Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website or call 1-800-346-3243 so your information can be forwarded to the Texas Ranger assigned to the case.

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