PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Life has moved on in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood since Norman Aguillon was found bloodied and staggering in the middle of North Lombard Street 26 years ago.
For Linda Crete — Aguillon’s best friend and the mother of his then 8-year-old son — unanswered questions and profound sadness linger. Even now, she holds out hope this cold case will finally be solved.
Norman Aguillon originally came to the Pacific Northwest for a better life after fleeing Cuba in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift.
“He went to to go to the ship and they actually were shooting at them,” Crete recently told KOIN 6 News.
Between April and October 1980, about 125,000 Cubans boarded boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. It was “precipitated by housing and job shortages caused by the ailing Cuban economy.” Since some of the exiles had been released from Cuban jails and mental health facilities, many were placed in refugee camps while others were held in federal prisons to undergo deportation hearings. Of the 125,000 “Marielitos,” as the refugees came to be known, who landed in Florida, more than 1700 were jailed and another 587 were detained until they could find sponsors. — History.com
Aguillon landed in Florida and, once there, got sponsors in Olympia, Washington, where he and Crete met. He worked at a church and she lived across the street.
“I had 5 kids and he’d do things like, I’d wake up and there would be a pair of tennis shoes for my daughter on the front porch,” she said. “He just became a part of my life. Just was there all the time.”
The 42-year-old was known for his sense of humor and his empanadas. He knew how fleeting life could be, yet he still approached each day with a smile.
“He was always cracking a joke. I mean he’d be the person in the middle of the room dancing when everybody else was sitting down.”
Even though they broke up about 6 years before he died, they were in contact every day. “He still had clothes at my house. He had his own closet,” she said. Norman would come by for “daily check-ins with his son.”
About a month before he died, Crete said he asked her if they could get back together. She said no.
“I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had said yes,” she said.
A dented car, a red football jersey
Just after 1 a.m. on August 31, 1993, Portland police found Norman Aguillon staggering in the middle of North Lombard covered in blood. He had been stabbed multiple times.
Witnesses at that time told investigators 3 Hispanic men in the 20s got out of a dark, dented car and attacked him. One of the attackers was wearing a red football jersey. A fourth man was driving.
Investigators said Aguillon wasn’t in any known gangs but may have been involved in illicit drugs.
Crete said she was told the attack happened on a sidewalk in front of a tavern. “It was over money that he owed them,” she said. “I guess they don’t get their money back now.”
Norman’s girlfriend at the time called Linda’s house to tell her he was dead.
“I was just numb,” she said. “You know, how do you tell an 8-year-old?”
No one has ever been arrested in connection with his death.
Linda Crete, now 61, is convinced someone out there has the power to bring her some peace. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people who know. It’s just a case of proving or talking.”
She said she just wants answers.
“I’m sure they have families. I don’t want to do to their children what they did to mine. I just want answers.”
Crime Stoppers of Oregon is offering up to a $2500 reward for information that leads to an arrest in this case. It’s also one of the cold cases featured in a deck of playing cards launched by PPB’s Cold Case Homicide Unit in 2009.
His card is on a poster at the Multnomah County Jail. The playing cards are still distributed to county jails, state penitentiaries and federal prisons across Oregon with hopes of generating new tips that lead to answers and justice.
“Closure would be nice,” Linda Crete said. “They took a lot away from us. They took a life. He was somebody.”