Detectives say he's been on the run six years, a murder suspect slipping in and out of Santa Rosa to see his children, while avoiding police and perhaps friends of the man detectives say he killed.
Ricardo Puentes, 33, standing 5-foot-9, avoids detection with help from family and friends, said Sgt. Steve Fraga, violent crime investigation supervisor. But he also works to change his appearance.
He's lost and gained weight, shaved his head, grown his hair long and pulled it back in a pony tail and at times dressed as a woman, sources told detectives.
Santa Rosa police have been looking for Puentes since a Jan. 15, 2005 slaying, calling him one of their most wanted suspected criminals.
"...he walked into an apartment full of people and in cold blood executed Semere Girmai and turned the gun on one of the witnesses," Prosecutor Traci Carrillo alleged. "He's been on the run since."
The Hoen Avenue shooting was fueled by a feud between cocaine and methamphetamine dealers with ties to gangs, said Fraga. It apparently erupted over control of drug clientele.
With several witnesses to the slaying, the identity of the shooter never was a mystery, police said. One accomplice was prosecuted and court testimony points to Puentes as the triggerman.
Puentes' arrest is the missing piece before detectives can finally close the case. And they want the public's help to catch him.
They've released his photo and announced a reward.
Sonoma County Alliance will pay $2,500 to anyone who gives police information leading to his arrest.
"There are people in this area who have had and continue to have contact with him," said Santa Rosa Det. Bryan Reynolds, lead investigator. "It's a tight circle and none of those people have come forward."
Detectives hope people will tip them off when Puentes returns to Santa Rosa, where his two children draw him back.
The closest they've come to catching him was in July when they received a tip that he was at an east Santa Rosa apartment. But as detectives were preparing to head for the neighborhood Puentes spotted a patrol car in the area and disappeared, Fraga said.
He apparently returned to Santa Rosa at least once more, over the Christmas holidays, but was not discovered when he was here.
Puentes is obviously good at hiding or lucky, detectives said. A 2005 murder arrest warrant for him would alert law enforcement if he was stopped anywhere in the United States.
He's still considered a dangerous man.
"We do believe he's armed and dangerous. He's avoided apprehension for six years now," said Fraga. "He was armed with a gun in the murder and we believe he's still armed."
Three men — Puentes, Omar Chavez and Matthew Moore — are accused of walking into the Hoen Avenue apartment at about 3:20 a.m. that January morning looking for Girmai with "an axe to grind," said Fraga.
Girmai was seated at a table. Witnesses said Girmai looked up and swore out loud as they approached. Puentes allegedly pulled out a handgun and shot him repeatedly in the head, face and chest and then shot another man in the arm.
The shooting sparked at least two incidents of retaliation, including one more person shot and an incident of shots fired at a building.