This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For the first couple weeks after he arrived, the American prisoner had nothing. When it came time to eat, he held out his hands in the feed line and the cooks dished slop straight onto his fingers. The other inmates in the “I” wing of the Benito Juarez prison cursed him and described in colorful terms how they’d sodomize him when the time was right. Prisoners must buy their own personal hygiene products, but the American had no money, so he’d fish bits of used toilet paper out of the trash buckets and reuse them. He slept on the floor, with the scorpions and spiders and the other talachos — a Spanish colloquialism for “worker,” which in prison vernacular translates roughly to “servant” — who, like him, had just arrived.
Eventually, the rumor mill sprang into action. The American wasn’t just another gringo jailed for fleecing gullible tourists on the pristine beaches around Cancun, Mexico. He was a Hollywood star of some sort, a minor celebrity, maybe even a major one, and he was in for murder. Other inmates and their visitors would ask for his autograph, mistaking him for one of the contestants on Survivor, a show he once helped produce back home in Los Angeles, where he had a home worth millions in a place called Rancho Palos Verdes. Some were convinced he was Bear Grylls, the British TV personality and adventurer. Eventually, the American inmate, Bruce Beresford-Redman, became known simply as “Survivor Man.” The irony of his situation wasn’t lost on Beresford-Redman. His entire Hollywood career had been built on devising heinous and impossible situations to test a person’s mettle, and now he had wound up in just such a mess. Sometimes almost against his will, he found himself thinking of his life as a dark twin of one of the reality TV programs he’d helped engineer.
Mexican authorities charged Beresford-Redman with aggravated homicide in 2010, claiming he had killed his wife, Monica Burgos, in early April of that year while the couple was vacationing with their two small children, Camila and Alec — 5 and 3 at the time, respectively — at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort in Cancun. After bludgeoning and strangling Burgos, they say, Beresford-Redman dumped her body in a nearby sewage cistern, where it would be discovered by a hotel employee. Beresford-Redman insists he is innocent, claiming the physical evidence — or more precisely, its absence — proves it. Beresford-Redman and his supporters believe he is a victim of a Mexican justice system gone horribly askew, corrupted by petty ambition and incompetence. Moreover, they say his acquittal would expose how random and severe violence is in Cancun, something that could do lasting damage to the multibillion-dollar tourism industry that keeps the region afloat. Not surprisingly, the press in the region is covering the story closely.
In November, Mexican prosecutors delivered their final arguments in a trial that has lasted for close to three years, well in excess of the yearlong maximum time allowed by the Mexican constitution. The drawn-out saga has included multiple requests for extensions by judges and prosecutors alike. Beresford-Redman’s Mexican defense attorney, Jaime Cancino, delivered his statement in early December. A judge will begin to deliberate later this month, and his verdict is expected sometime in the spring. Mexico doesn’t have the death penalty, but if Beresford-Redman is convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
Burgos and her children, Alec and Camila, in 2008
Burgos’ two older sisters, Jeane and Carla, steadfastly have supported Mexico’s case against Beresford-Redman and in interviews have claimed they warned Burgos not to travel to Mexico with him because of the fragile state of the couple’s marriage. “Monica’s sisters have vowed to honor her by making sure the person who killed her is held accountable,” Alison Triessl, the Burgos sisters’ attorney, told me recently. “And they are convinced their brother-in-law did it.” In 2012, Jeane Burgos, Monica’s oldest sister, told CBS, “I wish I could believe that he didn’t have anything to do with my sister’s murder.” By contrast, Beresford-Redman’s defenders say a conviction would be a miscarriage of justice that calls into question the rule of law in Mexico. “The scale on the side of what incriminates Bruce has got absolutely nothing on it,” says Anthony Sgro, one of Beresford-Redman’s American lawyers. “It is desolate. There’s not one item of evidence that they have produced that remotely suggests he had anything to do with it.”
Beresford-Redman’s latest setback came in mid-November, when the CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours aired a program in which the 43-year-old New Jersey native recorded short video diaries about the challenges of living in a Mexican prison. Beresford-Redman and his lawyers say prison officials had given him permission to use the camera inside the prison. But the show outraged Mexican authorities, who stripped Beresford-Redman of the privileges he’d won after years of incarceration — a private bed in a cell with seven other men on the second floor of the relatively peaceful “F” wing — and instead placed him with 18 other inmates. Now Mexican officials are considering bringing further charges against the producer because of complaints by the families of other inmates who appeared in the videos without having given their consent. Immediately after the show aired, Beresford-Redman was deprived of food and all his belongings were taken. “Once again, he’s sleeping on the floor. He didn’t eat for two days after the show aired,” said his mother, Juanita Beresford-Redman, 77, when I recently spoke with her at her home in Gardena, Calif., where she and her husband, David, 81, are raising Camila and Alec as their legal guardians. “They’re punishing him for something they gave him permission to do.”
The Beresford-Redman saga has been punishing for everyone. Competing narratives about the case have kept Bruce in prison limbo and a battery of lawyers busy for going on five years. Juanita and David say they’ve spent more than $1 million in legal and custodial fees. The Burgos sisters have yet to see anyone convicted for Monica’s murder. Alec and Camila, now 7 and 10, respectively, essentially have lost both of their parents and find themselves tugged in multiple directions by relatives on both sides. At the heart of all this pain is the question: How did an attractive young woman, purportedly out for a day of spa treatments, shopping and “alone time,” wind up in a cement cistern, naked and bloated with a giant gash in her forehead, virtually unrecognizable as the Brazilian-American beauty she always had been?
The confusion begins with the decision to go to Mexico. Burgos’ sisters have said that Beresford-Redman planned the whole thing. Yet court documents show Monica reserved the airline tickets and hotel accommodations and was the contact person for the reservation. For his part, Bruce says his wife organized the trip at the last minute after a planned trip to Dubai fell through. Moon Palace, a sprawling luxury resort on the Yucatan Peninsula, offered all-inclusive meals, entertainment, a “deluxe resort view w/jetted tub” and two double beds so that the family could sleep together.
After spending 14 months in a federal detention center, Beresford-Redman was shackled and flown to Mexico on Feb. 9, 2012
Their first days there were what you might expect: time-share presentations; a journey to Xcaret, a nearby attraction that bills itself as an “eco-archeological park”; and a visit to a Byzantine aquarium called Xel-Ha. Burgos was a high-energy person who enjoyed organizing adventures like these. She ran a successful Brazilian restaurant in West L.A. called Zabumba and worked long hours while her husband was away for weeks shooting Survivor or Pimp My Ride, an MTV show he co-created in 2004. By the fourth day, however, the family was tired. According to court documents, Bruce and Monica disagreed that night about the next day’s activities; Beresford-Redman says they eventually decided she would take a full day for herself to shop and relax. He would look after the children, a welcome luxury, he told me, because he didn’t get to see his kids as much as he wanted.
Later, according to news reports, Monica’s sister Jeane would say Monica didn’t enjoy spas or shopping and that leaving her children for long stretches, much less an entire day, was completely out of character. Dana Smalley, a close friend of Burgos’ and the wife of Alec’s godfather (and Beresford-Redman’s best friend), Steve Smalley, disputes this, asserting that Burgos often hired a private hairstylist into her home for coloring and straightening treatments and that she often left the children alone with their beloved nanny, Betchy, for long stretches. “When she wants to go off the grid, or wants her own time, she’ll do what she wants to do,” notes Smalley. As for shopping? “She loved it,” says Smalley, who thinks Burgos’ long absence fit an established pattern and believes Beresford-Redman’s version of events.
In any event, there may have been good reasons for some time apart. Beresford-Redman and Burgos had a tumultuous marriage. Both had broken their vows and had affairs. When I met with Beresford-Redman in prison recently, he confessed to two affairs, and friends of the couple say Burgos also had “two or three” during their 11-year marriage. According to court documents, Beresford-Redman had been having a particularly intense liaison with Hollywood casting director Joy Pierce for several months before the trip to Mexico. A month before leaving for Cancun, Beresford-Redman confessed to Burgos that he and Pierce had been “lovers.” A furious Burgos responded quickly, withdrawing money from a joint bank account and placing it in her own. She advised the kids’ school not to allow Beresford-Redman to pick them up, according to family accounts and court documents.
Jeane later would say that the most recent dalliance had pushed the marriage to the breaking point and that Burgos was considering divorce. On the other hand, Smalley says Burgos loved Beresford-Redman “passionately” and wanted to make their marriage work. Juanita Beresford-Redman, who says she was on the phone with Monica nearly every day for the two months leading up to the trip to Mexico, agreed. Smalley and Juanita stressed to me that Monica had a “jealous streak” and often struck out at Bruce to make him “notice” her. Smalley later would testify that Monica complained that her own sister, Jeane, was jealous of Monica. “If [Jeane] could take my life and my husband, she would,” Smalley says Monica told her. (Neither Jeane nor Carla would speak to THR for this article.) “Was it a perfect marriage?” Beresford-Redman says. “No, but we loved each other and we were both devoted to our kids. In the aggregate, I think we were happy.”
April 5 would have been a busy day at Moon Palace. It was spring break, and the hotel was filled with hormonal teens looking for a good time. Beresford-Redman told me he woke early that day, around 5 a.m., and began playing family games with Alec, including one called “Mater,” taking turns driving backward around the room and crashing into furniture as if they were the tow-truck character from Disney’s Cars. Another game, “Japanese Man,” really was just roughhousing with a twist: Everything was its opposite. If you kicked someone, it felt good; a hug was agony. Beresford-Redman says the games resulted in a lot of early morning laughing and screeching. A hotel concierge later would testify that a British family in a nearby room, the Cooks, called to complain about the noise, saying their teenaged children had heard a woman screaming. In a neatly handwritten note (it’s not clear from court documents who actually wrote it), the Cooks complain of “screams, crying for help and extremely loud banging,” adding that “it sounded like a woman in distress. We were very alarmed and scared.” Cancino says the note was given to the concierge by a hotel employee. The concierge dialed the Beresford-Redman family in room 7816 to ask about the disturbance, and she later told investigators that Beresford-Redman had told her he and his wife were “arguing.” Beresford-Redman said he would keep it down. Around 8:30, Burgos got ready, donning a blue sundress, sandals and gold hoops in her ears. According to court papers, Camila remembers her mother saying, “Ciao,” as she swept out the door. “I love you; I’ll be back soon.” “Ciao,” replied the family. Burgos left the hotel room without her passport or her iPhone, which was cracked.
Beresford-Redman visited the Los Angeles Zoo with his children and his mother, Juanita, in June 2010
Beresford-Redman says he and his children spent the day lounging around. During an afternoon swim in the pool, Camila opened her eyes underwater for the first time and said she was excited to tell her mother the news. Back in the room, they watched movies and napped. They ate together, and Beresford-Redman put the kids to bed. He says he didn’t begin to worry until well into the night. Burgos’ work at Zabumba often kept her out until the early morning hours, and sometimes she and her friends would go to clubs after work to dance Brazilian samba. He thought she might have capped her long rest day with an evening of making friends and drinking. Beresford-Redman told me he was worried enough that he repeatedly left his room during the night to see if she was close. But the next morning, when Burgos still hadn’t returned, Beresford-Redman reported her missing to the hotel.
Over the course of the next two days, Beresford-Redman shuttled back and forth between the police station, the American consulate and the hotel, giving statements and talking to investigators from the Attorney General’s office. By now, the kids were exhausted and confused, and Beresford-Redman called Jeane and Carla for help. Two days after the disappearance, Jeane and two Brazilian friends flew to Cancun to take the kids home. Beresford-Redman called his friend Steve Smalley and told him Burgos was missing. The Burgos sisters filed a missing-persons report with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and shared with them letters Beresford-Redman had written to his lover as well as one he sent to Burgos dated March 4, a month before her murder. (Monica apparently had been spying on her husband and had forwarded the emails to her sisters.) In the note to his wife, Beresford-Redman wrote, “I do not know if you will ever be able to forgive me, but if there is ever to be anything real between us there can be no more lies from me and that is why I am writing this to you.”
In the late afternoon of April 8, three days after Burgos vanished, Beresford-Redman returned to his hotel room and found several people waiting, including a trio of police officers who he says cornered him and pressed him for money. They told him they believed he had killed Burgos; money might help make the problem go away. A female investigator then led him outside and along a walkway where, away from the crowd, she told him Burgos was dead: Her body had been found in a sewage well just 75 yards from Beresford-Redman’s room. “There was a wall, and I just sat down and held my head for a long time,” he says. “I had been afraid that something had happened, but I wouldn’t allow myself to go there.”
It would have been Monica’s 42nd birthday.
At 6-foot-3 inches and toned from years of bodybuilding (he often worked out at 4:30 a.m.), Beresford-Redman cuts an imposing figure in the prison yard. His demeanor seems matter-of-fact and guarded, even aloof. “Cold-blooded,” mused his Mexican lawyer to himself after their first meeting. When I asked Beresford-Redman how he had begun what became a highly successful career in Hollywood, he says simply that he had “invented a résumé,” which he had used to get a foot in the door at MTV. Once he was in, however, he rose quickly. He began producing episodes of the Emmy- nominated CBS show Survivor that were filmed in the Amazon jungle and the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific and eventually was nominated for three Emmys himself. In 2004, he co-created Pimp My Ride, a car makeover show that became one of MTV’s most successful franchises internationally and since has spawned several knockoffs, including Pimp My Bike in Germany. He also had stints on NBC’s The Contender and The Restaurant.
Seen in another light, the qualities that made Beresford-Redman successful in Hollywood — ambition, drive, even cunning — might just be written off as quirks of personality and hardly uncommon in the rough-and-tumble world of reality TV. But now he was a central figure in a murder investigation. Questions about Beresford-Redman’s actions in the first hours of Burgos’ disappearance mounted. Why hadn’t she taken her passport and phone? asked investigators. She was forgetful and careless, particularly with phones, he replied; people forget their phones, and anyway, this one was broken. Why hadn’t he alerted the authorities earlier, they pressed him. His wife was a night owl, he said, there wasn’t anything particularly unusual about some time away, and he hadn’t expected her home before 10 p.m. Beresford-Redman stayed in Cancun for another week or so and then, he says, his lawyer at the time (not Cancino) told him it was OK to return to the States. Mexican authorities had taken his passport, so he took a bus north to Texas and walked across the border at Nuevo Laredo with an American driver’s license in hand, as if he was just another sunburned gringo returning home after vacationing down south.
Burgos’ body was found in April 2010 on the sprawling grounds of the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun
Mexico responded quickly. Prosecutors drafted a request for extradition, claiming Beresford-Redman had broken the law by leaving Mexico and should be considered a fugitive. Veronica Acacio, a Quintana Roo investigator, had told NBC that Beresford-Redman “won’t be able to leave the country until we conclude our investigation into what caused her death.” Cancino concedes the Mexican government did ask Beresford-Redman to stay but asserts that he had no legal obligation to do so and that authorities never put an official request in writing.
Back home, Beresford-Redman lived with his children in Rancho Palos Verdes while TV crews maintained a constant presence outside the house, blasting their living room from the front yard with cameras during the day and bright lights at night. Beresford-Redman dismisses the idea that he broke any laws by leaving Mexico. “My wife had been killed, I was completely f—ed up,” he told me. “I tried to stay there, and when I realized I couldn’t accomplish anything, I went home to be with my children. I didn’t feel at the time like a fugitive, and I don’t feel like one now.”
In November 2010, seven months after Burgos’ body was found, Beresford-Redman was arrested and sent to a federal detention center while Mexico’s extradition request wound its way through the U.S. courts. Mexican officials presented a compelling case to the American magistrate: There was evidence of blood in and around the hotel room, they said; several eyewitnesses had come forward and claimed to have seen the couple fighting and arguing around the hotel in the days before Burgos’ disappearance; there were footprints around the sewage cistern where her body had been found that seemed to match Beresford-Redman’s; and hotel records indicated a disturbing pattern of repeated entries and exits, 15 in total, on Beresford-Redman’s key card throughout the night of April 5. The ball now was in his court. The burden of proof for extradition to Mexico is very low; all that is required was a basic probable cause. The Mexicans seemed to have provided that.
The fall and winter dragged on as the magistrate heard both sides. Beresford-Redman wrote dozens of letters to his children in which he would recount the tale of “Princess Camila and Prince Alec” and their adventures in a magical kingdom that the three of them had invented during family visits. In one series of letters, Beresford-Redman tells a morality story about how Princess Camila and Prince Alec, both infinitely wise and intelligent, help two “evil old witches who were sisters” put aside their differences and get along. In another, written on Alec’s 4th birthday, he recounts the day Burgos delivered their second child. “I remember so well that 4 years ago today you were born, Mommy and I were so happy and proud. Mommy had a lot of work to do, giving birth to you. Daddy was right there with her holding her leg and her hand and encouraging her and telling her to ‘PUSH’ and also what a great job she was doing.” In nearly every letter, he tells them he loves them an “infinity,” that he misses them. After 14 months, the U.S. magistrate Jacqueline Chooljian ruled in favor of extradition, citing probable cause. Beresford-Redman was shackled and flown to Mexico on Feb. 9, 2012.
The Benito Juarez prison in Cancun, his home since then, is loud and chaotic. Rhythms of salsa and corridos drift out over the prison’s sagging white rooftops toward an empty, moss-stained guard tower adorned with a Mexican flag. A few small shops sell cigarettes, candy and chips, just like they do outside the prison walls. Inmates wander pretty much anywhere they want, including to a building reserved for conjugal visits, much like a hotel. A couple of cars sit abandoned in a central court- yard, relics from a time when the jail doubled as a lucrative chop-shop for the Zetas, former Mexican paramilitaries-turned-hit men for the cartels. The Zetas once were the barons of this jail, but now they’re isolated in their own wing, while in the general population, a half dozen she-males ply their trade in a robust illicit marketplace, where Beresford-Redman says he has seen that anything — drugs, murder, even children — can be bought for a price. Over time, his celebrity status waned. He became a lot like everyone else in the prison, a man battling hunger, disease, riots and death threats, waiting for the Mexican judicial system to run its course. Some inmates, like him, were waiting for their trials to conclude, but there were others who had received multiyear sentences for various crimes including murder and rape.
Burgos’ sisters, Jeane (left) and Carla (far right), and their mother, Ely (second from left)
Beresford-Redman’s trial began a week after his return to Mexico, on Feb. 16, 2012. Prosecutors claimed Beresford-Redman killed his wife early in the morning of April 5, 2010, inside the couple’s room at Moon Palace. They laid out their case: Beresford-Redman hit his wife in the head with a blunt object, knocking her out, then proceeded to strangle her to death. According to their account, after killing her, Beresford-Redman hid or otherwise kept the body out of view inside the room until late that night when, with his two children asleep, he found a way to transport her body out of the room, down two flights of stairs and across several patios and public areas to the cistern. They suggested he might even have thrown her body over the side of his second-floor balcony, collected it at the bottom, then transported it to the cistern. There, he allegedly lifted off the cover — a cement block weighing more than 250 pounds, according to the testimony of the hotel employee who discovered her — and dumped her body inside before partially covering it up again and returning to his hotel room. Everything, including the murder itself, took place while Beresford-Redman was taking care of his two children, said prosecutors. Furthermore, said prosecutors, sometime during the day or perhaps that night, while the children slept, he managed to clean up the blood, tissue and soiled clothing the murder had created. Then, Beresford-Redman waited until the next morning and called the hotel, claiming his wife had disappeared. “The facts and circumstances surrounding their sister’s murder all point to Bruce,” said Triessl. “It’s undeniable.”
From the beginning, the prosecution’s case didn’t seem to line up with the physical evidence. First, the coroner who examined the body came to the conclusion that Burgos hadn’t been killed that morning, but roughly 18 hours later, some time after 11 p.m. The coroner also determined that she hadn’t been killed in the room, as prosecutors alleged, but at the cistern itself. Her body showed no signs of lividity, bluish marks caused by long exposure to a hard surface, such as what might occur if the body had been kept in the hotel room for several hours. This indicated to the coroner that Monica had been killed at or very near the spot where her body had been found. That didn’t mean that Beresford-Redman didn’t kill her — there always was the possibility that he had been involved in his wife’s murder without being physically linked to it — but this wasn’t what the prosecution was arguing. And now the coroner’s report contradicted the prosecution’s case in two key ways. Beresford-Redman’s lawyers took this as good news: If the prosecutors had mistaken something as important as the time and place of death, what else had the attorney general’s investigators gotten wrong?
As the trial progressed, more errors emerged. Police, it turned out, never had done a rape kit on Burgos — if nothing else, this would have helped rule out the possibility of alternate scenarios or that anyone else had been involved. Nor had they tested under her fingernails. The state alleged that scratches found on Beresford-Redman’s neck were deep and serious enough to indicate a fight, but they had no biological material from Burgos’ hands to support this claim. For his part, Beresford-Redman claimed that he had sustained cuts and bruises during the trips to Xcaret, pulling his kids out of the water, then rubbing his neck on a nylon rope during a jungle cruise. In court testimony during the extradition hearing, Camila said that she and Burgos had put Band-Aids on the cuts Beresford-Redman sustained during these outings. After returning to the U.S., Alec and Camila immediately were placed with a therapist. In her deposition during extradition hearings, the therapist testified that based on years of close observation, she believed neither child had witnessed any type of physical violence between their parents in Mexico or at any other time.
The prosecution’s case took another blow when the alleged blood samples from the hotel room and the railing outside that had formed part of the basis for the extradition turned out, on closer inspection, not to belong to Bruce or Monica. The initial indications of blood had come from Luminol tests — a chemical reagent that can reveal the presence of blood — but when those samples were genetically tested, they came back negative. One droplet of blood belonging to a man was discovered on a pillow, but nothing specified that it was Beresford-Redman’s. And by the time that blood was discovered, the room had been cleaned at least twice by hotel authorities, including once on April 6, the day after Burgos’ disappearance, contaminating the alleged crime scene beyond all measure. The prosecution’s own expert witness found that the sand around the cistern didn’t match the sand found in Beresford-Redman’s shoes. Then it turned out the size of the footprints didn’t match his shoe size. Not long after the trial began, the prosecution admitted that a large portion of its evidence had been inexplicably “lost” or irreparably damaged by mold and water. “The authorities told the court, ‘You don’t need it, and we think it was destroyed or lost because we can’t find it,’ ” Cancino told me.
Beresford-Redman in 2005 with Mark Burnett, Ray Leonard, Sylvester Stallone and other colleagues
Then the witness testimony started showing cracks. The hotel employees who initially had said they’d seen the couple fighting outside a restaurant called Los Tacos began recanting: Beresford-Redman was not the man they’d seen. The Cooks — the British family who allegedly had called the concierge to complain about the screaming emanating from Beresford-Redman’s room on the morning of April 5 — never gave an official statement to police or state investiga-tors and never were subpoenaed nor otherwise became an official part of the investigation. For his part, Beresford-Redman says the concierge misunderstood him, that what he had described as a discussion had been mistaken as an argument. And without the Cooks’ subsequent confirmation, their initial complaint became hearsay evidence.
Early on, Cancino hired a man named Jose Jesus Zepeda Balderas to get to the bottom of what happened. Balderas, a forensic scientist and criminologist who received training with Interpol and worked on forensics as a major in the Mexican army, asked for payment in advance and told Cancino: “Whatever I find, I’m not going to change it for your case. If I find he’s guilty, that’s what I’m going to say.” Cancino went to Beresford-Redman with this offer and warned him of the consequences if Balderas found evidence of his guilt. According to Cancino, Beresford-Redman didn’t hesitate for a second. “Do it now,” he said. After months of review, Balderas concluded that there was nothing linking Beresford-Redman to Burgos’ death. Furthermore, he went on, Burgos probably had been killed by two people, not one, and both likely were intimately familiar with the layout of the hotel. Balderas said he suspected Burgos’ death started out as a rape and escalated to murder, but without a rape kit, fingernail material or other DNA, he had little evidence to prove it.
The state’s own experts didn’t always help the prosecution’s case. When prosecutors engaged a criminologist to conduct a forensic analysis, he told them he found no evidence linking Bruce to Monica’s murder. The prosecution released him from his duties and found another expert whose testimony supported their version of events. In 2013, faced with these competing stories, a judge overseeing the case brought in his own independent forensic expert to review the material. After several months of diligent investigation, Ludovico Armando Zamora Herrera, a renowned forensic expert from Quintana Roo, concluded in January that “there were no technical elements linking Beresford-Redman to the death of Monica” and that there was “no evidence” that Burgos had died in the hotel room. Now it wasn’t just the defense’s experts who were rallying behind Survivor Man. It was the judge’s own expert, ostensibly immune from being swayed by either side, who openly was expressing the view that the state’s case didn’t make any sense.
A sprawling, well-manicured complex, Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort is bigger than many small Mexican towns. Visitors who pass through the gated entrance traverse a mile or more of dense foliage to a main reception area. From there, a network of small paths designed for pedestrians, hotel shuttles and golf carts lead to three separate lobbies. Every guest must wear a brown “security wrist band” at all times. Many thousands of people come and go from Moon Palace each year with nothing but pleasant, if perhaps somewhat hazy, memories of their Mexican sojourn. But in the years surrounding Burgos’ murder, a surprising and disturbing pattern of violence also emerged in and around Moon Palace that arguably casts Burgos’ death in a different light.
In 2007, the family of a Canadian guest said he had been beaten within inches of his life by security guards or other employees of Moon Palace; the hotel claimed the man, who ultimately died, had fallen out of a second-story window. In June 2009, a Scottish woman named Julia Howard, a 77-year-old guest vacationing with her family, went missing on her fifth visit to Moon Palace. The state’s attorney general first asserted that she had gotten lost — a claim the family disputed at the time — then went on to blame the family, accusing them of neglect. Howard eventually was found dead in a mangrove swamp three miles south of Moon Palace. “She never went out of the complex,” Howard’s daughter told the BBC. “To say she walked three miles and in the wrong direction is just ludicrous.”
Then, on April 30, 2010, less than a month after Burgos’ murder, a young American woman vacationing at Moon Palace for her brother’s wedding allegedly was the victim of an attempted rape in her own room by a hotel employee. According to the victim’s father, a dentist from Baltimore, the sexual assault never was investigated. Just one month after that, in May, two hotel employees inexplicably entered a children’s room sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight, prompting screams and an investigation that went nowhere, even though the parents felt the visit was unwarranted and threatening. Even collectively, these episodes, while disturbing, don’t come close to exonerating Beresford-Redman. But what has confounded his attorneys so consistently during the length of his trial was that this pattern of violence at Moon Palace, entered as evidence at the extradition proceedings, seemingly was never investigated as a plausible alternative theory. “Americans are a big driver of tourism down there, and [Mexico] need[s] to be able to have at least the optics of being able to provide a safe travel destination,” says Sgro. “They figured Bruce was the most likely person they could try to convict, and they have been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole since that time.”
Recently, Sgro telephoned Triessl, the lawyer for Burgos’ sisters, Jeane and Carla, and suggested that they might “be on the same side” in the hunt for her killer. Triessl listened politely but declined to explore the possibility. When I asked her recently what was, for her, the most compelling piece of evidence linking Beresford-Redman to Burgos’ death, she cited much of what Mexican authorities based their extradition request on, singling out the numerous entries and exits registered on Beresford-Redman’s key card the night of April 5 as particularly damning. But she declined to discuss the evidence further. “I’m not going to argue evidence with you; that’s not my role in this,” she said. “I’m the sisters’ advocate; it’s my job to be their advocate so that they’re heard.” The couple’s friend, Dana Smalley, who has made no secret of her belief in Beresford-Redman’s innocence, says the public image of her friend has been distorted utterly by the murder allegations. “I’ve gone to Hollywood parties with him; he couldn’t stand them,” she says. “He’d go find the quietest person in the room and go sit down and say, ‘Hi, I’m Bruce.’ He was a phenomenal friend to Steve and still is.”
In Mexico, Cancino, the puppy-eyed lawyer who originally thought Beresford-Redman seemed “cold-blooded,” has become so convinced of his innocence that he’s working on the case for free. Beresford-Redman has promised to pay him if and when he’s ever released. Cancino says he is prepared to take the case all the way to the Mexican Supreme Court, and if it rules against him, to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. “Bruce’s fundamental human rights have been so badly violated that he has a real case based on international human rights law,” says Cancino. “He will eventually be acquitted; it’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when and by whom.” Beresford-Redman’s American lawyers, in turn, say the American consulate in Cancun has been “less than useless” in advocating for Beresford-Redman’s rights as a U.S. citizen. They have tried reaching out to political figures for intervention but have received no replies. The American consul general in Cancun didn’t respond to multiple email and phone requests for comment.
An acquittal also could re-energize the question of who killed Monica Burgos if her husband didn’t. So much time has elapsed, and so much evidence has been destroyed or gone missing, that alternative hypotheses like the one Balderas put forward most likely never will be pursued. Cancino told me he tried to obtain hotel video footage of the night in question but was told by the hotel that the cameras trained on the site where Burgos was found weren’t working that night. Prosecutors refused to speak to me about Beresford-Redman’s case when I visited Cancun recently. At Moon Palace, the cistern where Burgos’ body was found remains hidden in plain sight amid a bland garden of adobe walls, manicured lawns and miniature pathways where an endless stream of oblivious American tourists stroll to and from the sea. Beresford-Redman tries to take the long view.
None of his former friends or family members has come to visit him in the nearly three years he has spent in jail. One former colleague was told to distance himself from Beresford-Redman or else he’d be fired from his position at a major Hollywood production company. “I think he feels a little bit abandoned, yes,” says Juanita. Beresford-Redman says he won’t allow his kids to visit because he doesn’t want them to see him in prison. If he is convicted, he will appeal. He says he doesn’t blame the Burgos sisters for laying Monica’s death at his feet. “They lost their sister; they need someone to blame, I get it,” he says. “But I didn’t kill her. I miss her every day of my life.”