The traditional mystery surrounding horse shows—that milieu of tweeds and top hats, blue ribbons and blue-bloods—is why the judge gave somebody else's horse first place. Murder and mayhem would appear to be as far removed from the tan bark as Jack the Ripper was from Queen Victoria. But recent happenings in this inbred set would quicken the pulse of Hercule Poirot. By gun, dynamite and poison, three people have been killed; by assorted poisons, so have 25 horses. In addition, a trainer was stabbed (not fatally) in full view of a matinee horse-show crowd and the weapon, though probably a plain old pocket knife and not an exotic jeweled stiletto, has vanished. Consequently, the next few months, during which the long horse-show season reaches its competitive peak, may witness some of its participants performing under a jury's eyes with bars and not ribbons as the stake.
Already in jail is Brigadier General Humberto Mariles Cort�s, winner of the 1948 Olympic equestrian gold medal and captain of a team that made the Mexican national anthem almost as familiar to U.S. horse-show audiences as The Star-Spangled Banner. He is charged with last year's fatal shooting of Jesus Vel�zquez M�ndez, an ex-soldier and bricklayer. Soon after the shooting Mariles vanished across the Rio Grande. He returned to Mexico from Texas last June and surrendered. (It is interesting to note that Texas had a sensational crop of green jumpers this past spring.)
Mariles left Mexico, he says in sworn testimony, because he had evidence that his case would not have been properly investigated. He claims the press already had condemned him as a trigger-happy general, but that he was harassed into shooting Vel�zquez in self-defense.
Always a controversial person, Mariles has been beset by extraordinary troubles for more than a decade. At the peak of his fame and ability in 1956 the Mexican government denied him the funds necessary to take his team to the Stockholm Olympics. When private contributors raised the money the government still refused to let him go. Then a mastoiditis condition affected his physical equilibrium and forced his retirement from the show-ring in 1958. Several years later his horses and riders were removed at gun point from the equestrian center on the outskirts of Mexico City that he had built up over 20 years. Although the Mexican Supreme Court upheld his right to the property, Mariles mortgaged his home to found a new club in order to avoid a public scandal. Shortly thereafter 24 of his own and his boarders' horses were found dead. The autopsies revealed poisoning by arsenic and hydrocyanic acid.
Mariles says he was driving about his business in civilian clothes on August 14, 1964, when a late-model Chevrolet with official license plates forced his 1960 Peugeot to the side of the road, where his engine stalled. The other driver, a stranger to him, leaned out and shouted, "Cuckold General, don't obstruct the way." Mariles says he started again down the highway, and once again the other driver—Vel�zquez—drew up and forced him from the road, at the same time making obscene gestures. Mariles says Vel�zquez leapt from his car with a bricklayer's trowel in his hand and shouted some highly uncomplimentary things about the general's mother. According to Mariles' deposition, he drew his pistol and clouted Vel�zquez alongside the head. Vel�zquez continued his attack, and Mariles fired.
Mariles says he took the wounded man to a hospital and was assured by a doctor that he would be all right. The general was driven home by his lawyer and Vel�zquez died nine days later.
It has since emerged that the bricklayer was not exactly an underprivileged workingman of normal habits. Only 18 days before Mariles shot him, Vel�zquez was charged with forcing another car off the road, shooting its two occupants and delivering a blow to the thorax of one of the wounded passengers. He allegedly was under the influence of liquor at that time but somehow was able to produce 40,000 pesos bail.
At his trial Mariles will plead self-defense. His supporters believe Vel�zquez was hired to goad the general into an enraged act that would lead to his downfall. His lawyers are reserving some "well-kept and strange things" in the hopes of proving such a frame-up. Neither Mariles nor his attorneys will identify the general's mysterious enemies, but no one doubts that they exist. Many people believe Mariles has been persecuted by political opponents of Miguel Alem�n, former President of Mexico and once the general's chief sponsor.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., at about the time Mariles was turning himself over to Mexican justice a 22-year-old professional horsewoman named Cherie Rude was killed in dramatic circumstances. On June 14 she was asked by her employer, George Jayne, owner of the Tri-Color Stables of Palatine, a suburb of Chicago, to start his 1965 Cadillac. Jayne was busy with a phone call, and the two were about to drive off on an errand for the stable. A moment after Miss Rude entered the car, it blew up. She was killed by flying debris. The Cadillac had been booby-trapped with dynamite.
"It was meant for me!" said George, and he appeared to have some reason for this assumption. Sinister and mysterious happenings have plagued his life for the last few years, he told a coroner's jury. Jayne says that snipers have fired at him or his employes, his empty stable office was once riddled with 28 bullets, vital records were stolen from his safe and two of his jumpers were poisoned. One horse died of a dose of turpentine, and the other was out of commission through several blue-chip shows.