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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Area man murdered in Mexico

On the morning of September 3 in Mexico City, a maid was cleaning rooms at the hotel Maria Cristina. After knocking repeatedly on the door of a room occupied by a retired American judge named Christopher Kepler, she called security. When they opened the door, they found Kepler, 57, dead in the room. He had been beaten, strangled, bound and gagged.

Kepler was an only child from Spencer who spent the second half of his life in Texas and Mexico. With his parents gone and no siblings, Mexican authorities used passport information to reach Kepler's cousin in northwest Iowa.

"They called me from Mexico City," said Dick Long, a plain-spoken auctioneer from Milford. "It wasn't a shock to me that he was down there because he went down there a lot... but I couldn't believe it when they told me what happened."

Less than two weeks ago, Mexico City officials made an arrest in the case. But to Kepler's friends back in Dallas, many questions about the murder remain unanswered.

Kepler was in Mexico City for eye surgery, friends say. He suffered from diabetes, and in recent months his condition had deteriorated quickly. He was rapidly losing his vision. It had gotten so bad, friends say, he could barely get around.

Why Kepler would go to Mexico City alone when he couldn't see well enough to drive baffles his friend Lloyd Bockstruck. But what is more puzzling to Bockstruck is why Kepler drafted a will in July and then redrafted it in August shortly before his trip to Mexico City. Bockstruck said the will was found in Kepler's hotel room.

The victim graduated from Spencer High School in 1967. He went on to University of Iowa, with post-graduate stops at Hamlin School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., Harvard University and the National Judicial College at Nevada-Reno.

Kepler spent several years practicing and teaching law in Mexico City before moving to Houston in 1980. He worked as a municipal judge, a county tax judge, and later, in private law practice.

The "loner" cousin Long remembers showed a different side in Dallas. Bockstruck describes Kepler as a man of fine taste who had little tolerance for people with poor manners or inferior intellect. He was known to host lavish dinner parties, and to enjoy fine foods and wines, and fine art. "He was the kind of person who couldn't buy just one of something."

Alexander Troup, another of Kepler's friends, told The Dallas Morning News that Kepler often hosted Mexican officials in Dallas for shopping excursions or exclusive parties. He wonders if these relationships may have had something to do with Kepler's death, but Bockstruck dismisses this theory as unlikely.

The suspect in the case, Eduard Giovanni Hernandez, a 26-year-old from Honduras, told police that he met Kepler in the Pink Zone - an area popular among tourists for its restaurants, bars and nightlife - and that they had spent time together over a two-week period.

Long also alluded to Mexico City's violent past.

"When you go down to that country, you can expect the worst sometimes," he said.

Eleanor Kepler died in April, leaving her son a large inheritance from her real estate fortune. Bockstruck can't help but wonder why his friend would draft one will and then another so shortly before his death. "It is very strange," he said.

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