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Tonight on Dateline she said I need to say something. I'm not going to be here for long. Someone's going to kill me.
The Sheriff Department and Texas Rangers are investigating a murder.
Who'd want Melissa death?
I have no idea.
The sheriff had a bad feeling about this case.
The second victim is from Laredo. Comes from a very good family.
I think my whole block heard me scream.
It did not feel like a coincidence.
The killer is looking for his next.
Victim, a ruthless murderer on the prowl, until one brave woman slips his grasp.
She does something amazing. She's able to slip out of her blouse.
So he was trying to grab you?
He was trying to grab me.
She realizes, oh, my God, he killed Melissa. He killed Claudine, and I'm sitting in his house.
I'm Lester Holt, and this is Dateline. Here's josh, mankowitz with the streets of Laredo. These are the streets of Laredo, Texas, and these are also the streets of Laredo. They're named after famous mystery writers, men and women who created frightening intriguing stories full of twists, stories that often deal with the wealthy, the powerful, the privileged, and the damage they can do. We cover a lot of that on Dateline, too. This story is different. It's a visit to the underbelly, a four block stretch of Laredo called San Bernardo Avenue. It is the wrong side of the tracks. Known for prostitution, drug deals, and everything that comes with that. In the late summer of 2018, these blocks were even more dangerous. That's when someone was hunting the women of San Bernardo. Like prey. On these sidewalks, you find people who rarely have their stories told.
It began on September 3, when a woman's body was found on a secluded road 25 miles from downtown. Now, despite its frontier reputation, the border town of Laredo is consistently ranked among the safest cities in the country. Isidro. Alanis Is, Webb County District Attorney. Usually when a body turns up, it's not a murder. It's somebody who was crossing the border, who died from the heat.
That's exactly true.
This wasn't that.
No, not at all. Not at all.
Webb County Sheriff's Captain Federico Calderon was called to the scene. A young woman shot in the head.
From a distance, it looked like she might have been dumped there, but upon closer inspection, it looked like she had been executed. At that spot, there were shell casings.
The ammo came from a 40 caliber handgun and the brand federal. A leading ammunition supplier that also sells to a lot of law enforcement agencies. The medical examiner made the ID offer. Prince the victim was 29 year old Melissa Ramirez.
She has kids. She has a family that lived in Rio bravo, which is a municipality just south of Laredo.
Law enforcement knew Melissa as a drug user and sex worker. To her family, she was something else entirely.
Every time we would hang out with each other, we would just laugh. It was very fun to be around with her.
Gracie Ramirez was Melissa's sister in law.
We were like sisters. We were super close to each other.
Melissa's mom likes to remember her daughter as she was.
She got good grades. I never struggled with her. I never had problems with her.
That was before her early teens, before a bipolar diagnosis that went untreated. Gracie says Melissa never let on to her family that she'd turned to drugs and then sex work. She really kept her life splitting two, didn't she?
She was very private to her life.
Still, when Melissa would leave for days at a time, her family knew it couldn't be for anything good.
So she would come visit me. I would beg her to stay with me. I would feed her. I would give her everything she needed. But she just insisted that she needed to head out.
But she wouldn't say where.
No, she would never tell me where. Nor her brother. She wouldn't tell anybody.
Now Melissa had met a brutal end.
A female was found deceased.
When it comes to news about the underserved and undercovered, people in Laredo. Usually turn to Priscilla via real.
We're live FYI just so you we're live.
You want to say hi, everybody? To her more than 200,000 followers, priscilla is known as la gordiloka. La Gordiloca, the big crazy woman.
Everybody says the fat crazy.
She deals mostly in crime. But unlike traditional news outlets, her reporting is done off the cuff via Facebook live streams as events are unfolding. And so if something's going down in Laredo, la gordiloka usually knows about it.
They call me and say, hey, there's a chase here. Know central Laredo.
And you can get to it.
I'm up and going.
That rawness and immediacy seems to keep Laredo clicking on her. Now La gordilo was asking the same questions as Melissa's family. Who'd want Melissa dead?
I have no idea.
She didn't, but maybe Melissa did. Investigators heard that about three weeks before her murder, melissa had some kind of premonition.
We were at the kitchen table. She said, I need to say something. We just stopped what we were doing, and she said, I'm not going to be here for long. Someone's going to kill me.
She didn't tell you who that was?
She never said who it was. She just said, someone's going to point me with a gun like this.
She said somebody was going to shoot her in the head.
And prosecutor Alamis, who was on this from the start, says forensics back up the story. Melissa so chillingly foretold.
She did have a gunshot wound around her wrist area, one by her jaw and one to her head.
It feels like she's putting her hand up.
That's exactly right. That's exactly right.
Melissa's premonition came true. Soon, police had more than just a sense that they were headed in the right direction.
And at this moment, police and other agencies are surrounding a home in Las Cuesta.
Subdivisions in Laredo, Texas, were working the murder of Melissa Ramirez, found dead on the side of a desolate road. The murders of sex workers can be problematic for investigators. Victims often don't keep regular hours, making their movements difficult to track. They may not know their customers'real names, and often their families and friends don't want to speak with police. Over the years, a number of law enforcement agencies faced criticism that they just didn't work hard enough to solve the murders of sex workers. And if the Laredo killer was counting on that, then he made a mistake. Because investigators pursued this case aggressively, sheriff's Captain Federico Calderon knew he'd need help, so he called in the Texas Rangers, the Department of Public Safety, and the US. Border Patrol. And early on came a lead, a big one. The residents who'd discovered Melissa's body told of a dark colored pickup truck parked nearby. As they approached the truck to see who was inside, it sped off.
And when they saw the truck leave, they noticed that there was a body next to where the truck was parked.
One of the group was close enough to jot down a plate number. A computer search later, investigators were able to track down the truck's owner that same evening, and it wasn't at all who they were expecting. And that person of interest is one of yours?
At this time, the Sheriff Department and Texas Rangers are investigating a murder.
Investigators in Laredo, Texas, were not talking publicly about Melissa Ramirez's killing. Lagordiloka wasn't talking about anything else.
And at this moment, the police and other agencies are surrounding a home in Las Cuesta subdivision.
She was live on Facebook as Laredo PD staked out the house of a man whose truck had been seen next to Melissa's body. It had to have been a little surreal for those officers, because the truck's owner, 32 year old Renee Arse, was himself a Laredo police officer. Even so, as soon as he stepped out his front door, he was cuffed and brought in for questioning.
A male police officer is either detained or has not been detained yet, but it's being said he is responsible for the murder of this female law enforcement.
Didn'T know if that last part was actually true. It's one of the things they asked officer Arse about. This is what we have. We have some people that came up on the dead body, and then we have your truck at the scene in post. Apparently, the People are trying to wave you down into ranka. arsay said he was in the area that day, but had nothing to do with any murder. He was just checking out real estate.
I was looking at the buying property.
I'm not going to buy. Investigators kept at him.
Did you take a icon with you out there when you went to booking? Yeah.
I take my concealed. The nine millimeter P 320. So not the caliber of weapon that killed Melissa. Of course. Plenty of officers own more than one gun. It can't be lost on you that the Laredo. Police officer will have access to 40 caliber federal ammunition.
That's a reasonable conclusion.
Arce insisted it wasn't him. You go through his house and his truck? Yes. Anything?
Weapons were recovered from his house?
Yes, except none matched the murder weapon or the ammo. Still, it was strange. He's parked right next to a body and he doesn't see it.
That's what he said.
And with no probable cause, they let him go. Soon, investigators were following a new lead. Melissa's mom mentioned a suspicious man who'd been with her daughter the week before.
She came with a man? I didn't know him.
She was unnerved enough that she told Gracie about the encounter.
She said that he had this weird look on his eyes whenever he would see Melissa. Like an evil look.
That, to me, sounds like somebody who at least, is a sort of potential suspect.
Oh, absolutely. He was on our list.
Investigators tracked him down, and it turned out the man was a john, a customer of Melissa's.
It happens to be that while the timeframe of the murder occurred, he was in another location on the road. He was driving a truck somewhere.
Now, you've looked at two specific guys the police officer who parked almost right on top of Melissa's body, and the guy who'd been a customer of hers. You don't get a good hit of either one of those guys.
We're nowhere closer than we were the day of the actual murder, and we resorted to what cops do best, and that's being nosy and talking to people.
That meant scouring the corners of San Bernardo. One of the names you hear when you're building a profile of who Melissa was is Claudine Luera.
Correct. They worked in the same area. They were acquainted. They knew each other.
Both prostitutes, both on drugs.
Investigators thought Claudine might know who it was that Melissa so feared, except she was nowhere to be found. They put out the word among other law enforcement agencies, but Claudine didn't turn up. Possible that she heard you guys were looking for and was keeping her head down.
That is a possibility for sure.
Ten days after Melissa's murder, they finally found Claudine Luera. She wasn't talking. She's been shot.
She's been shot.
It was about 2 miles from where Melissa's body was found. Also by the side of the road nearby. The same 40 caliber federal ammunition. Claudine was taken to a hospital. She did not survive.
It's starting to smell like it's the same guy. And we have the strong inclination after processing that crime scene, that we're probably dealing with the same person.
Someone's killing prostitutes.
Someone's killing prostitutes with a 40 caliber handgun.
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It was a hot end to the summer of 2018 and lareda was simmering. Within ten days, two women had been found executed and investigators thought it was the work of one killer. They'd focused on two potential suspects. Neither panned out.
People were worried. People were scared. Now this was real and you can feel the tension.
I would just order everything to get it delivered, rather go into the store. We were all scared. We were like, what is going on?
Law enforcement had been looking for Claudine Luera. Now she was gone too.
It wasn't until Thursday that I heard of another female being found.
Claudine'sister Collette. Heard about the second murder from NBC affiliate KGNS News.
She was alive when deputies arrived, but later died at the hospital. And I kept thinking, man, poor lady, she must have suffered a lot. I go, Poor family.
She had no way of knowing it was Claudine, and when she found out, it hit her hard.
I think my whole block heard me scream. And just to know, here I am feeling sorry for this person the day before, saying how sad for the family she must have suffered. And next thing you know, we're that family.
She rushed to tell Claudine's daughter Ciara at work, but didn't have to say a word.
I could just see the look on their face.
Colette remembered how close she and Claudine were growing up in Laredo.
She would help me sneak in my frogs into the house. I love to dress them up in Barbie clothes.
Ciara knew her mother had suffered trauma beginning in her youth. What happened to her growing up? That's a hard story for you to tell.
She was assaulted by somebody who lived behind her, and I don't think anything was ever done about it.
She was how old?
I believe under the age of 14.
She was damaged by that?
Yeah, very damaged.
Ciara says her mom had always been there for her children, but then got together with an old boyfriend, someone the family felt was bad news. She started using heroin.
I was, like, 15, and things, you know, she just changed. She would only wear, like, long sleeves.
So you knew something was wrong?
Yeah. It didn't make sense.
It wasn't long before Claudine lost custody of her children.
I would be lying if I didn't say there weren't times that I asked, like, when is my love going to be enough?
And what was her answer?
It was that it was enough. She was just heavily addicted to a drug, and it took over. But my love was enough. And she always wanted me to know that, to separate the drug from her and to understand. But I couldn't.
After that, Claudine turned to sex work to feed her habit. Her family never stopped loving her. Who didn't you think had killed her?
My thought was him.
The boyfriend? Because who else?
Good question. Because the boyfriend had an airtight alibi. Investigators did find a person of interest after looking through Claudine's phone shortly before her death. She'd been communicating with a guy who went by the nickname Chon. Do you have a sheet?
He did, you know, little bit of everything.
They went to his address, parked by his house, and waited. He's not there.
He's not there. But as luck would have it, he shows up. And as soon as he sees that there's people waiting for him outside his house, he takes off at a high.
Rate of speed, and you're at a pursuit.
They chase him. He gets away. All of a sudden, we feel like maybe we got our guy.
And then Chon himself contacted police and came in for an interview. He said he was with Claudine, but before she was murdered.
And he says that at some point in that late evening or night, he leaves, that she goes her way, he goes his way. That's the last that they saw.
Which is exactly what the murderer would say.
That's what yeah, exactly. We definitely thought we were heading in the right direction.
They thought finally they were getting close. Then investigators got a call that would make them realize it wasn't Chon, it wasn't Officer Arse, and it wasn't the trucker.
And Ranger Salinas tells me. Hey, one of our troopers ran into a female who? She's frantic. She's scared. She says that somebody tried to kill her with a handgun.
Like the two other victims, this woman worked San Bernardo, except this woman survived. Had she been face to face with the killer? September 14, 2018. Two nights after Claudine Luera's killing, a Texas DPS trooper was pumping gas into his cruiser just before 09:00 p.m.. When a frantic woman hurried toward him. She wasn't wearing a blouse as she breathlessly told him she'd just been attacked by the man she was with. That's when the trooper turned on his body cam audio.
He had a white truck.
The woman was 26 year old Erica Pena. She told him she and the man had arrived at the gas station just a few minutes earlier. And then after they parked, he put a gun to her head.
I came running. He wanted to he took out his gun, and he wanted to get me back inside. And I started yelling, help me, help me.
Erica used her wits to escape. She said as the man grabbed her blouse, she threw the passenger door open, slithered out of her top, and ran to safety. So he was trying to grab you?
He was trying to grab me.
Erica admitted she worked on the streets of San Bernardo, where the man had picked her up earlier that evening. She described him as a regular customer. So you know who he is?
His name is David. He's tall.
She's wearing boots, and, like, oil field worker.
I think he said he was a.
Supervisor somewhere, like in the oil field. She told him something changed in the air when the subject of the murders of Melissa and Claudine came up in conversation.
We started talking, right? I heard that they're picking people up to investigate, right, the girls. And he's like, well, what are the girls saying? What have you heard? And I'm like, I don't know.
The guy pointed a gun at the mention of the murders. The trooper decided to contact investigators on the off chance it was connected. She's in shock, man. And she was trying to mention something about the other two girls, and that's when the guy got nervous. They asked him to bring Erica to the substation, where Captain Calderon and the Texas Ranger were waiting with a Texas rainstorm pounding on a galvanized roof. Erica laid it out.
I was standing there, and he passed by. He passed, and he turned around. Get in, babe.
She said. Earlier that night, David had taken her to his house, where she'd been a couple of times before.
She's able to describe the walkway, the driveway, the inside of the house, the neighborhood it's in.
Erica repeated what she'd told the trooper. When the conversation turned to the murders, david's demeanor suddenly changed. He seemed nervous, agitated.
They say I'm scared, they said, because I was one of the last ones.
Erica began to suspect David was the killer. While inside his house, with no clear way out.
She starts getting a bad feeling like she is going to die. So she wants to leave.
She wanted out of that house. He talked her into going with him to that gas station to get some food. Luckily, the DPS trooper happened to be there. So maybe that's your guy.
It's looking like one of the best leads we've had up to now.
Erica remembered something else.
David had said he had been in the military.
After her interview with detectives, a slew of investigators bundled themselves and Erica into three cars and told her to show them David's house. She directed them to a home in a nice neighborhood on the north side of Laredo.
The house with walkway, just how she described it, the entrance to the house, how she described it to investigators.
It all seemed to line up. There was no white Dodge in sight. They decided to wait. Who lives at that address?
We found out that it's owned by Juan David Ortiz and wife, is what it says on the record.
And who's Juan David Ortiz?
We think he's some sort of oil field worker or something. There are two vehicles registered to that particular house. One of them is a Dodge 2500 white pickup truck, which fits a bill for an oil field type truck.
That truck had disabled veteran plates, suggesting David had served in the military. So far, everything Erica had told them was ringing true. Feels like you're getting close.
It feels like we're onto something.
Finally they put a Bolo out for Ortiz's truck. Then another twist.
We get a call of another body that's found off of Ige 35.
The killer of Laredo wasn't done yet.
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Law enforcement was on the lookout for a white Dodge Ram belonging to Juan David Ortiz, the man they desperately wanted to question about the murders of Melissa Ramirez and Claudine Luera. Soon, the truck was spotted near San Bernardo. The moment captured on security video.
The troopers, they're driving by. They see the vehicle parked at a gas station. That's his truck right there.
He walked inside. When he emerged, they confronted him. Stop right. Stop. Is this your truck? Is this your truck? Okay. All right, turn around.
He started telling the troopers, hey, you're freaking me out.
Okay? I'm going to explain to you then.
He runs from the troopers, okay?
They chased Ortiz for a few blocks, then lost him. No, bro, he went inside here. He's in here. He couldn't have gone far on foot. So the SWAT team was called in. Officers suited up and set up a perimeter, then proceeded to comb the entire city block. David or Kitty come out? There was no sign of him. Is she really it was a scene custom made for La Gordiloka. She was live streaming this latest news to the community most affected by it.
Just really don't know what's going on yet, but it's very serious. They're all armed. They're all with their bulletproof vest. It's probably those recent deaths that just happened. I can only speculate. Like I said, nothing's confirmed.
As the search was underway there's another one.
We get a call of another body that's found off of Ige 35. The deputy makes it out to the body, and he calls me and he says, hey, I think you all have another one.
It was the body of Giselda Cantu. She was also a sex worker, also shot to death on a Webb County road and near her federal 40 caliber casings. And then came a phone call from the Border Patrol. It changed everything investigators thought they understood about the man they'd been pursuing. He's not an oil field worker.
Not an oil field worker. He's a Border Patrol agent. He's a supervisory Border Patrol agent.
That had to hit you like a ton of bricks.
We weren't expecting that, I can tell you that. We were not expecting that.
Other Border Patrol agents had connected the dots. When Ortiz posted some messages on Facebook just moments before while he was on the run, telling his wife and kids he loved them. Along with Doc, Ortiz. Checks out farewell. Like he's expecting not to survive.
Like he's expecting not to survive. Correct.
The search narrowed to a hotel parking garage. You two guys, let's start leading the way. Let's start moving to where we think this guy is. Let's do it slowly and carefully. So that's when we split into two sections and we were making our way up to the parking lot. Investigator Noe Gonzalez led the SWAT team up that parking garage ramp with Laredo PD DPS troopers Calderon and Salinas all following close behind as they made their way through the fourth and last floor. All that remained to be cleared were a lone pickup truck and some cement pillars. That was it. It was either the last four pillars or that truck. Gonzalez and others at the top of the stack covered the pillars. He directed the rest of the team toward the truck. And there he was, hiding in that truck bed. He doesn't put up a fight.
He doesn't would not have been a wise thing to do, but no, he didn't.
It was around 230 in the morning by the time they placed Juan David Ortiz under arrest.
They got the guy. It's confirmed. Suspect is in custody.
And then he was inside an interrogation room. What's his demeanor? Scared, arrogant? Ashamed?
I would say arrogant is the right word. You hit the nail on the head there. He's basically laughing that he was able to outrun the troopers.
Who's the trooper? I spoke, man. The trooper couldn't keep up with me. Dude. Two of them. Ortiz repeatedly denied knowing any of the victims. I have no idea what.
She happened to be. I have no recollection.
And the evidence is showing us. You guys have the evidence? Like I said, I don't recall. Investigators recalled finding Erica's bag in his truck over more than 8 hours. They took his clothes, had a man with a badge change into prisoner orange. And they pressed him without the bullets. Look at the bullets.
Also got pretty intact. Flag.
DA Alanese was watching on video.
I'll never forget, the time was 1124 in the morning. He looks at Captain Gardon and says, can you take him off?
Says, I'm not going to hurt you. And I'm sitting there watching like you're watching the Super Bowl. And I'm like, take them off, take them off. Do it.
He's asking for trust here. Yeah.
So Calderon goes to take off his handcuffs. I look at everybody in the room and I say, get ready. Here it comes.
And here it came. I was continuing driving on Sunbed, and this is where a monster came out. Of investigators trying to learn more from Ortiz and La Gordiloka was live with the latest.
The man who was detained last night in the parking lot of that hotel is a border patrol agent.
She told her audience the man who had sparked such fear in the city of Laredo for the last two weeks had been caught.
We had or we might have a serial killer in our hands.
A captive. Ortiz was speaking to a captivated audience. He thought it was a friend of mine. Not a friend of mine, but like a sangha friend. He said he'd taken his San Bernardo friend to score drugs late Sunday night, then got upset when she got high and passed out in his truck. After a while, he said, Melissa began yelling. She wanted out of his truck and. That was all it took.
And I asked him specifically, what gun did he use? He said he used a service weapon.
The service weapon issued by the Border Patrol, along with the federal ammo his employer supplied. And I fell straight to my house, to my own wife. And having made the jump from lawman to murderer, ortiz said he wanted to do it again. Ten days after he killed Melissa, he picked up Claudine Luera. He says she was curious about where Melissa's body had been found, so he started to drive her out there. That's when she starts reading freaking no, dude, no, dude, no. I don't want to go after all. You're probably the killer. You're probably the killer. Ortiz said he told her to get out, then shot her. As she turned her back, she got shot. Now Calderon and his team had to ponder this. Remember how investigators trying to solve Melissa's murder had reached out to the rest of law enforcement, including the Border Patrol, looking for Melissa's friend Claudine Luera? Ortiz's job with the Border Patrol was to work in the BIC. The Border Intelligence Center. Yeah. You think Ortiz heard that you guys were looking for Claudine Lora and went out and found her and killed her?
I swear, the coincidence is just too big, too strong. I think that he heard the call come in. I think that he was on full.
Alert and thought, I got to cover.
My tracks, and thought, I've got to get to Claudine before they do.
Ortiz confessed to killing Claudine and Melissa and Giselda and assaulting Erica. And he wasn't done.
He tells us. And there's one more you probably don't even know about.
He sent them to a gravel mound 15 miles outside of town.
Bunch of cops that I'm there with, they all burst out of the room. They get in their patrol cars and drive out there.
It's where they found 28 year old Janelle Ortiz. Same last name, but no relation to the man who killed her. Janelle Ortiz. Fit the profile.
Fit the profile. Same work type, worked in the same area. Also a drug user.
When law enforcement caught up to Ortiz at that gas station, he had just returned from killing Janelle. Mind you, by this time, I know that you guys are looking for me because of Erica. So this time, my whole life is coming to an end. Ortiz knew he was being hunted by law enforcement and so accelerated his killing spree. And if you hadn't caught him, he wouldn't have stopped.
He told us that he was going to keep going until he was caught in the room.
Ortiz offered motives that made him sound virtuous. He described murdering sex workers in cold blood as a kind of public service. I was continuing driving on Sunbed, and this is where a monster came out. And I was driving people. They don't have jobs. They're all stupid. Clean up the streets and ride all the job. Had he just made that up to avoid the shame of being a cop who was also a customer? Or had he been afraid the women he'd been with could have exposed him? You think what set Ortiz off was that he let the women get too close?
Yes, I think what ended up happening, I think there was a power shift here, starting with Melissa. I think she crossed over.
World into his world.
And that gave her a lever because.
She becomes now a threat to his livelihood, to his family, his children, to his job.
D a. Alamese had enough to charge Juan David Ortiz with four counts of murder, one count of unlawful restraint, one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and two counts of evading arrest. Melissa Ramirez's mom, Christina, recalled how hard it was seeing Ortiz for the first time at one of his hearings.
I saw him and my heart accelerated. And I got so angry that I stood up and I shouted at him that he was a murderer.
He just gave this smirk, and that literally sent chills down my spine, like, why is you know, you have this poor lady screaming at you and you're.
Just like, this is a mom who lost a daughter and you're laughing. Ortiz said his confession was coerced and pleaded not guilty. Four years later, a jury didn't buy it. Their verdict took less than 5 hours. We the jury find the defendant, Juan David Ortiz, guilty of the offense of capital murder. As charged in the indictment. Juan David Ortiz was sentenced that very night. Life in prison with no possibility of parole. It was a long fall for a decorated combat medic, a rising star at the Border patrol, and a married father of three.
Intel's supervisor had all this power, all this knowledge. Masters, educated. I mean, the list goes on.
For the victim's families, the verdict brought some relief.
I was very happy. I wanted to scream of excitement, and he just looked. I think he didn't care. No emotion, no emotion at all. But I felt so happy.
Ciara's life also changed in one good way. And now you work for the Sheriff's Department.
How is that?
I love it. I think I am in the right place. And I know my mom would be so proud of me. I know she's proud of me.
That's all for now. I'm Lester Holt. Thanks for joining us.
I'm a bad girl, but my takeout platter. What you need do? I could cop a taco platter and my SoC train is on loop. When you didn't sleep, what you gonna do? Did somebody say just eat?