Kyle Kester’s parents admit they weren’t thrilled when he built his dream home tucked in a rocky, secluded valley 18 miles north of Guadalajara.
They worried for his safety in the isolated Mexican countryside where the nearest neighbor was a half-hour ride down a rutted dirt road, passable at times only by motorcycle, or whether the state-of-the-art 6,000-square-foot stucco house in a poverty-stricken land could make him a target for thieves, or worse.
The 38-year-old Apple Valley native reassured his parents that he was safe among the locals he befriended and employed to help him build the house by hand in a land where good-paying jobs were scarce. They were like family, he said, and he trusted them.
“He loved the people,” his father, Harley Kester said. “He would still love them. I’m sure he would.”
Kester was slain Feb. 10 in the home he had finished just a few months earlier. A friend found his body in a bedroom about two days after he was beaten and stabbed to death, allegedly by a pair of teenagers and a 21-year-old whom he had hired to help him install an irrigation system and who were frequent guests in his home. The suspects were identified through footage captured on surveillance cameras Kester had installed, and the teenagers were arrested. The third suspect is believed to have fled to the United States. The getaway driver was arrested and released.
The grief has stretched from the rural Mexican villages where Kester was beloved to Apple Valley, where his parents are left in the dark about the details of the investigation. All they know is that their eldest son was brutally killed for a pickup truckload of electronics.
“Kyle just would have said ‘Take it,’ ” said his mother, Wini Kester, nodding toward the urn on the mantel filled with her son’s ashes. “He would have given them anything they wanted, or he would have given them the opportunity to earn money and buy the things that they wanted.”
Guadalajara police have told the Kesters little about the investigation. Their main source of information has been Kester’s closest friend, Hugo Barron Felix, who visits the juvenile jail daily where the teenagers are held, hoping to get word on a trial date.
“The authorities for now are only presenting basic information,” Barron Felix said in an e-mail translated from Spanish. “The police department is extremely slow in this country.”
The teenagers could receive a maximum of five to seven years in prison.
Wini Kester remembers the time the call came in — 6:37 p.m. It was from a friend of her son’s from Phoenix.
“Right away, I said ‘What happened to him?’ ” she said. “I always had this fear. I used to have dreams of him getting beat up and hurt.”
Barron Felix said he is still dealing with the trauma of losing Kester, who was accepted as a member of his family.
“Taking the train or passing by places where we used to go to eat and have fun is enough to bring memories and literally liters of tears,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Kesters are mired in a series of bureaucratic hoops as they try to bring their son’s belongings home. Police have confiscated Kyle’s vehicles, property and a $30,000 backhoe he bought to build the house. An attorney the parents hired claims he’s entitled to 30 percent of the estate as payment. When the Kesters tried to fire him, he threatened to strip Barron Felix of a notarized letter from the Kesters that gives him access to Kyle’s property and some records.
Meanwhile, the house sits locked and empty. Their son’s bloodstains haven’t been cleaned from the walls. Some of his property has disappeared. The Kesters have reached out to the Mexican Consulate in both St. Paul and Mexico for help, as well as Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office. So far, it’s yielded little, although they’ve heard that some of Kyle’s things may be released soon with a judge’s sign-off. In a statement, Klobuchar’s office acknowledged they “had been in contact with the family and they will continue to work to help resolve the problem.”
In a statement Monday, the State Department said it could not discuss the investigation, citing respect for the Kester family’s privacy. “We again express our deepest condolences to Kyle Kester’s family and friends. U.S. Consulate officials remain in contact with his family, and have provided all appropriate consular assistance.”
Free spirit landed in Mexico
Kester was just a kid in Apple Valley when he became obsessed with rebuilding and repairing cars, and he was good at it. He worked as a mechanic in Minnesota before he moved to California, bouncing from Sacramento to San Diego before he left for Phoenix in 2004. He branched out to refurbishing homes, then renting them out. He hired Mexican immigrants, learned to speak Spanish and became attached to their culture of hard work, honesty and loyalty. He was disillusioned when many of them were deported, and decided to leave for Mexico in 2010 while continuing to manage properties in Phoenix. A stint in Puerto Vallarta proved too tourist-heavy, so he moved inland to Guadalajara in the western half of the country, where he fell in love with the locals and the rugged landscape.
The excitement is clear in Kester’s voice in YouTube videos he posted for friends and family back home, walking through the partially completed house and touring the land, explaining where he’ll put a field for his horses and the rocks they’ll use for a massive retaining wall to keep out roaming cattle. One of his friends chases him with a 4-foot snake pulled from a pond on the property.
His easygoing nature, enthusiasm and mechanical aptitude in the project show through. They’re the same traits that easily won him respect and appreciation, Barron Felix said.
“He was my teacher in many ways. In life, in work, in growing as a person, and now also in dealing with death,” Barron Felix said. “This world has lost a productive and affectionate person.”
Kyle’s parents admit that in the midst of a bureaucratic quagmire, the reality of their son’s death hasn’t hit them yet. Closure, if attainable, is far away, Harley Kester said, but justice could help the family find it.
At the very least, he said, “A [prison] sentence worthy of what they did.”
Memorial services were held for Kester in both Mexico and Phoenix. A third will take place in Minnesota on April 27 for his friends and family.