For Mark Kilroy and his friends, the nightmare began as a spring-break blowout. In the early hours of Saturday, March 11th, Kilroy, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, Bill Huddleston and Bradley Moore, both juniors at Texas A&M, and Brent Martin, a student at Alvin Community College, in Alvin, Texas, packed into Martin’s car and hit the road bound for South Padre Island, a balmy stretch of sand and sea where the southern tip of the Lone Star State meets the Gulf of Mexico. The quartet — all former high-school basketball and baseball teammates from Santa Fe, Texas — were looking forward to a week of drinking, sunning and meeting girls on the beach. Blond and well built, a premed and a good athlete, Kilroy, 21, was the all-American boy next door, described by one of his friends as “an above-average kind of guy.”
On Sunday the four youths decided to make a short trip to nearby Brownsville and then cross the Rio Grande to Matamoros, a scrappy, booming border town whose main attraction to thousands of spring-break students each year is Calle Alvaro Obregon, a wide avenue of bars and discos where you can get a cold Corona with lime for a dollar. Along the way the friends stopped at a hamburger joint and hooked up with a foursome of Kansas coeds who were looking for directions to Matamoros. Once across the border, they rendezvoused with their dates at a club called Sgt. Pepper’s. “The line outside wasn’t too bad,” says Huddleston, “but it was pretty crowded.” The boys drank and danced until about 2:30 a.m., then headed back to their hotel.
The following night, after dropping in at a party thrown by some of Kilroy’s fraternity brothers, he and his friends decided to pay a second visit to Matamoros. This time, though, they parked their car on the American side of the border and walked across the bridge to Calle Obregon.
The first stop was El Sombrero, where they had a couple of drinks before moving a few blocks farther down the street to a joint that had recently been rechristened the Hard Rock, to attract American kids. There Mark left the group to talk to a woman that he knew. “Mark was hanging around with a girl who got third place in the tanning contest,” says Huddleston. Eventually, Kilroy said goodnight to his female friend, and the four youths started walking back toward the bridge. Spirits were high as the friends traded banter about the day’s events. About 200 feet from the American border, Huddleston ran ahead to urinate behind a tree in the small park that lies at the beginning of Calle Obregon. As he left Kilroy’s side, Huddleston noticed a Mexican man motioning in their direction. “I thought maybe it was someone Mark might’ve known,” says Huddleston. “I heard him say something like ‘Didn’t I just see you somewhere?’ or ‘Where did I last see you?'” When Huddleston joined Moore and Martin a few moments later, Kilroy wasn’t with them. After backtracking to look for his friend, Huddleston crossed the border, expecting to find Kilroy at the car with Moore and Martin. The trio waited a few more minutes, then left, thinking that Kilroy had gotten a ride back to the hotel with somebody else. Says Huddleston, “When we woke up the next morning and we still hadn’t heard from him, that’s when we knew something was wrong.”
The search for Mark Kilroy started as a routine missing-persons case. Students were often reported missing in Matamoros, only to turn up the next day with a ferocious hangover and no memory of the night before. But it soon became clear that Mark’s case was different. Authorities on both sides of the Rio Grande suspected foul play, but the police were short on leads. Donald Wells, the U.S. consul in Matamoros, was contacted, and a description of Kilroy was circulated in jails and hospitals. Two days later investigators called in a hypnotist in the hope of turning up some clues. Under hypnosis, Moore told police that he had last seen Kilroy talking to a young Hispanic man with a cut on his face.
Meanwhile, Mark’s parents, James and Helen Kilroy, flew to Brownsville to lead the search. Over the next few weeks the Kilroys mounted a determined campaign to locate their son. They circulated 20,000 leaflets throughout the Rio Grande valley offering a $15,000 reward for any information concerning his whereabouts. The Kilroys also met with representatives of several key Texas officials, including Attorney General Jim Mattox, Governor William Clements and Senator Lloyd Bentsen. On Sunday, March 26th, Mark Kilroy’s case was featured on the television crime program America’s Most Wanted. The show generated an outpouring of mail and telephone calls but no useful clues. A few days later the Kilroys returned to their home in Santa Fe but vowed not to give up their search. “It was very hard for us to come back because we wanted Mark to be with us,” Helen Kilroy told reporters. “But the police promised us that they wouldn’t lessen the intensity of their investigation.”