For three decades families of the victims of Jose Manuel Martinez have mourned the unsolved murders their loved ones.
Although they can never get back the life that was taken from them, they now have peace of mind knowing that justice has been served.
The murders in California occurred over a 31-year period beginning in 1980 and ending in 2011. Martinez entered into a plea agreement that carried a sentence of life without parole.
In addition to the nine counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, Martinez pled guilty to special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, lying in wait, kidnapping and murder for financial gain.
Six of the nine murder victims were killed in Tulare County, two in Kern, and one in Santa Barbara, where the defendant also attempted to kill a witness to that crime.
Oct. 21, 1980, near dawn, 23-year-old David Bedolla of Lindsay was driving to work when he was shot in the head by the passenger of a vehicle that overtook him. According to Martinez, he waited outside of his victim’s home from about 4 a.m. until Bedolla left for work. As Bedolla was driving westbound on Hwy. 65 toward Tulare with his wife, brother, and brother-in-law. As he drove pass Bedolla’s vehicle he noticed that the side window was rolled up. Martinez then shot at Bedolla two to three times with a .22 rifle hitting him at least once in the head.
After being shot Bedolla’s vehicle swerved off of the road and into a vineyard. An autopsy indicated that Bedolla died as a result of a small caliber gunshot wound to the head. During his confession Martinez told investigators that he had been hired to murder Bedolla, but was unaware as to why and did not ask.
Martinez’s next murder took place on Oct. 1, 1982. The victim was 30-year-old Sylvester Ayon of Santa Ynez, who was shot multiple times while driving a tractor on a ranch off of Refugio Road in Santa Barbara. Martinez also attempted to kill a 17-year-old juvenile who was a co-worker of Ayons.
According to Martinez he was hired to kill Sylvester Ayon who was believed to be involved in a dance hall shooting that occurred in Durango, Mexico, in 1979 where seven people were shot, four of whom died. Martinez shared with investigators that at least one of the people killed in Mexico was a relative. The attempted murder victim known as “G.G.” was riding in a trailer being pulled by the tractor carrying Ayons. Martinez shot G.G. in the stomach because he had been a witness to Ayons’ murder.
Martinez also pled guilty to the murder of Raul Gonzalez on Oct. 19, 1982. The 22-year-old Earlimart resident walked out of his house on Oct. 19. Two days later his body was discovered having been shot and stabbed. During his confession Martinez revealed that he shot Raul with a handgun and after his gun jammed, he picked up pruning shears which he used to stab Gonzalez to death. Martinez told investigators that he killed Gonzalez because he owned him $2,000.
On April 8, 1995, 29-year-old Domingo Perez of Earlimart left his residence never to return. His body was found on May 23, 1995 in an orange grove off of Road 224 and Ave. 12 just north of Richgrove, having been shot. During his confession, Martinez told investigators that he had killed Perez after he had warned him not to park in his driveway in the past. Martinez stated that he was worried about kids getting hit, explaining one of his children had been injured earlier by a vehicle parked in his driveway. After asking Perez to take him to a store, Martinez shot him with a .44 caliber firearm and dumped his body in an orange grove. Martinez stated that he murdered Perez, “For not doing as he, had asked.”
Five years later, on Feb. 14, 2000, 56-year-old Santiago Perez of Pixley was found shot to death in his bed by his four minor children. Investigators discovered that Martinez was friends with Perez’s wife who was the sister of Sylvestre Ayon, the victim of Martinez’s 1982 murder. Martinez obtained keys from Perez’s wife who was out of town and unaware that he had taken her keys.
On Feb. 13 Martinez went into Perez’s bedroom with the intent of murdering him but found that his youngest daughter was sleeping next to her father. Martinez left that day but returned the following day at 3 a.m. at which time he found Perez alone in bed and shot him in the head with a .380 handgun. Martinez left the home through the front door. Investigators corroborated Martinez’s statement, confirming that Perez’s wife was indeed out of town during the time of the murder visiting her mother in the hospital. Perez’s youngest daughter also told police that on Feb. 12 and 13 she slept in her father’s bedroom, but that on Feb. 14 she slept in one of her brother’s rooms. As well, there were no signs of forced entry and Perez’s children heard the front door slam shortly after hearing shots fired. Furthermore, investigators discovered that Martinez and Perez’s wife began living together with two months of the murder.
On Feb. 15, 2007, 25-year-old Jose Alvarado of McFarland was murdered; his body was located on a dirt road outside of town having been shot multiple times. Martinez told detectives that on the day of the murder he had car problems and asked Daniel Gonzalez Herrera to give him a ride. The two drove to McFarland where they confronted the victim. Martinez stated that Gonzalez was upset that Alvardo had dated his ex-wife. Alvardo got into the vehicle with both Gonzalez and Martinez. Gonzalez confronted Alvardo about his relationship, at first Alvardo denied the relationship but eventually admitted to Gonzalez that he had dated his ex-wife. Gonzalez then shot Alvarado in the chest. After realizing Alvarado was still alive Martinez shot the victim in the back and buttocks, afraid that Gonzalez might kill him to avoid having witnesses to his murder.
On Sept. 27, 2007, Martinez was hired to murder Joaquin Barragan of Earlimart. Martinez confessed that he was paid $8,000 to kill Barragan who allegedly raped a woman in Mexico. Two years after Barragan’s murder Martinez was hired once again to kill Juan Baustia Moreno. On March 23, 2009, Martinez followed Moreno from his home and used fake emergency lights to stop Moreno’s truck. Upon recognizing Martinez, Moreno locked himself in his truck at which time Martinez lit the truck on fire. Martinez then threatened to harm Moreno if he did not pay the $40,000 owed.
Martinez stated that he became enraged when Moreno indicated that he did not believe he would kill him. Martinez then took his victim to a near by orchard and shot him in the back of the head. Witnesses identified Martinez as being present at the victims’ residence days prior to the murder. Witnesses also heard the defendant state that he “was not coming back” in what sounded like an argument.
Martinez also pled guilty to the February 7, 2011 murder of 54-year-old Gonzalo Urquieta of Earlimart. The victim was located in an orange grove just outside of the town of Richgrove. He had been missing since February 5, 2011. Urquieta had been shot multiple times.
Martinez is currently serving a 50-year sentence after pleading guilty to a 2013 murder in the State of Alabama. Martinez was initially arrested in Arizona shortly after crossing the border and then extradited to Alabama in June.
Tim McWhorter, a captain and chief investigator with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department in Alabama, told the Associated Press in April that Martinez confessed to more than 30 murders while awaiting trial in a 2013 slaying. He also told Alabama authorities that he worked for multiple drug cartels but would not divulge the names of the criminal organizations or associates within those cartels. McWhorter told AP authorities in 10 states have confirmed 17 of the 34 slayings to which Martinez confessed.
“Despite what we have been told, I am certain that time does not heal all wounds. For the Central Valley families who have lost their beloved brothers, sons, and fathers at the murderous hands of Jose Manuel Martinez, there will never be enough time to heal those wounds. But there will be justice. This serial killer and self-described “hitman” will spend the rest of his life behind bars. There is no doubt that he has proven himself to be a grave danger to our community, so we all will take comfort that he has been removed from society,” said Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward.
“It is my fervent hope that this brings some solace to the families who survived through the loss of their loved one and then lived many years wondering if there would ever be answers, resolution, and ultimately justice. Today there is justice,” Ward continued. “This case could not have found resolution without the tireless efforts of Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley,
Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green, and the Santa Barbara and Kern County Sheriff Departments.”
The case was prosecuted by Supervising District Attorney David Alavezos. All six Tulare County homicides were investigated by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. Sentencing is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 2 in Visalia.