A 17-year-long manhunt for a wanted US biker gang leader ended in dramatic fashion in a sleepy beach town in Baja California after the man's longtime companion apparently shot herself during his arrest, Mexican officials said.
Fugitive Randy Mark Yager, a former head of the upper Midwestern chapter of the violent Outlaws biker gang, and his girlfriend Margie Jelovcic, had been living a tranquil life as integrated members of a tight-knit community of American expatriates and retirees in Rosarito, 20 miles south of the US-Mexico border.
On October 15, the couple were relaxing and drinking at La Maroma, a bar styled to look like a beach shack at the entrance of the town known for spring breakers and booze. Witnesses said the pair were there to "eat steak and drink beer."
Acting on information provided by the US Marshals, Baja state police officers arrived at the bar and confronted a man matching Yager's description. He initially identified himself as David Michael Dorian and produced IDs with that name.
Jelovcic too was questioned, but was initially let go, Mexican authorities said, as she was not the target of the manhunt.
'They had a suicide pact. If it went down, they would both do it. Margie honored the pact, but he didn't.'
According to witnesses who spoke to VICE News in exclusive interviews, as Yager discussed his identity with the two Mexican officers, they discovered he was carrying a firearm. At that point, Jelovcic suddenly fled the restaurant and drove off, leading other officers posted outside to chase her in patrol units.
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Authorities and witnesses said Jelovcic drove north in the direction of the couple's home in a gated community called Real del Mar. After a few miles, she made a U-turn and attempted to return to the scene.
After taking a highway off-ramp, Jelovcic lost control of her vehicle, flipped three times, and was found dead beside her car, Baja state police said.
"It happened in minutes," Adrian Garcia Estrada, public affairs chief for the Baja California state police, told VICE News. "The woman fled in her vehicle, and moments later — after an intense high-speed chase — lost her life."
Yager then confessed his identity and submitted to the arrest.
Initial reports suggested Jelovcic survived until she reached the hospital, but state authorities said that she was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. She was found lying near her vehicle with a fake ID on her person, a gun nearby, and what officials described as a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head.
"They were always packing — packing heat, though, not suitcases as you would expect from someone on the run," one bar regular, a friend close to the couple, told VICE News. "They had a suicide pact. If it went down, they would both do it. Margie honored the pact, but he didn't. He's still breathing."
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The US Marshals heralded Yager's arrest as a satisfactory end to a long case. He was delivered to US authorities in San Diego and appeared in federal court on Monday.
"Randy Mark Yager is accused of several horrendous crimes that landed him on our 15 Most Wanted List," Stacia Hylton, the US Marshals director, said in a statement issued the day after his arrest. "I am proud to say that today he has become another violent fugitive we have taken off the streets."
Steve and Margie Rothman, as the couple were known to their neighbors before last week, were well-known among residents of the half-dozen gated communities that dot the six-mile stretch of beach just north of Rosarito.
The pair did handyman work of all kinds, and built up a steady clientele for odd jobs and house watching over the course of their long residency in the Baja community.
"If you were going away for a week or a few months, you'd drop off the keys with Steve and Margie and they'd look after the place for you, and lay tile or fix the plumbing or wiring while you were gone," said a neighbor who had known them for more than a decade.
Friends described the couple as inseparable.
"They were very much in love," Chris Romero, 67, who first met the pair six years ago, told VICE News on Friday at the bar where Yager was captured. "I never once saw them without each other."
For years before his life in Rosarito, Randy Mark "Mad" Yager led the Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin chapters of the Outlaws biker gang. He was indicted in 1997 on charges of racketeering, murder, possession of drugs and explosives, fraud, and other crimes stemming from a longtime rivalry with factions of the Hells Angels.
Yager met Jelovcic in their hometown of Gary, Indiana, a few months before they vanished in 1997.
The couple were the subject of an episode of the television program Unsolved Mysteries, which first aired on September 4, 2001, entitled "Fugitive Biker Outlaw," and detailed his run from justice and her disappearance.
Jelovcic, to the surprise of those who knew her locally in Baja California, had been a widowed concert violinist before meeting Yager. Several family members told VICE News they were shocked to hear of what had become of now-deceased Jelovcic since her disappearance.
"She fell off the face of the earth," one family member said of Jelovcic. "It was extremely difficult for the family to accept."
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"She was loved," another relative said. "From the day she left she never had any contact with anybody again. It hurts."
In a beach town where the normal attire is shorts, T-shirts, and sandals, the pair stood out in another way.
Yager dressed in work boots and denim coveralls over long-sleeved checked flannel shirts, buttoned at the wrist — to hide a body covered in neo-Nazi and biker tattoos, friends have now learned. Locals described "Steve" as a jolly, Santa Claus type, with a full beard, ruddy face, and a twinkle in his eye. The 58-year-old was "built like an oil drum," one friend said.
Jelovcic, often in pigtails and 11 years his junior, wore no makeup, very plain clothes, and friends say "could have passed for Amish." Together, among the backdrop of a Hawaiian shirt beach crowd, "Steve and Margie" were described as "country bumpkins," one local said.
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By Thursday morning, word had spread in the community. Rosarito expats were meeting at their usual spots, asking the same question: "Did you hear what happened to Steve and Margie?"
And by the weekend, video had begun to circulate of a grim-faced, shackled Randy Yager escorted by two US Marshals to a detention center in San Diego, soon to begin the first leg in a legal journey that will ultimately take him to Wisconsin to face charges.
While not the first time American fugitives have been arrested in Baja, what is remarkable is just how long this pair managed to hide in plain view and become dearly loved friends and neighbors to those who knew them during their time in Mexico.
"They were smart," a local retiree said. "They gained the friendship and trust of the people around them. It was manipulative behavior, the entire piece."
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Margie's mother, Katie Jelovcic, spoke with VICE News on Monday over the phone, from her family's diner in Gary, Indiana.
"My heart's been broken from all the years I lived in hope and hoping, but you know there's just no hope no more," Katie Jelovcic said over the phone with a slight Croatian lilt. "I mean, what can I do? I've been thinking and praying for 17 years. I'm just out of everything."
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Andrea Noel contributed to this report.