A self-described debt collector for Mexican drug cartels says he has slayed more than 30 people across the United States, according to investigators.
If Jose Martinez, 51, is found guilty of scores of homicides on both coasts, he would earn a place among the most lethal serial murderers in American history.
Investigators have confirmed that Martinez is responsible for a 2006 double-homicide in Marion County, Fla., a March homicide in Lawrence County, Ala., and at least 10 other killings in California, according to sheriff’s officials.
Martinez, a U.S. citizen, told investigators that he committed those murders and more than a dozen others as an enforcer for multiple Mexican drug lords, according to Lawrence County Sheriff’s Capt. Tim McWhorter.
“He basically told us, ‘I’m the guy that pays you a visit when you don’t pay the cartel,” McWhorter said. “He had a reputation in the drug world as the guy who would get the job done. If he was assigned to get money, he’d get money. If he was assigned to kill, he’d kill.”
A trail of bloodshed
The alleged killer's startling admissions to officials in Alabama—where investigators from all relevant states converged in early June to interview the suspect—came nearly four months after detectives in Florida found key evidence linking Martinez to a 7-year-old cold case, according to Marion County, Fla., Det. T.J. Watts.
Authorities probing the Nov. 8, 2006 slayings of two Hispanic males determined in February that DNA on a cigarette butt inside a Nissan truck where they found the bullet-riddled bodies of Javier Huerta, 20, and Gustavo Rivas, 28, matched that of Martinez, Watts said. Officials issued a warrant for his arrest.
The following month, officials in Alabama investigating the March 4 slaying of Jose Ruiz, 32, discovered unspecified evidence that Martinez perpetrated the crime while visiting that state, where his daughter is believed to live, according to Capt. McWhorter.
Authorities had previously suspected Martinez’s daughter’s boyfriend, Jamie Romero, of killing Ruiz, but “incriminating information from anonymous sources” provided to investigators suggested Martinez pulled the trigger, making him the principal suspect, McWhorter said.
Fortuitously, Martinez was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents in early June near Yuma, Ariz., after trying to cross the border from Mexico without proper identification. Officials quickly learned of Martinez’s criminal footprints and arranged to have him extradited to Alabama, where he now faces murder charges, according to McWhorter.
At first, Martinez denied involvement in the murder of Ruiz, but ultimately confessed to that slaying after nearly an hour of questioning.
By then, McWhorter said, “the floodgates had opened and he began to confess to multiple murders in Florida and California.”
'He is cold-hearted and he means business'
Martinez told investigators he has worked on contract for more than one Mexican drug lord as well as other unidentified clients. He said that many of the killings to which he has confessed – including the 2006 double-homicide – stem from disputes over illicit drug purchases and sales.
“He considers himself a bail bondsman for the cartels,” Watts said. “It’s how he feeds his family. He shows no remorse. He is cold-hearted and he means business."
The self-described debt collector told Watts he started killing people at 16, although it is unclear if the purported murders committed at that age were done at the behest of Mexican drug cartels.
Martinez told McWhorter that, in addition to contract hits for drug bosses, he killed people “involved in pedophilia or sexual abuse” as part of a personal vendetta unrelated to his assignments from the Mexican cartels.
Authorities have not confirmed that any of Martinez’s victims were sex offenders, McWhorter said.
However, McWhorter said investigators have found that Martinez is “very specific about the details of the unsolved cases.”
“He knows details that no one else would know except the killer. Spot on details,” McWhorter said.
Martinez is currently in custody at Alabama's Lawrence County Jail. He is expected to plead guilty to the murder charge in that county. It is unclear when he will face charges in Marion County, Fla.
Investigators in Tulare, Calif., are probing five unsolved homicides in which Martinez may have been the perpetrator, according to Tulare County Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Douglass.
The remaining five California murders may have happened in other jurisdictions in the state, McWhorter said.