Detective Chavez, Corrales’ Replacement, Killed in Domestic Disturbance on Houston’s East Side

Nelson Zoch

EOW: September 17, 1925

On the evening of Wednesday, January 21, 1925, the lives of three individuals came abruptly to a violent end in the 2000 block of Congress Avenue at what was then near the eastern edge of the City of Houston.

There was Houston Police Detective Pete Corrales, an officer for just four short years, having joined the force in 1921. Corrales, married and the father of seven children, was nearing the end of his tour of duty at 9 p.m. He was in the barber shop section of an establishment at 2003 Congress that served as both a barber shop and soft drink parlor.

Detective Corrales and an older gentleman, Jesus Caceras, were seated in the barber shop.  Through a thin partition, they overheard a very disturbing conversation. Corrales’ interest in what he heard cost him his life.

The conversation involved a twenty-five-year-old woman named Juanita Guzman, a native of Coahuila, Mexico. She had only been in the United States a short time and operated the soft drink stand at this location. She lived in the rear of 2003 Congress address. Also overheard in this conversation was Max Martinez, a Hispanic male later reported to own an interest in a restaurant on nearby Odin Avenue.

Martinez and Guzman had been dating for some time. Their relationship included numerous quarrels Even though she had broken off the relationship, most acquaintances felt that she had remained on friendly terms with Martinez. Unfortunately, Martinez was not able to let his feelings for this young woman rest On this night, Juanita Guzman was seated on a chair near the end of the partition where she could keep her eye on the soft drink counter as well as listen to the barber shop conversation.  Naturally, the barber, Mr. Cantu, was present.

Martinez entered the establishment and ordered a soda from Guzman. She was heard to say, “I have none.” This was apparently a rebuke that Martinez was not mentally prepared to hear. The room became quiet for a few seconds. Witnesses heard muffled conversations but couldn’t understand the words.

A shot rang out, prompting Detective Corrales to draw his pistol and run around the partition. He confronted Martinez standing over the prostrate body of Juanita Guzman. The guns of both men blazed simultaneously and when the firing stopped, both Detective Corrales and his assailant Martinez were on the floor, critically wounded.

Detective Corrales managed to regain his feet and staggered to a nearby drug store where he waited for an ambulance. A Fogle-West ambulance arrived and rushed both men to St. Joseph’s Infirmary. Martinez died en route and Corrales died a short time later. Neither was ever able to speak after having been shot.

Five shots were fired, in what the Houston Press reported to have been the shortest gun battle in the records of the Houston Police Department. Juanita Guzman was dead at the scene, having been shot point blank in the face. Detective Corrales was struck above the heart and seen by witnesses with blood gushing from that fatal wound. It wasn’t exactly clear where Corrales’ bullets hit Martinez but it was obvious that they also hit home.

While no obituary for Detective Corrales was published in the local newspapers, he left a wife and seven children. Newspaper accounts the next day reported the detective’s widow as saying, “He did his duty. He died as he lived—bravely. He did as I would have had him do. He faced danger without flinching.” The interview was reportedly done at their small cottage at No. 22 Chenevert as her seven children grouped around her. Some of them were too young to understand the gravity of the situation. They nodded in approval of their mother’s comments.

At this point, Mrs. Corrales wasn’t crying; her tears had all been shed during a seemingly endless sleepless night with her family. She also was quoted as saying, “I’ll be able to take care of the children some way.”

In a more detailed interview with Mr. Cacera, the following was learned: Further investigation determined that Guzman and Martinez had been involved in a relationship for some time. Their original relationship had broken off and it was believed to be on friendly terms – except from Martinez’ real point of view. He owned and operated a restaurant on nearby Odin Avenue and was still upset about the break-up. Martinez, in essence, was an early-day stalker, apparently unable to accept Guzman’s refusal to continue the relationship.

Funeral services were held for Detective Corrales on Saturday, January 24, 1925, at 2:30 p.m. from the modest Corrales family home at No. 22 Chenevert. Religious services followed at 3 p.m. at the Guadalupe Church, with the Reverend Father De Anta officiating. Burial took place under the direction of the Houston Undertaking Company at the Holy Cross Cemetery on North Main. Detective Corrales was the only Hispanic detective on the force at the time of his death. Six of his fellow officers carried him to his grave on that dark and dreary day in January. They were W. F. Blalock, W. H. Anderson, T. J. Lyons, Gus Butler, W. H. Cain and Tony Margiotta.

The Houston Post failed to carry stories about this tragic event and the Press and Chronicle provided only limited coverage. No plans were mentioned in either of the latter two publications regarding any financial assistance for Mrs. Corrales and her large family.  The January 22 edition of the Chronicle ran a front-page photo of the inside of the business where the shooting happened. Featured in the photo was Mr. Caceres pointing to locations, probably in a reenactment of the crime. Also in the photo was Mrs. Eva Bacher, HPD’s first-ever female officer, who was seated in the same chair where Ms. Guzman was seated. Also shown were Herman Radke and F. Berner, city detectives. Detective Berner was the grandfather of retired HPD Robbery/Homicide Detective Frederick Berner.

Retired HPD Lieutenant Eli P. Rivera has indicated that he was in some manner related to Detective Corrales.  Research through the Catholic Cemetery Association revealed an earlier date of burial than originally used in the story of Corrales’ death. Rivera found a woman who was the youngest of the seven Corrales children. She said in an interview that she was three years old at the time of her father’s death.  In 2006, she was eighty-four years old. This daughter, Ruby, was believed to be the only living child of Officer and Mrs. Pete Corrales. This surviving daughter of one of Houston’s finest desired to maintain her privacy. Therefore, nothing more is known about the Corrales widow and children.