By Alex P. Vidal
“Probably the toughest time in anyone’s life is when you have to murder a loved one because they’re the devil.” – Emo Philips
JIMMY de la Torre’s murder in the balcony of Crown Cinerama, a downtown movie house on corner Ledesma-Quezon Streets, Iloilo City occurred at around past one o’clock in the afternoon, a rainy Tuesday, on June 27, 1990.
I “witnessed” it.
I was seated five seats away from Jimmy, 27, and his wife Celia, 26, when the macabre slaying happened.
Some 20 minutes earlier, I bumped into Jimmy, then Southeast Asian (SEA) Games marathon record holder, and Celia in the ticket booth in the ground floor while on their way to the theater’s second floor.
We greeted each other casually. It was our first meeting since I covered the Bombo Radyo Marathon in Pavia, Iloilo several months earlier.
During the Pavia race, I was standing at the finish line when Jimmy breasted the tape, beating arch rival and fellow Ilonggo champion, Herman Suizo, by the skin of the teeth.
Jimmy was from Pototan, Iloilo, while Suizo hailed from Sta. Barbara, Iloilo.
The pair had been dominating the marathon in the country the way Attila the Hun ruled the Hunnic Empire and the Balkans.
“Jimmy, you broke the record (in the 20-K event),” I told him after the race. “Ha, na break ko? (oh yeah?),” he replied happily. “Ay salamat (thank you).”
Jimmy was the first back-to-back Filipino champion (1981-1982) of the lung-busting 42.195-K National Milo Marathon.
He also held the record of 2 hours, 25 minutes, and 16 seconds (Cresenciano Sabal held the record at 2:21:33 he registered in the 29th edition in 2005), the fastest in the country and in the SEAG at that time.
Future SEA Games gold medalist Suizo, by the way, avenged the defeat at the Yakult Marathon, where I was one of the participants and finished by the wayside–good for a certificate!
Inside the theater that fateful afternoon, I went up ahead of Jimmy and Celia in the balcony section.
Only a handful of patrons were present when I reached inside the main theater, which was showing a cartoon film.
I occupied a middle row seat and noticed several vacant seats on my left and right. I was seated a spit away from where the main lights that transmitted the film to the big screen were coming from.
Minutes later, I saw the couple occupy the two seats on my left. They didn’t notice me. I reclined and closed my eyes to sleep.
I checked the surroundings from time to time, thus some five to 10 minutes later, I saw Celia leave her seat and go outside—to the canteen. Jimmy stayed.
Celia returned after about five minutes. Some 10 minutes later, a lone gunshot exploded followed by a loud scream from a woman later identified as Celia.
When I checked, I saw a fat guy in a white shirt throw a hard object on the floor and hurriedly walk to my right, passing at the back where I was seated, before going downstairs, mixing with fleeing moviegoers and exiting through the main door.
As pandemonium broke loose, the lights switched on suddenly.
I quickly grabbed my manual pocket camera and approached a man on the chair twitching in pain and shaking, blood oozing from his temple.
I positioned myself in front of the victim and saw his eyes roll as if begging at anyone to save him.
By the time I fired the first of my series of camera shots, I already realized the victim was Jimmy de la Torre.
I couldn’t do something to save the dying man as I was shocked myself and on the verge of tears.
Jimmy was a pitiful sight. It’s so difficult to bear watching a sports hero, whose exploits I had covered as a sportswriter on several occasions, slumped dead after being gunned down in a treacherous manner—a victim of senseless murder.
My instinct as a cub reporter persuaded me not to leave the place until the smoke has been cleared, so to speak, thus I observed the wife’s demeanor.
Then Budyong TV Patrol broadcasters Ibrahim Calanao and Ranie Jangayo arrived and interviewed me “live”.
They also interviewed next Celia, who was hysterical and crying but didn’t do something—or at least embrace her husband and plead to fellow moviegoers to bring Jimmy to the hospital.
When then Metropolitan Police District Command (Metrodiscom) chief, Col. Achilles Plagata, a future city councilor, and his team of investigators arrived, Celia became increasingly hysterical.
They recovered a .38 “paltik” revolver on the floor used in the killing.
I was connected with News Express but gave a copy of the exclusive photo of Jimmy, taken while he was gasping for his last breath, to then Visayan Tribune editor-in-chief, Herbert Vego.
It landed in the front page accompanied by a headline story about the murder.
It was actually my second “eye-witness-account” exclusive crime photo. Five months earlier during the 1990 Dinagyang Festival in downtown, City Proper, I was “lucky” to be “in the right place at the right time” when an off-duty cop from Arevalo district was peppered with bullets while answering a call of nature in a sidewalk in the corner of Ledesma and Valeria Streets.
Murder charges had been filed against the suspect in Jimmy’s murder, but were dismissed by then city prosecutor Efrain Baldago for “lack of evidence”.
Some people closed to Jimmy, as well as probably some family members, believed the marathon king, who made waves in the Boston Marathon and made many Filipinos proud, was a victim of a love triangle.
This theory has not been independently proven and his unsolved murder remains a mystery after 32 years.
At the time of Jimmy’s murder, Ilonggos were still talking about the 4-1 win of Detroit Pistons against Portland Trailblazers in the 1990 NBA finals.
The Pistons versus Trailblazers best-of-seven series, by the way, was the first NBA finals since 1979 where the perennial finalists, Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, weren’t involved.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies.—Ed)