An alleged hit man who killed for more than 30 years across the country has been charged with murder in the deaths of nine men in California, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Eight of the killings allegedly carried out by Jose Manuel Martinez, a self-described enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel, occurred in the Central Valley and one in Santa Barbara County. The victims were found by ranchers in fields and alongside country roads, according to the Tulare County district attorney's office.
One man was shot to death in his bed in Pixley while his four young children were at home.
Martinez, 51, allegedly told investigators in Alabama that he had been working as an enforcer for the drug cartel since he was 16, collecting debts and pocketing 25% of the money. Authorities said Martinez told investigators he killed more than 30 people.
“It’s how he fed his family, is how he explained it,” Marion County, Ala., Sheriff's Det. T.J. Watts told CNN in June. “And if he didn’t do the job, someone else would do it.”
Martinez was arrested at a border crossing last year in Arizona in connection with a March 2013 murder in Alabama.
He allegedly killed a business associate execution-style for making insulting remarks about his daughter.
Martinez lived, at least part-time, in Richgrove, Calif., a small farm town about 40 miles north of Bakersfield.
In 2012, Christal Derington, a former Tulare County sheriff's detective, visited Martinez while investigating a series of home invasion robberies.
Shortly after his arrest in connection with the Alabama murder, Alabama authorities contacted the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department.
Martinez wanted to talk to Derington.
She traveled to Alabama three times to interview him, describing his manner as “pleasant and cooperative.”
At a news conference in Visalia on Tuesday, authorities showed a map labeled “Contract Killer Jose Manuel Martinez.” Red dots marked the places where authorities believe Martinez killed in California. A fact sheet laid out the details:
-- Oct. 21, 1980: David Bedolla, 23, of Lindsay was shot to death while driving to work with his wife, brother and brother-in-law between Lindsay and Strathmore.
-- Oct. 1, 1982: Sylvester Ayon, 30, was fatally shot multiple times while working on a ranch near Santa Ynez. A 17-year-old was also shot, but survived.
-- Oct. 19, 1982: Raul Gonzalez, 22, of Earlimart disappeared from his home. His body was found two days later by ranchers near Fountain Springs Road east of Porterville. He had been shot and stabbed.
-- April 8, 1995: Domingo Perez, 29, of Earlimart went missing. Six weeks later, his bullet-riddled body was found in an orange grove north of Richgrove.
-- Feb. 14, 2000: Santiago Perez, 56, of Pixley was shot to death in his bed in the middle of the night while his four children were home.
-- Feb. 15, 2007: Jose Alvardo, 25, of Kern County was found shot to death on a dirt road outside McFarland.
-- March 23, 2009: Juan Bautista Moreno, 52, of Kern County was found shot to death in an orange grove south of Elmo Highway near McFarland.
-- Sept. 27, 2009: Joaquin Baragan, 45, of Earlimart went missing. Three days later, he was found by ranchers shot to death on the bank of the Deer Creek canal outside Earlimart.
-- Feb. 5, 2011: Gonzalo Urquieta, 54, of Earlimart went missing. Two days later, his bullet-riddled body was found in an orange grove near Richgrove.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said investigators are looking at other unsolved homicides for possible links to Martinez.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Tulare County Sheriff's Department at (559) 730-1900 or (559) 733-6218. Tipsters can remain anonymous via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or text message to (559) 725-4194.