Who is George Alan Kelly? What we know about the Nogales rancher accused of murdering Mexican migrant
George Alan Kelly, now accused of murder, once studied to become a veterinarian and apparently wrote a book about ranching along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Kelly, 74, is accused of shooting and killing Gabriel Cuen Buitimea, a Mexican migrant whose body was found on Jan. 30 on Kelly’s nearly 170-acre property near Nogales.
Prosecutors allege that Kelly shot Buitimea in the back as the victim was running for his life. Kelly’s lawyer maintains that Kelly only fired warning shots above the heads of a group of migrants moving through his property.
When Kelly found Buitimea’s body, he referred to Buitimea as an “animal” in a 911 call with a Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher. Kelly offered few details during the call and sidestepped calling the body “human” multiple times.
While details about Kelly’s life have become available through public records, a lot less is known about Buitimea. Kelly will face one count of second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault when his case goes to trial in September.
Here’s what we know about Kelly.
Fictional book shares similarities to Kelly's life
Kelly apparently wrote a self-published 2013 book titled "Far Beyond the Border Fence.” The 57-page book follows a southern Arizona rancher who has to rescue his family and horses after they’re kidnapped along the Arizona-Mexico border.
The rancher must face an "international plan to destroy twin American/Mexican cities," according to the book’s description on Amazon.
The book seems to have grown in popularity following Kelly’s arrest. It has been reviewed a total of 26 times on Amazon with almost all written after Kelly was charged in January. Only two reviews, both from 2016, were posted before February.
The book’s characters and places share many similarities to Kelly’s real life.
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The book’s main rancher character is named “George” and his wife is named “Wanda,” the same names as Kelly and his wife. In the book, the ranch is called “VMR Ranch,” a possible acronym for the name of Kelly’s real life ranch, Vermilion Mountain Ranch.
The book describes how migrants, led by armed human smugglers, would cross through the VMR ranch several times each week. The rancher and his foreman had to patrol the ranch daily with AK-47s daily.
The borderlands are described in the book as a "war zone" where U.S. citizen landowners have no other choice than to protect their lives and property “by risking their very lives.”
Drug runners in the book would cross through the ranch at night armed with automatic weapons "which they shot first and asked questions never."
“They knew that they trespassed on the VMR at their own peril and that their fire would be returned,” the book reads.
In one scene in the book, two people who the rancher believes stole one of his horses are riding through the ranch toward Mexico. The rancher jumps in his pickup truck to chase them before running after them on foot with an “AK-47 in hand,” the book says.
“(The rancher) emptied the clip as close to the horses as he could without hitting them, the horses that is,” the author writes "George flipped the duct taped clip over and began firing the second thirty round clip, aiming directly at the riders themselves.”
The book goes on to describe how the rancher shot one of the riders in the arm. When the sheriff arrives after the incident, he asks the rancher if he thought he had hit any of the riders.
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In response, the rancher replies that “if he had hit one, he hadn’t hit him hard enough.”
The rancher tells the sheriff that if he didn’t want him to protect his property by whatever means necessary, the sheriff should arrest the rancher. As the sheriff is leaving, he privately tells the rancher that if he ever did shoot a “mule,” the sheriff didn’t want to know about it, the book reads.
A Montana resort, government work history
Kelly was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1949.
He pursued higher education in pre-med and pre-vet studies in order to become a veterinarian.
Kelly received his bachelor’s degree in biology and worked as a fishery biologist and project leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to a 2013 court document from a lawsuit Kelly and his wife filed against the owners of the Kino Springs Golf Course.
The document was filed as part of an appeal on behalf of Kino Springs Golf Course after Kelly and his wife, Wanda, won the lawsuit.
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Kelly also worked for the National Park Service, according to a 13-page motion filed by Kelly’s lawyer, Brenna Larkin. Kelly married Wanda in the 1970s and, when she became pregnant, abandoned vet school to work, the motion reads.
For nearly 15 years during the 1980s and 1990s, the Kellys owned and operated a luxury “eco-resort” in Montana called Eagle’s Nest Lodge, according to the 2013 appeal. The resort was geared toward “exclusive clientele” and gave guests the chance to fish along the Bighorn River.
At the same time, Kelly worked for 12 years in partnership with Orvis, an outdoor retailer focused on fly fishing and sporting goods. Kelly evaluated the accommodations offered by other luxury resorts in different states and countries in order to provide Orvis’ endorsement, according to the appeal document.
The Kellys allowed their children to take over the business before the lodge was eventually sold. The Kellys retired in Montana.
A California couple bought the lodge and subsequently sold it to the current owner, said Rebecca Shirley, manager of the Eagle’s Nest Lodge in Hardin, Montana.
The majority of the people in Hardin aren’t aware of Kelly’s case in Arizona, Shirley said. Shirley said she did not know Kelly.
The Kellys have two sons and a number of grandchildren. One son is a professor and the other is a professional horse trainer, per court documents. Both live outside of Arizona.
Luxury resort planned for southern Arizona
The Kellys moved to Arizona and began ranching in 1997. In 2002, the pair purchased the 170-acre parcel of land near Kino Springs, per court documents.
The characters in "Far Beyond the Border Fence" also moved from Montana to an Arizona ranch.
The Kellys planned to build and open a new resort on the land called Vermilion Mountain Ranch where they would offer horseback riding, hiking and astronomy, according to the appeal document. The Kellys planned on building and selling five “lodge homes" on their property.
Kelly testified that he could have charged $1,000 per night for each guest at the resort, per court documents. Half of the money would have been profit.
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Kelly planned for the resort to accommodate up to 24 guests and operate five days a week for six months a year. One of the homes was built in 2008 once power became available.
The ranch retained the name despite the resort never opening, according to assessor records.
The Kellys have lived in the house since 2008 and their only source of income is Social Security, according to court documents. The pair also own land near Springerville and Kelly has described himself as “land rich and dollar poor.”
One man living in the Kino Springs community near Kelly’s ranch said he didn’t know who Kelly was or that he lived nearby until he saw news reports about his arrest.
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