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Tina Dirmann is a reporter for US Weekly Magazine and has worked also for The Los Angeles Times.
Peter Martinez was bored, as usual. But after serving twenty-five years in the Marine Corps, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, the retired sergeant major enjoyed the quiet he found as a security guard charged with keeping an eye on the eighty or so multimillion-dollar homes that lined the sandy shore in the private community of Saint Malo Beach in Oceanside, California. He particularly enjoyed working the uneventful graveyard post and had grown accustomed to the simple sounds of the ocean as it roared in the not-too-far distance from his guard shack.
Despite its beauty, Oceanside was a place most visitors zooming down the 5 Freeway simply passed on their way to the more popular destination point of San Diego, just twenty minutes away and home not only to beaches, but to the very popular Sea World tourist attraction. In fact, the Oceanside beaches weren’t even visible from the freeway, so tourists, and the troublemaking their revelry can sometimes bring, were scant.
Martinez was armed. As a career military man, he’d had a pistol strapped to his side since he was 18 years old. But in the eight years he’d worked as a Saint Malo Beach security guard, he’d never pulled that firearm from his hip.
Still, he stiffened when he saw car headlights break the black night sky just before 2 a.m. on January 14, 2003.
The 2000 Oldsmobile Intrigue stopped several houses away from his shack, but he could still make out two figures as they lifted a bag out of their trunk. He watched as the pair struggled to heave their heavy load over their heads and into the roughly seven-foot-tall Dumpster in front of the neatly kept white two-story home at 2041 South Pacific Street. “Someone’s trying to dump a load of garbage,” Martinez thought. But this was private property, so he walked toward the car to give them a friendly but stern reminder.
On approach, Martinez saw a tall man, easily over 6 feet, and a smaller man, maybe even a teenager, still gripping their oversized parcel.
“What do you have there?” Martinez asked.
Who knows why Jason Bautista froze in that moment? Maybe it was because he was only 20 years old and still used to listening to adults. Maybe because he was scared out of his mind and wasn’t sure what to do.
But he dropped the bag onto the ground and froze. Matthew Montejo, his 15-year-old half-brother, mimicked his every move. Both men looked up at Martinez, who saw what looked like fear on the face of the smaller guy, the one he considered the sidekick.
“We’re just dumping some trash,” Jason said.
“Well, you can’t dump trash here,” Martinez said. “You have to pick it back up and leave.”
“Sorry,” Jason said, before turning to Matthew. “Pick it up, let’s get it back in the car.”
As he spoke, the old security guard looked down at the bag. He would later tell investigators it looked like a body bag, the kind he’d seen too many times during his years of service in the Marines. In actuality, it was a dark brown sleeping bag and he couldn’t see what was inside. But there was something in there. The bag drooped in the middle as the boys heaved on the ends.
Matthew obeyed his older brother’s instructions, lifting the bag again. Martinez watched as the folds of the sleeping bag shifted, pulling back just far enough to reveal a human foot.
Martinez felt shock rip through him. His mind reeled as he stared at the dangling foot. He hoped for a moment that he was looking at a doll or part of a mannequin. But the tightness in his gut told him otherwise.
“Hey!” he called out. “Stop! Put the bag down! I want to see what’s in there.”
Jason didn’t listen.
“No,” he told the old man as he stuffed the bag back in the trunk and slammed it shut, “I’m not going to let you.”
On instinct, Martinez reached for the .357 pistol at his side and pointed it at the men. “I said freeze!” Martinez repeated.
“Fuck you!” Jason spat back. “You’re just a security guard! You can’t do anything.” He slammed the trunk shut before climbing back into the driver’s seat.
Martinez stood still, his grip on the gun. But he never fired. There had already been enough violence this night. Instead, as the car sped away, he took note of the license plate number. Returning to his guard shack, Martinez, shaken by what he’d just seen, called the Oceanside Police Department. And suddenly, the calming sounds of the ocean were drowned out by a police dispatcher’s voice.
It was about 8:30 a.m. on the morning of January 14 when Orange County Sheriff’s Homicide Investigator Andre Spencer peered down the steep ravine off the Ortega Highway. Earlier that morning, a passenger in a car driving east on the 5 Freeway had spotted what looked like human remains lying in the fields near Mile Marker 79. Spencer was the next one up for an assignment, so it had fallen to him to lead the investigation. After thirteen years as a sworn officer, he was used to dealing with death. But as his eyes strained through a pair of binoculars, scanning the extreme hilly fields down the freeway, he was still startled at the sight, some 170 feet below him, of the headless, handless torso of a white female, clad only in her panties. The remains were ghostly pale because someone had taken the trouble to drain the corpse of most of its blood.
Spencer knew how tough this one would be. “If she had a head or hands,” he thought, “we’d run fingerprints, dental records.” They’d have to swab the body instead and hope for a DNA match. His mind churned for ideas, determined to find out who this woman was and how she’d met such a gruesome end.
It would be seven days before that license plate number scribbled down by security guard Peter Martinez would hit Spencer’s desk—the tip leading investigators to discover that the torso at the bottom of the ravine was 41-year-old Jane Bautista. Bautista, through the course of her life, had become obsessed by the idea that nameless, faceless strangers were out to kill her, but, in the end, her killers would be the only people she ever allowed to be close to her—her sons Jason and Matthew.