Days before the body of a New Jersey teacher was found in a shallow grave, authorities impounded a car linked to her former partner that had a pickax, a shovel and a bloodstained rope inside it, according to court documents released Wednesday.
The details were in an affidavit supporting a murder charge against Cesar Santana, 36, in the death of Luz Hernandez, 33, a kindergarten teacher at a Jersey City charter school.
Santana was also charged with hindering, tampering with physical evidence and failing to dispose of human remains in a manner prescribed by law, the Hudson County prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
He was arrested at a motel in Miami on Feb. 10 and extradited to New Jersey on Tuesday night, the prosecutor’s office said.
A second person, Lenier Miranda Lopez, 26, was charged with desecrating human remains, the prosecutor’s office said. Lopez remains at large.
According to the affidavit, Hernandez was reported missing by Santana — the father of her three children — and relatives on Feb. 6.
Authorities investigating her disappearance later discovered that on Feb. 4, Santana was seen walking to Hernandez's house in Jersey City, where she was home alone, and dragging a black and yellow bin from the house an hour later, according to the document. The affidavit is partly redacted and doesn't say who observed his movements.
On Feb. 5, authorities in the nearby city of Kearney issued Santana a motor vehicle summons after he and a second person were seen loading a black and yellow bin into a Honda, the affidavit says. The car had expired registration and was impounded.
Two days later, Jersey City officers who were conducting a welfare check at Hernandez's home observed the faint smell of bleach, the affidavit says. They found cleaning supplies and a mop, and they saw bloodstains in the bedroom, according to the document.
Hernandez's body was later found in a shallow grave in Kearney. An autopsy attributed her death to blunt force trauma of the head and compressions to the neck, according to the affidavit.
A search of the Honda revealed a large black and yellow bin with wheels, a pickax, a shovel, clear plastic sheeting and a rope, the affidavit says. Some of the items were bloody; authorities found black hairs on others. Soil was found on the sheeting.
Santana made his initial appearance in a Hudson County court Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said. It wasn't immediately clear whether he has a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.