I'm Lester Holt. Tonight on Dateline, a famous crime novelist returns to an infamous case. It had so much mystery involved, pentagrams painted on the wall, what was this young man doing in that tunnel? The massive tunnel? Yeah, is a pretty horrible place to die. The murder happened on the summer solstice, this whole occult story came out. There's evidence of occult activities having taken place up there before. They told me that he had witnessed a murder from the school and that he was helping the police with it, little by little, it started coming out.
There had been some plots afoot, brutal and violent and chaotic. They are vicious killers. It was a horrible betrayal. Here's Keith Morrison with Night of the summer solstice. This wasn't supposed to happen ever. It was a chilly December morning, 2020, the high desert outside Los Angeles, in there, behind barbed wire and secure locks and thick concrete, a prisoner was placed in front of a camera. It was a parole hearing for a lifer who was never supposed to be set free.
Fifty miles away, nervous and worried, the sister of the man's victim.
Listen to a live broadcast with her, a storied L.A. homicide detective, now retired, and Rick Jackson powerless to intervene. They waited for the board's decision. And it all came flooding back as if decades of vanished and the strange, terrible events had only just occurred.
I worked homicide by the end of my career. Twenty eight years. And you always think that you've seen everything. And this was one of those cases that just didn't make any sense.
No, it didn't. Still doesn't. And maybe never will. It was just a few days after the summer solstice, that longest day of the year, it was June 24th, 1990, my supervisor called and said, hey, I've got an interesting case for you and Frank. And so Frank and I went directly to the coroner's office to view the body.
Frank was Detective Frank Garcia, Jackson's partner. He had multiple stab wounds and his throat was slit. It was a murder. All right. Close up, personal bloody. Whoever did this wanted to make sure that it was done. No one was going to survive this.
He looked to be in his early 20s, but he had no I.D. So they called him John Doe. One thirty five Ellas, one hundred thirty fifth unidentified victim of the year, had a medallion on and there were two.
One was a pentagram. And there was also one that was just a religious cross, meaning something possibly.
John, 135 five the by hikers in an old train tunnel that cuts through the rocky hills in suburban Chatsworth went up to the tunnel the next day.
What was it like in their stranger's paintings everywhere? Paintings of words involving drugs, LSD, acid. We were told that they would do animal sacrifices, that there was writing on the inside of the tunnel, things about hell and fear.
There was pentagrams all indicating some kind of occult activity that was taking place in the tunnel to pentagrams are long gone now, covered by newer layers of graffiti, hiding secrets, perhaps horrors of the past. But even today, the tunnel remains a dark and spooky place. Some of the locals call it the Manson Tunnel because of that, because Charles Manson once lived nearby, whatever it was, catnip for media. The body was found in a railroad tunnel about Chatsworth.
They have no leads, no suspects. Do we have any information about this case called LAPD Major Crimes? One of the many assigned to the story was a young reporter for the L.A. Times named Michael Connelly. Yes, that Michael Connelly, the best selling crime novelist who back then was just beginning to make a name for himself, it just from the beginning had so much mystery involved, you know, what was this young man doing in that tunnel?
And I suppose it would just add to the allure of the idea, calling it the Manson Tunnel.
Yeah, it was a pretty horrible place to die, that was for sure. And no one knew just then that they'd edit a story already into Chapter two. The San Fernando Valley is a vast and crowded sprawl, more than one mystery here. It was midnight in the Valley a couple of hours before John Doe, 135, was found in the Madson Tunnel.
Gale and Kay Baker's home, the phone rang.
It was a strange voice. And he said, We have your son on. Unless you give us one hundred thousand dollars by five o'clock tomorrow, you will die. Their son, Ron, was a student at UCLA, so I called his apartment and I was told that he had been dropped off at a bus stop and he was going to a meeting at UCLA and he hadn't returned. His roommate telling me that.
The next morning, Ron still hadn't returned home, and then the phone rang again, same strange voice, he said, unless you give us one hundred thousand by five o'clock, you will die.
And at that time, I really did become worried and I called the police.
Ron's older sister, Patty, rushed over to her parents house.
The police put a wire on the phone. Nobody called back. The longer it went, the more worried that we got.
Police got a picture of Ron from the family. They checked it with the coroner's office to see if it matched any outstanding cases they were handling. It did they called the Bakers asking about if Ron would have worn some earrings and the pendant. And he had done that, so then they came to see us and told us that his body had been found.
It's really a way to understand what that is like. It's devastating. Then the Bakers had to do the most difficult thing they had ever done. They were asked to go to the coroner's office to identify an. Ron Baker was just 21, their only son. Ron was not your average victim and this. Not your average murder when this thing first happened, we were just a few years past Richard Ramirez, Night Stalker, who was involved in pentagrams and things like that, and he had struck a couple times in the valley and just how that gripped the town in fear.
There's a little bit of of here we go again. Yes.
And there was something else about it to the date. It was the evening of the summer solstice. There were rumors going around at times that this could have been a sacrifice due to the multiple stab wounds and the fact that Baker's throat was slit. Did you think it was a cult thing? We didn't know. We certainly didn't rule that out.
Especially when they discovered what Ron Baker belonged to. It had a name, the Mystic Circle. When we come back, cryptic clues in Ron's apartment and altar candles, the pentagram. Could this killing be linked to the dark arts of the occult? There's evidence of occult activities having taken place up there before. Was there a lot of concern that maybe there were other people who were in danger? Definitely. The question is, did the occult lead to his death?
It was the word that got all the attention, the word the TV crews to the notorious train tunnel under the Chatsworth Hills.
The word that conjured up all manner of dark arts, Okkult Holy Terror reads the graffiti over the train tunnel where Ron Baker's body was found.
Police are hoping was 21 year old Ron Baker, the victim of a ritual killing and a cult murder. Did you or your parents have any idea who could have done this?
No, not at all. Or why?
And why? Ron Baker, of all people, he was a compassionate, kind, churchgoing Methodist, not an enemy in the world.
OK, let's cut and run. Here is my brother. He was a really positive person, a real gentle soul.
He was very smart. He was majoring in astrophysics at UCLA. Intellectually curious. Yes, definitely.
Which probably explains why Methodist or not, Ron joined a club at UCLA called the Mystic Circle, where he met fellow student Christine Reyna.
We would meet and hear lectures and talks from people that practiced a variety of different traditions or alternative religion.
We've had people come in who studied Wicca, Wicca, the Pagan nature, religion. Ron was fascinated, I think, as a physicist. There was something appealing about Wicca being a nature religion because what do physicists study? They study energy and they study forces. And those were things that were part of everyday language and Wicca.
But had he encountered something much darker, Ron shared an apartment with two roommates, Nathan Blaylock and Duncan Martinez. The detectives drove over to talk to them. Nathan was out of town, so they talked to Duncan about the murder. He was upset.
How close was he to Ron?
They were pretty close. They were very different characters. Ron was inward and naive a little bit. Duncan was more worldly. He had the energy charm.
Yin and Yang Donkin, the former Marine reservist, was bright and funny, Tehran's quiet and shy Duncan got a job after high school.
Well, Ron went to college, but both grew up in L.A. and had been best friends for years. Duncan's stepfather was a professor at UCLA where Ron went to school. Nathan was from Detroit, ended up in L.A. after serving in the Army.
He'd been a great athlete growing up, a football star runner up boxing champ as a teenager. He was the most recent member of the trio.
Duncan told detectives that on the night of the murder, the summer solstice, Ron had planned to take the bus to UCLA to visit his mystic circle friends yes for a ride at the bus stop.
So they dropped him off and Ron went where he went.
And that said Duncan was the last time he and Nathan ever laid eyes on their roommate. So the cops had a look at Ron's room and there it was, an altar, candles, the pentagram, all the wicker stuff, their large knives that supposedly were used in their ritual.
Certainly not ruling out the possibility that his death, cult related, cult related, satanic ritual, human sacrifice, this whole business about Wicca.
How seriously did you have to take it? We had to take it seriously because it was the summer solstice, a holiday for Wicca that happened in the tunnel. There's evidence of occult activities having taken place up there before.
I understand a myth that some secret groups may be practicing dark arts, even harming children and others at a brief, unfortunate resurgence around that time. So the idea that a cultists may actually have sacrificed a man in a tunnel that was decorated with the sounds of devil worship, the media fixation was hardly a surprise.
I wrote some of these stories, I think we wrote them with reserve, saying this is what the police have on their plate is one of the things they're looking at, but they're probably looking at many other things as well. But I know enough now as a novelist to know that certain words can really fire the imagination of the reader.
And so I think these stories did that in a big way.
This whole occult story came out and that was the dominant narrative for a long time, were those in UCLA and this group that that knew him, was there a lot of worry, concern that maybe there were other people who were in danger?
Definitely, and made us concerned that. It was a hate crime. Despite their fears, Summer runs Mystic Circle friends joined his family for a deeply emotional memorial service.
Ron's close friend and roommate, Duncan Martinez, delivered the eulogy.
He was the most. Friendliest, sweetest guy there and I. Just hope that. It's something I can get over. Because I love them. As for suspects, there were none except perhaps the alcohol it showed up at the autopsy booths, a lot of it because alcohol was point to one, that's another thing that didn't fit.
Baker did not drink, but he fought his killer. That much was apparent from the traces of blood under Ron's fingernails. So DNA. Well, no, not back then.
All we could do was type and match the blood. It was AB positive. Four percent of the population had very positive four percent. So that could narrow down the list of suspects if they could ever find one.
Coming up, a mysterious phone call in the middle of the night, the economy is like a warehouse behind the North Korea had another young man disappear when Dateline continues.
It was in those days like a curse, I'd come to Los Angeles. A curse of murder, so many murders. Best selling author Michael Connelly was a journalist then on the crime beat for the L.A. Times.
I came here in 87, which was the dawn of the highest murder rates ever in the city. And a lot of it was fueled by the crack epidemic and gang warfare and all that.
But the murder of Ron Baker was different.
A middle class college student and the questions that made the news was this a ritual killing and a cult crime? Was it Wicca related? Detectives Rick Jackson and Frank Garcia had to know. We sure got an education real quick on Wicca.
We interviewed one Wicca lady who was very knowledgeable about the practice of Wicca.
That woman was Christine Rana, Ron's friend from the Mystic Circle Club and an expert on everything, Wicca, it is helpful to be able to talk to somebody who not only knows what's entailed in the occult in terms of at least Wicca, but more importantly, to actually know what Ron himself believed.
And practice, rather, gave the detectives a crash course on Wicca, its history, its peaceful rituals, its spiritual traditions and wrong.
She told them he had absolutely no involvement in anything that would ever involve human sacrifice.
I mean, he would never have meddled or even ventured into anything like that. And he worried about that himself before. Almost absolutely like that repulsed him. The more detectives learned about work, the less likely it seemed to them related to Ron's death. I think through that process of of just discovery and learning more things, they probably quickly got off the occult trail. It was very clear, Rachael, that there was no ritual.
The Wicca just faded away and it became even more of noninterest to us. So were the media was focused on Whicker, the detectives returned to more normal sorts of police work. They kept talking to people who were withdrawn. The day he died, roommate Nathan was back in town and ready to talk.
Not that he seemed to know very much, and neither did Duncan, for that matter, though he was eager to help, the two told the same story. They dropped her off at the bus stop the night of the summer solstice, and they never saw him again. Then after they heard Ron had been kidnapped, they went looking for him. But when Duncan told the detectives where they searched. It seemed odd, he told us that he and Nathan went to Chatsworth Park near the tunnel to look for Baker.
Why would anybody go look for their friend at Chatsworth Park near the tunnel if he was kidnapped anyway?
Duncan kept talking, offering information, which might be true or not.
We asked Duncan to take a polygraph test. How do you do? He failed it in all pertinent questions involving the murder.
Soon after that, Duncan lawyered up and stopped talking.
I thought we were going in the right direction because we had the right people. Now, the motive for the killing up still kind of tough. Yes, the motive. Why in the world would Ron's friends and roommates be mixed up somehow in this murder? It just didn't make any sense, especially to the Baker family.
We were kind of shocked, like, what do you mean you're looking at at Dunkin? And you think that they were barking up the wrong tree?
Yes, it seemed really far fetched. Like, why would he do that? I mean, we didn't know Nathan that well, but why would Duncan do something to his good friend?
In fact, Duncan had been to the Baker home lots of times to hang out and was always the entertaining house guest.
He was always really personable, very funny, easygoing, easy to talk to.
Was he a teller of tall tales? Fantasize a little bit as he told your story?
Yes, he was. And a lot of times the whole group would be kind of like, oh, yeah, whatever. You know, he just like to be the center of attention.
A few weeks after the murder, Duncan and Nathan moved out of the apartment and Duncan asked the Bakers for a favor.
They said, sure, Duncan actually moved a bunch of stuff into my parents house, into the garage, so my parents would talk to him every once in a while. And I know he told my dad that he was feeling pressured by the police and he felt like people were following him.
Police may not have been following him, but they would soon hear him a few weeks after the summer solstice, middle of the night.
The economy be like a warehouse in Ohio.
And it sounded like Duncan Martinez, had he been abducted, could it possibly be another kidnapping? Coming up, we respond that night made a missing persons report what had happened to Duncan Martinez? Thank you. You're just waiting to see if he's going to be found. This was going to be a tough one to crack. A cryptic phone call late at night, a panic-stricken message from the caller didn't say that the voice on the line sounded familiar, like a warehouse in Ohio.
I know it's kind of my partner and I received a phone call from our boss, say, hey, Duncan Martinez just made a phone call to a friend of his, said he's being held hostage. And then all of a sudden there's a oh oh oh, you know, like kids being beaten or kicked or whatever, trying to pull. It was one month after Ron Baker's apparent kidnapping and horrific murder. So now what Ron's friend and roommate, Duncan Martinez, has been abducted too.
So we respond that night made a missing persons report and we just made the assumption that it was a legitimate kidnapping and there was no trace of Duncan anywhere.
His disappearance made the news.
We would like to eliminate him if he does not have any involvement in this case. And as long as he remains gone, we cannot eliminate him.
And then several days later, a clue. Investigators tracked down the phone number Duncan used to make that panicky phone call reporting his own kidnapping. Detective Jackson gave it a ring.
Somebody picked up and I said, hey, this is who I am and I'm working on a case, where are you? And he goes, well, actually, I'm at the airport in Las Vegas.
It was a random stranger, not Duncan, who answered a payphone and not in a warehouse in North Hollywood, but in a crowded airport.
The kidnapping phone call that he left was a total farce. Nobody would have believe that. I think the motive for him making that phone call was if he's kidnapped, then we'll stop looking for him.
But the Baker family could not believe Duncan Martinez would harm Ron, much less kill him. Duncan, who delivered such an emotional eulogy at Ron's memorial service. No. And then that weird phone call.
So obviously, he's trying to escape.
Then we started believing that he was probably involved.
It was a few weeks later when Ron's father looked through the stuff he'd so graciously allowed Duncan to store in the Baker garage.
He opened one of the boxes and I discovered this note of things to do, get a new identity and to sell his car. But it sounded like he was getting ready to leave the country or something.
Didn't look so innocent, though. It didn't exactly implicate him either. Weeks passed, no more crazy phone calls and no trace of the elusive Duncan Martinez.
He was gone missing. We had no idea where he was. So Duncan was in the wind and Nathan was sticking to his story that they simply dropped Ron at a UCLA bound bus stop and never saw him again. And the once hot murder investigation started turning ice cold.
It got pretty discouraging.
You're just waiting to see if anything comes out and if he's going to be found.
But apparently he did a good job of disappearing organic Christmas, the new year and Ron's 22nd birthday.
We would go visit the grave and put flowers on all those occasions and not really how you want to spend your holidays and your birthdays, you know, having to remember them that way.
Another summer solstice came to the anniversary of Ron's death, the longest day following the longest year for the Bakers.
We think about some things that would have been and aren't what he would have made of his life, whether we would have had more grandchildren, things like that. The detectives, meanwhile, were stymied, they were convinced that Duncan was somehow involved in Ron Baker's murder, but to crack the case, they had to find him, which was not so easy. Where we get nervous as far as the case being stagnant for it was over a year or year and a half almost.
You know, something's got to happen. He's got to turn up someplace.
Some people who've done terrible things imagine they can disappear forever.
A death, change your name and address an I.D. but living, breathing human beings have needs and sometimes they make mistakes. Coming up across the country, the case takes an unusual turn. A young man with a dubious identity, the Social Security card was new and that is suspicion right there. What was he up to? I'm saying to myself, it doesn't make sense when Dateline continues.
Where was Duncan Martinez for 18 months? There wasn't a trace anywhere. Were you afraid he was just gone for good?
I knew eventually he would surface somewhere. You felt if you could get your mitts on him again, you might be able to get him to talk. Yeah, because I felt Duncan at some point was going to get tired of. Then it was laid off in 1991, Boston, Massachusetts, three young men walked into the downtown federal building and encountered a seasoned and very particular passport agent who just happened to have the same first name as the elusive Mr. Martinez.
The name is Duncan Haywood Maitland. Duncan Haywood Maitland looked out at the three young men before him, one of them spoke, he needed a passport, he said urgently.
He was booked on a flight to Paris that very night.
His name, he said, was Jonathan Wayne Miller. He had several pieces of identification.
One was a school transcript, which has no photo, no description, no nothing. Maitland told this Jonathan Wayne Miller, that wasn't good enough. He needed a valid ID and passport photos so Miller and his buddies left and then soon returned with the pictures.
First thing I told him, where is your ID? And he said, it's right here.
I've got two friends. They're going to identify me. They're my ID. And I said. They are not good enough. You need a blood relative. We need either your mother or your brother to come into this agency today.
Was it panic? Maitland was seeing a young Miller's eyes. He said. It's not possible. He said he had a very difficult time at home. He was abused, he finally left home and school, he said that means that I only have an 8th grade education. So I said, that's fine, but it doesn't help you with I.D. It won't surprise you to know.
Maitland had heard more than a few stories in his time. It's in an abundance of bogus passport applications, too. He smelled something fishy, especially when Miller presented one more piece of I.D. The Social Security card was new and that is suspicion right there.
It tells you that it's a new identity.
It doesn't tell you that it's fraudulent.
Just tells you know, it tells you both know proper I.D., no passport maintenance. And Jonathan Miller away empty handed. But he wasn't done. The next day, Maitland started his own little investigation into Jonathan Wayne Miller, who claimed to have been born in the central Massachusetts town of Webster. So Maitland called the school listed on the transcript Miller submitted.
And I talked to a guidance counselor there and I said it gives English one and English two. He said, that's freshman and sophomore English. And I said, well, what grades? He said, nine and 10. And I'm saying to myself, this fellow quit school in eighth grade. That doesn't make sense.
Something else also didn't make sense.
On the fine print of that transcript, there was a reference to a California test, a California test for a Massachusetts school. I don't think so.
They knew what to do next.
He called the FBI, which issued an arrest warrant for Jonathan Wayne Miller for passport fraud, only to find that Miller had vanished. And then it was two months later, two months after young Mr. Miller encountered the Boston brick wall named Maitland, the location this time a stretch of highway near the little town of Nephi, Utah, a highway patrolman pulled over a driver on Interstate 15. The officer took the driver's side, ran the name Jonathan Wayne Miller, wanted by the FBI for faking a passport application.
Miller was arrested and booked in a Utah jail.
And in Webster, Massachusetts, the state detective went to Miller's last known address, knocked at the door and Jim Miller, Jonathan's father, opened it and says, we're looking for Jonathan Wayne Miller. I said, why are you looking for him? He's been dead for 21 years.
Coming up, Jonathan Wayne Miller dead. I started crying. Was like my whole world came caving in. Then who was the man locked up and that Utah jail cell? Who was Jonathan Wayne Miller asked the cop at Jim Miller's front door. The answer was perhaps not quite what was expected. He was so happy.
Go lucky, baby. He was one of the happiest called lucky babies I ever saw in my life. Jonathan was just a baby when he died, an accident. No one's fault, really, he wasn't quite two. It was bad. It was bad feeling to think I was going to make it.
Do you ever lose that sense of loss? No. No. And I tell people I love your children because when you lose one, you can't replace.
Little Jonathan had been dead 20 years when that detectives showed up at Jim Miller's door to say that his son was wanted in L.A..
I started crying like my whole world can, caving in. My backway was the first day you hear Jim Miller insisted his son was dead, even told the detective where he was buried. Yet at that very moment, that selfsame Jonathan Wayne Miller, supposedly dead for two decades, was sitting 2000 miles away in a Utah jail cell and very much alive. So what was going on? Duncan Maitland, the passport fraud specialist, had already figured that out. Not long after that young man presented what Maitland could see was bogus paperwork.
So we were falling into a category and that category we call Idei infant death identity. Why would you call it that? Because it's a way to assume a brand new identity without ever bumping into the person. You've seen this before? Absolutely. And it's a good way to hide.
Yes, the man who called himself Jonathan Wayne Miller had found and stolen Jim's baby son's identity in an effort to disappear forever. It was Nathan who told us how he must have done it by cruising cemeteries. Most likely you try to match a person. If you're a male, you're looking for a male. You're looking for a person born within one or two years of your year of birth and you're golden.
Back then, it was that easy to fake an identity unless you ran into someone as exacting as Maitland, who called the Massachusetts Vital Records Department and asked to contact their to do a search for Miller's official death certificate.
So he went to the volume where that death record should have been turned to the page. No. And guess what? That page was missing. Really, someone had actually cut the original state death certificate out of the book, and presto, no death certificate suddenly brought the late Jonathan Winemiller back to life.
It almost worked until the passport agent got suspicious and the FBI got involved and the fake Miller was pulled over for that traffic violation in Utah.
So he's taken into custody and he refuses to tell the judge who he really is. Well, the judge says there's not going to be any bail until we find out.
Faced with a long stay in jail, the imposter finally came clean. As you've no doubt guessed, his real name was Duncan Martinez, under investigation in L.A. for the murder of Ron Baker.
We were thrilled because now at least we had that reinvigoration. You know, it's you get that adrenaline pumping. We now know where he is.
Later, Detective Rick Jackson called Jim Miller and explained the whole messy truth about how and why his son's identity was stolen. The guy was wanted for murder and he got the bush and he tried to get out of the country with a passport under my son's name. I was mad that someone would steal his identity to commit a crime.
So generally, the principal or was it because this was your Jonathan? Principle behind it, I don't care whose child it was. Let him rest in peace, I'm alone. Duncan had been on the lam for a year and a half. He'd been in Boston. Much of that time working as a cook in a pizzeria, living in this apartment in a suburb called Rivière and stealing a dead baby's name to try to get a passport and skip town. Had he have gotten that passport?
Who knows what would have happened.
Instead, Duncan's devious passport scam had put him in a Utah jail facing federal fraud charges. But Duncan had a plan, another one. Coming up, we get a call from Duncan Martinez's attorney informing us that Duncan is willing to talk to us about what happened the night of the murder and talk he did.
Duncan Martinez spins a spellbinding tale from the school board when Dateline continues.
Winter, 1980 to Park City, Utah, resort town ski mecca. And until he got busted on the highway for that fake passport, the new hideout for fugitive Duncan Martinez, a prime suspect in the murder of his good friend, Ron Baker.
Park City was just the next convenient place to disappear until that inconvenient traffic stop followed by his arrest on passport fraud charges that changed things.
So Duncan came up with a new plan.
We get a call from Duncan Martinez's attorney informing us that Duncan is willing to talk to us about what happened the night of the murder out of the clear blue sky. So the detectives and Duncan's attorney of the DA's office agreed on some ground rules. He tell the story all right, but only in exchange for some sort of limited immunity from prosecution. Otherwise, no story, no dice.
We worked out a deal where he could talk to us freely. We couldn't use anything he told us against them.
There is a term for the deal they made. They call it king for a day fancy. He was in charge that day. Our hands were tied as far as what couldn't be used, but it could give us information to move forward to try to further the case.
But there was a catch, a big one. If Duncan ever let anything slip to anyone else or if detectives uncovered any additional evidence, they could charge him with murder.
But on this day right here, he had one free day pass to reveal no charge.
So what happened that night of the summer solstice 18 months earlier?
Duncan explained that he and Nathan had lured Ron to that spooky railroad tunnel, supposedly to drink beer and meet girls, then as they walked down the tracks at Duncan, Nathan tripped.
Ron made a joke. Nathan got mad and started stabbing in front of school.
And help me, Duncan will argue with me.
But it got worse. Duncan described graphically Ron Baker's last moments.
Nathan's face felt like he was on fire. I told him to make sure that it was over and suffer for and make them do until to make sure that when you cut his throat. Slit his throat and Ron Baker, the sweet, gentle astrophysics student, was dead. Then, said Duncan, he and Nathan fled the crime scene and raced to a payphone where again, according to Duncan, Nathan insisted that he Duncan called Ron's father to say it was a kidnapping and demand ransom for Duncan said he made the call.
Worried that Nathan might kill them if he didn't.
He said, now, you can't do that. And I think I said no at first because you better do this. And kind of just looked at me and then I did it.
Then he said they went home, dump the murder weapon, cleaned up and went to a party in their apartment building before making a second ransom call the next morning. That is it short, said Duncan. It was really all Nathan's doing and mitigated a lot of his involvement in this, minimized everything.
He he did it, at least for the most part with the I didn't think it was really going to happen. Why would you go to the extent to lure him up there if you didn't really think it was going to happen?
Good question. Duncan had an answer which put that Nathan lost his temper and snapped excuse in the whole more dubious light because Duncan freely admitted they had discussed doing something beforehand inspired by the TV show Dragnet, or are sitting around watching cop killers on and on the kidnapping and stuff. And they said, oh, yeah, we should do that.
But it was definitely a joking matter, or maybe not a joke, because on the night of the summer solstice, Duncan admitted he and Nathan took their roommate Ron to the Mansome tunnel.
And there, for reasons he couldn't or wouldn't explain, they killed their friend. But here, long after the fact, Duncan was talking like some spin doctor.
No way in my mind it was possible for Nathan to commit that I was going to to help you breathe and you don't know realization that they can only be real. Did you hear the blame shifting? Not the first time Detective Jackson had encountered that sort of behavior from people and in this case, he was unconvinced.
I think it was a joint thing and they were both involved. There's a French term for loadout, which translated means the madness of two. It's a psychological term that two people to together get to the point where they do something that normally neither one would do on their own. And it's like a one upmanship on the next two people acting together.
Yeah. Can produce a poisonous mix. Yeah. But Duncan, the king for a day, deflected and denied, always blaming Nathan for killing Ron, Detective Garcia even tried one more time to maybe elicit some kind of confession.
Duncan, did you stay up all night and honestly say that all that stuff in any way? You know, we can't use this to what I know.
And in fact, everything Duncan said that day was off limits. But as we say, there was some fine print.
We told him you cannot talk to other people because if you talk to other people, those are potential witnesses against you. And that was part of the deal.
Said Duncan Martinez. A deal's a deal. They had no choice but to let him go. But soon, detectives and Duncan would connect once more in ways they couldn't possibly have imagined. Coming up, we told him you will help us prove that what you're telling us is the truth. Investigators were far from done with Duncan Martinez. Dude, what are you doing, man? He was about to go undercover to him and says, hey, man, this is Hollywood stuff here and I can really pull this off.
Could he? Day after day, the trains rolled through the dark old Mansome tunnel. Past the strange graffiti, past the place where Ron Baker breathed his last. And two years went by. Dr. Martinez returned to the good life in Park City, Utah, where detectives turned their attention to his old pal, Nathan Blaylock. He wasn't hard to find. Nathan, we learned, was arrested for bank robbery. He pulled with somebody that he was doing drugs with.
So now Nathan was locked up at the county jail in Riverside, California, totally unaware that his buddy had betrayed him. Duncan's story about what happened in that train tunnel was a betrayal.
But was it true?
Can't charge a man with murder based on blame from an old accomplice. Mind you, there was some forensic evidence, a little traces of blood under Ron's fingernails. Rare blood type A B, Duncan was type A.. But what about Nathan? We got a search warrant for Nathan Blalock's blood, and that blood came back a positive Blalock's, but four percent of the population have it.
That was good. Quite good, but still not enough for a murder charge.
Detectives needed to place Nathan inside the mansion tunnel with the knife in his hands. One possibility with the guy who'd ratted on him helped them some more.
We had established a relationship with Duncan. He knew where we were coming from. We wanted to get Ron Baker's killer. He told us he was involved and we told him, you will help us prove that what you're telling us is the truth.
He was in total agreement, eager to help throw Nathan under the bus. So a recorded phone call was set up through the jail and Nathan and Duncan spoke for the first time in almost two years.
Dude, what are you doing, man? What the hell are you did? Everywhere. I ended up in Boston for a while. Yeah. How about you? I heard about you getting a lot of trouble.
You could say that it was like old times as the two caught up and then Duncan started spinning a story to get Nathan talking.
I just got in touch with my mom and she says they've been over her house giving her, like, serious.
About my blood type and stuff, then without missing a beat. Duncan Cleverley got Nathan inside the tunnel and tied him to the struggle just before Ron Baker was stabbed to death. Remember, you got your hands scratched. I thought about that. I think you guys were wrestling and stuff. I have nothing to say about that. I don't know if this guy is secure enough.
Nathan got nervous, but before they wrapped up the call, an unexpected bonus. Nathan was totally unaware that Duncan had just duped him and he invited his old friend to visit him in jail. Four days later, there he was wearing a wire.
You have to understand Duncan's personality to him is, hey, man, this is Hollywood stuff here.
I mean, I can really pull this off my and help them out. I thought I was dying.
And then Duncan went to work and tried to draw Nathan out by claiming he'd left behind his blood on the walls of the tunnel party on LA.
Our question on your to smash it all, trying to play lock you, play it down, play it down. Play it down.
That was good, but detectives in the DA's office still wanted a little bit more evidence before indicting Nathan for murder and Duncan, thanks in part to his limited immunity agreement.
He remained free as if he'd never harmed a hair on Ron Baker's head at the Baker family. Was not happy. Not at all. I didn't like it and my parents didn't like it. Duncan walking away, I mean, he was friends with Ron for a long time, like he had been at the house, talked about him at the funeral. At any point, he could have said what happened.
But Duncan didn't seem to care. He was about to embark on a whole new chapter of his life at the University of Utah. The man who liked to tell stories now had plans to make movies. Coming up, he had a leather jacket, he had a tattoo, he had a little bit of the back boy thing, a whole new role for Duncan Martinez and an encore undercover performance.
I don't know what to do and I don't know what I'm going to tell him. I mean, what should I tell him? Yeah, and if you don't know when Dateline continues. There was a brand new student at the University of Utah. Guy majoring in film studies, and his name was Duncan Martinez. He rushed a fraternity at the university, he was really liked by most of the fraternity members.
He was living a pretty good life. Yes, he was.
Twenty two year old Duncan Martinez, once a big time murder suspect who is now a big man on campus.
He went by the name Doofus O'Reilly. That's what he liked to tell his friends, to call him Doofus O'Reilly. He was the center of attraction at a lot of events.
Charming, charismatic life of the party doofus, a.k.a. Duncan, was a long way from that murder in the mansion tunnel. And here he soon caught the eye of an attractive sorority sister named Melissa Bean and the two started dating, I hung out at a particular fraternity house and Duncan was pledging the fraternity.
So we got to know each other. And Duncan was quick. He was witty. And I liked that. We had a leather jacket. He had a tattoo. He had a little bit of the bad boy thing. It was as if Guy Fieri had rolled in and come to college with sort of the hair and the look and the big stories.
Melissa said it was like Duncan dropped in from another planet, but he instantly fit in. He was a leader.
He was a little bit of a pied piper.
I think people naturally followed him. I think people very much like Tim Duncan could identify with and talk to anyone about anything that they were into.
He had a lot of capacity for dazzling people back in L.A. The detectives were still investigating the Ron Baker murder, and they wanted to put Duncan's dazzling but devious skill set to use one more time and get one more blockbuster piece of evidence.
They found Duncan at college and persuaded him to make yet another call to his old buddy, Blaylock, who was still behind bars for bank robbery.
Maybe this time Duncan could spark something really incriminating out of Nathan to seal their case and then charge him.
We flew up to Utah and made the call from the Marriott Hotel, where they had private lines and stuff, they talked about a half hour and little by little it started coming out naturally.
The call was recorded.
So, yeah. Hey, bro. Oh, man. I got a problem.
Crockery and sitting in that hotel suite. Duncan did talk as usual, spinning another one of his stories, saying a warrant was out for his arrest and he feared taking the rap for Ron's murder.
All I know is that I'm flipped and I don't know what to do and I don't know what I'm going to tell him if I go down. I mean, what should I tell him? Yeah, and if you don't know.
Duncan kept trying to get Nathan to say the words to take the blame directly for stabbing Ron for cutting his throat.
This is something you did to me up. And I don't know what to do about it. That's why I wanted to talk to you about it and what to do about it. How can you ask for forgiveness or something like this? I ask for forgiveness. So that makes it better, it's hard. It doesn't make it better, doesn't make it worse, but it makes it it makes me able to function and continue to do what I have to do.
And then Duncan played the guilt card.
I mean, it sounds like you've got it tucked away like it never happened. And I can't see how you could do that because I have to live my life.
I have to go on and have an interesting. It happened a mistake, not quite a confession, but close enough.
Now, two years after Ron Baker's murder, Nathan was talking himself into being charged with the crime, but Duncan Martinez, he would resume college life, film studies, frat parties and freedom. After he wrapped up his undercover call with Nathan, detectives drove Duncan back to campus and dropped him off as he was getting out of the car.
And he goes, it's really too bad that we had to meet under these circumstances because I think it would be a lot of fun to hang out with you guys.
Was Duncan Martinez literally getting away with murder? Maybe he was too smart to screw that up, wasn't he? Coming up, he told me that he had witnessed a murder.
I remember thinking this has to be something that he's made up. Surely this would be something that would have caught up with him. Was it about two? It was almost as if he knew that his facade might have been slipping.
Christmastime in Salt Lake City, Utah, a sporting goods store, an alarm went off, cops arrived and Detective Jim Pryor was called to the police station to interview a burglary suspect caught red handed. Seemed like a likable enough kid who committed a petty crime, got caught, confessed his part in the crime scene. Personable enough. Yeah, he did not adversarial at all. Chatty, cordial, cooperative. Sound familiar? Well, of course. The thief was Duncan Martinez.
Did he come off as a criminal or as just a regular guy or what? No, my initial impression was maybe a smart, smart aleck college kid who could talk his way out of anything.
But Duncan couldn't talk his way out of this one.
He was headed to jail for a two bit burglary after he was interviewed and processed, wanted to confirm his identity initially. Well, we can go to my house and I have my ID there.
So they went into Duncan's apartment, found his I.D. and while there, Duncan asked for a small favor.
He said, hey, can you feed my pet rat? Feed my pet rat?
Yeah. And the other officer that was with me, we kind of looked at one another and said, did he really say that any kid was accommodating? So he wanted to feed his pet rat because he fully expected to be in jail, didn't want his poor creature to suffer.
So Detective Bryer walked over to the cage and fed the rat.
And if he hadn't done that, he probably wouldn't have spotted Duncan's day planner lying right there. And like any good detective, he took a little peek inside and found a business card.
It was Detective Rick Jackson, LAPD robbery homicide unit robbery homicide in L.A., that's a big deal. Well, that's, I guess, the tip of the spear, if you will. Yeah, and it made me interested.
So interested. He called Detective Jackson. He says, do you know a guy named Duncan Martinez?
I said, yes, I know a guy named Duncan Martinez.
And I said, is there anything I can help you with? My mind immediately went to we can use this.
We need to get it on tape. Use this. This was the excuse Duncan had given the police for the burglary. He said, I only did this because somebody is extorting me because I witnessed somebody get murdered in Los Angeles. And this person that I know told me if I didn't do this burglary for him, then he was going to tell the police that he knew about my involvement in this L.A. thing. Wow. Everything is done where we can't use what he told us initially against them.
Well, this broke the rules.
Bingo. All Duncan's blabbing just might be his undoing. Remember, under the conditions of his king for a day deal, Duncan couldn't talk to anybody about the case. So Jackson called prior with an idea.
You need to call him back. Tom, this story is kind of a wild story. You're trying to get your mind around exactly what happened and tape recorder.
By this time, Duncan had bonded out of jail, was back home, so Detective Pryor called him, left a message, and then lo and behold, he calls me back.
Well, yes, the FISA court orders have started talking about his situation, just giving you I don't want to say fatherly advice and then prior eased into that L.A. murder thing Duncan did, mentioned I witnessed my best friend killed my best friend, and I didn't know what to do with your best friend.
Killed your best friend. Yeah, it was my kid. It was my two best friend.
At that point in time, he started to open up a little bit and started telling his story, the whole story, how he and Nathan saw a TV show about a kidnapping and decided they could do better, how they picked the unsuspecting Ron Baker as their victim lured into the tunnel where supposedly Nathan tripped and Ron made a joke and then all hell broke loose. They jumped him. I heard him flying back and forth from the wall run, screaming, Help me go get me.
No, I didn't know what to do.
Was he emotional when he was telling you this? Not at all. Really kind of cold and calculating.
He didn't seem remorseful at all, even as he recounted Ron's last desperate effort to survive and his own instruction to Nathan.
I told me you couldn't finish him off.
You can't leave him like that and cut his throat off or something when he told Nathan Blaylock to cut Ron Baker's throat. That's what makes your hair stand up. It does a little bit. Yes, for sure. And I'm thinking about getting shivers even now. Yeah, after 27 years. Soon after the L.A. police station, Rick Jackson received that precious audiotape is like an early Christmas gift and I was thrilled. Duncan had broken the rules of his agreement.
All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and he did not. So now Duncan Martinez was indicted for the murder, just like Nathan Blaylock. Soon, he returned home to L.A., but this time for trial, for the murder of Ron Baker.
But Duncan Martinez said yet another plan and he intended to go free. Coming up, two trials, two verdicts and one final twist, my heart just sank all these years later to deal with another heartache at the hands of Duncan. Glad that my parents aren't around to see this. Ron Baker could have been starting his career as an astrophysicist at the time his roommates were on trial for first degree murder, a crime so senseless that even as a jury was seated, Ron's family and the detectives were still struggling to understand they were separate trials.
Nathan had the first trial.
It was March 1996. Nathan's didn't take long and neither did the verdict and they came back guilty.
No surprise, and the court showed no mercy. He was sentenced to life without parole. Now, Duncan, but before his trial began, because he'd helped the cops, Duncan was offered a deal, a good one, plead guilty to second degree murder and just maybe walk after around 12 years. But it wasn't to be.
He basically gave us the middle finger and said, no, I want less. I want a better deal. I want to go on probation or I want seven years or whatever it that wasn't in the cards. So Duncan put on his best behavior and took his shot in court. The defense made the arguments of a man who'd had the confidence to turn down a deal, insisted Duncan didn't kill Ron. That was Nathan. And without Duncan's help, they said the cops would never have cracked the case.
Except remember that story about watching Dragnet and actually planning the crime and how in that dark tunnel, well, their victims struggled to survive.
It was Duncan who gave the order to finish him off. Which the jury could not ignore, it was less than it took for Nathans jury to come back and he was convicted for the same thing. Guilty of first degree murder, sentenced to life without parole, he had made his choice, no deal, and it paid the price.
I wasn't surprised at all in the fact that he turned down a second degree murder. He would have been out by now.
So he made his bed. He should just have to lie in it now.
That's the way I feel. Duncan and Nathan were both sent away, destined to die in prison. And nearly 25 years went by, young men to hardcore lifers, Ron's parents died, Sister Patty married, had two children. Detectives Jackson and Garcia retired.
And then one June evening in 2020, right around the summer solstice, some sit and scrolling through Facebook and somebody posted an article about the governor pardoning and commuting a bunch of people.
Sure enough, I see Duncan Martinez, age 50. And, you know, my heart just sank. Her heart sank because Duncan's sentence had been commuted, making him eligible for parole and nobody had notified Patti. Later she saw the commutation letter from the governor, which said Mr. Martinez has dedicated himself to his rehabilitation and becoming a productive citizen and merits the opportunity to make his case to the board of parole hearings.
I know there's a pressure to release inmate, but there are a lot more types of inmates that could be released than people that have committed. Murders, that he has been a model prisoner, he's behaved is by the rules, is maybe he schmoozed a few people too along the way, but he's not done anything bad. And had he? Made a deal. He would have been out a long time ago, right? So why not? And it comes back to the victim.
A nice kid wouldn't hurt a fly kind of person. He never got a chance to be a good, productive citizen.
Nevertheless, December eight, 2012, Rick Jackson and Tidy Baker met to watch and participate via live stream in a formal parole hearing.
So Disney. Yeah, the parole board would not let us record the proceedings, but they did provide a few pictures of the man who came before them. Duncan is 50 now. His hairs turned gray. He's gained a few pounds. Patty tried to stay calm as she prepared to watch.
Well, my anxiety is pretty high. There's that doubt in the back of my mind. What if. Duncan, talkative, is always addressed, the board said he was deeply remorseful, that he took responsibility for what happened, that he was a terrible person back then, but now was a changed man, low risk of violence, said a prison report Patty and Rick spoke up to. They implored the panel to keep Duncan a master manipulator, locked up forever, just as the jury ruled he should be all those years ago.
It's not life with parole, it's life without parole. Then, as Duncan waited patiently inside the prison, the panel spoke privately to discuss his fate, keep him where he is locked up or release him. It took less than 30 minutes. And then three little words suitable for parole.
It's a gut punch, mostly because it's a worst gut punch to Patty. I'm disappointed in our system and I'm glad that my parents aren't around to see this, to deal with another heartache at the hands of Duncan. Duncan told us he couldn't comment just now, but his attorney gave us this statement saying Martinez takes responsibility for his actions, is remorseful, has done all he can to rehabilitate himself in prison and earn the right to be released. But we wondered, why did Duncan get a shot at parole and not Nathan?
Well, for one thing, Nathan didn't apply back in 2017 when Duncan did so, his case was not considered, though he has applied now and it's gone to the governor's office, which is not releasing details. We asked Nathan himself if he had some sort of comment to make, and he wrote back this letter, which we showed Patte, what started as an accident became a nightmare for so many.
I can't ask the Baker family for forgiveness. It is up to them to determine if I'll ever earn that right. I'm glad he took accountability for his actions, still doesn't bring my brother back, it still doesn't change what either of them did, what they did.
The madness of to Nathan Blaylock is still serving his life sentence, but Duncan Martinez, the parole board and governor, could still reverse the decision. If not, Duncan will be a free man by June of 2012 one.
Just in time for the summer solstice. That's all for this edition of Dateline. We'll see you again Thursday at 10:00, 9:00 Central. And of course, I'll see you each weeknight for NBC Nightly News. I'm Lester Holt. For all of us at NBC News, good night.