Cowboy Down

Rob Krentz's family talks about the life and death of the murdered Arizona rancher

Sue is sitting at her cluttered kitchen table, which serves as the center of a whirlwind of activity.

A good friend, Judy Keeler, who lives on a ranch just inside nearby New Mexico, has come over to visit.

Sue's daughter, 25-year-old Kyle Gutierrez of Wyoming, is staying awhile at the ranch with her two young children, Robert and Madyson.

Rob and Sue Krentz at their wedding in July 1977 in Douglas.
Rob and Sue Krentz at their wedding in July 1977 in Douglas.
This sign, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, is on Forest Service land adjacent to the Krentz family ranch in southeast Arizona, about 20 miles north of the Mexican border.
Paul Rubin
This sign, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, is on Forest Service land adjacent to the Krentz family ranch in southeast Arizona, about 20 miles north of the Mexican border.

Robert, who is 4, told Sue after Rob died, "'You don't have to worry about it, Grandma. I'm gonna kill the bad guy.'"

Sue says she told the little boy, "You can't do that," explaining why revenge isn't the way to seek justice.

Sue is a sturdy woman in her mid-50s who has spent a lifetime living on ranches. It shows in her weathered hands and face, which are at the mercy of the desert sun, relentless wind, and biting winter cold.

She speaks her mind and is an unusually good listener.

Today, she's fretting about the ranch, which she alone now owns with her brother-in-law Phil and his wife, Carrie, and her sister-in-law Susan Pope and her husband, Louie.

"There is no rich uncle," she says. "This is it. It's us, making it or breaking it."

A poster of John Wayne in western garb hangs on a wall that leads to the living room.

"That's my dad," Kyle Gutierrez says, pointing to the poster. "My dad was John Wayne. He could do anything and everything. If I had a problem, he'd know what to do. A math question, he'd figure it out in his head. He was a big man, but he really was a teddy bear. Just like John Wayne."

The room quiets.

Kyle continues: "I know his last thought was, 'Oh, shit. What's gonna happen to my family?' He didn't think about himself. He thought about her."

The young woman gestures to her mother, who is crying silently at the words.

Sue steps into the living room, where she keeps her desktop computer. Nearby, a bunch of well-worn cowboy hats hang on wall pegs — some of them were Rob's, the others her two sons'.

"You know, all of my kids are trying to be brave," she says. "I guess we don't have a choice, other than I could go crazy."

She pauses.

"Let me tell you a little bit about me and Rob, okay?"


It was a marriage of Cochise County ranching royalty when Rob Krentz and Sue Kimble got hitched in Douglas in 1977.

The Krentzes and the Kimbles are two of southeastern Arizona's most revered cattle-ranching families. Both clans' ranches are at the south end of the San Simon Valley, between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountain ranges.

Rob was a few years older than Sue. He was popular as a teenager, a big rancher's kid with a quietly solid way about him. He was active in 4-H and played football for the Douglas High Bulldogs.

Sue was the third of seven siblings. As a teen, she saw herself as something of a loser, an overweight girl who never went to prom.

Rob earned his nickname of "Cap'n Crunch" as an interior lineman for the Bulldogs, an unheralded team that finished second in the state in a smaller-school division in 1968, when he was a junior.

Rob enrolled at Cochise Community College after graduation and spent two years there before transferring to the University of Arizona, where he earned a degree in animal science.

He was a fine student, and Cornell University in upstate New York offered him an Ivy League postgraduate fellowship.

But Rob just wanted to be a cowboy, and he returned to the ranch that his father, Bob, was still running.

Sue Kimble attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for two years before also returning home for good.

Rob and Sue had their first date on June 23, 1976, at a Douglas country bar called the Red Barn.

"It was one of those deals," Sue says. "We could have gotten married right then and there."

They waited until July 23, 1977.

"Not many people get to come home when they grow up," Sue says. "I did. I got to be a rancher's wife, and Rob turned out to be the perfect man for me. He always kept me level."

The newlyweds honeymooned in San Diego, and then returned to Krentz Ranch to brand cattle for six days straight.

Such is the ranching life.

Being so close to the Mexican border, the Krentzes had frequent, usually friendly, contact with Mexicans (their daughter married a Mexican American).

But circumstances changed for the worse in the mid-1990s.

One of the Krentzes' neighbors, Bill McDonald of the Sycamore Canyon Ranch, described what happened in a May 28 testimony before a U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee:

"Border crossers, going both ways, are not new to our area. As long as I can remember — and long before — ranch hands and cowboys from northern Chihuahua and Sonora crossed to work in southern Arizona and New Mexico . . . The border was casual, and the area was peaceful for years.

"The numbers of crossers did not become problematic for local residents until about 10 years ago. Large amounts of trash, cut pasture fences, floats broken off in water troughs, water lines cut and precious stored water lost, trails made by humans so deep that they start gully erosion . . . all of this has cost ranchers dearly in repairs, extra cattle work, and destruction of the landscape. Still, most ranchers just continued to try to live with it."

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