Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Carina Saunders: Three Years and the Only Truth We Have at the Moment

Three years ago yesterday Oklahoma County animal control employees were walking through an empty field behind a Homeland Grocery in Bethany, Oklahoma. They were looking to round up feral cats. What they found was a duffel bag containing the dismembered remains of Carina Saunders. She had been reported missing on September, 28th by her family, although in reality none of them had seen her for over two weeks prior to that.

By all accounts she had been living on the edge for a while. According to the media she didn't have a job, or a fixed residence and the people she had surrounded herself with were involved in the dark underbelly of the Oklahoma City metro area.

Since her body was found inside the Bethany city limits the 31 people manning the town's police department took charge of the case. It would be the first major mistake made by authorities in the investigation.

Many more were to follow.

Over the next year plus rumors were reported as facts, urban myths morphed into reality, and the media named at least 12 different people investigators insisted were connected in one way, or another to the murder.

Thanks to internet social sites and Saunders' habit of taking and posting "selfies," her face was plastered all over, not only the local daily paper and TV stations, but the web as well. It was the sort of lurid and grotesque tale that appealed to all of our basest instincts. She was young, pretty, possessed sad, haunted eyes, and had gone astray--she was the lost white girl in a world of drugs, prostitution, and perhaps human trafficking. The whole gruesome affair had the feel and allure of a torture porn movie. The city was both horrified and transfixed by it.

Five Bethany officers were assigned to the case. The lead detectives were Jack Jencks and Austin Warfield. They were in over their heads from day one.

In early January of 2012, OKC's daily paper, The Oklahoman reported two men who were already in the Oklahoma County jail on other charges were suspects. Their names were Jimmy Lee Massey and Francisco Gomez. Either The Oklahoman didn't know, or wouldn't say why the Bethany cops thought they were in on the killing.

A month later a third name, Michael "Monster" Knight, was thrown into the mix. He had an apartment on the near southwest side of Oklahoma City. The media said Bethany cops believed it was the murder scene. According to reports, police found a machete, cut up electrical cords, evidence of blood, a blackberry, and strands of hair. The local paper also said a woman only identified as, Rachel, had been told by Knight to clean the place up. At the time it was being reported Massey was telling fellow inmates he had kidnapped another, unnamed, woman and forced her to the watch the murder so she would be convinced to go along with whatever the perpetrators wanted.

Late in the same month the state medical examiner finished his report and said it would be made public in a short time. The official ruling was Carina Saunders' death was caused by "violence." Besides that exquisite moment of "duh," the first indication things were amiss was when Bethany Police Chief, Phil Cole was quoted as saying, Knight was not a suspect in the slaying even though the department apparently still believed his flat was the site of the murder.

Then things began to get really muddled. In early March the medical examiner's office did an about face and refused to release the autopsy to the public. Reportedly the state attorney general had instructed the M.E. to keep the results sealed for reasons which were at best vague. No explanation was given for the sudden intervention by the state AG in a county case.

On July 6th The Oklahoman reported Luis Ruiz had been arrested in connection with the murder. Affidavits of probable cause were filed against him and Massey. Francisco Gomez's name was no longer being mentioned.

On July 11th came the first word Bethany police thought there could be a cell phone video out there somewhere showing Saunders' murder. The media and imaginations everywhere went wild with the disclosure. It was reported police believed a stripper and unabashed hooker named Mindy Cottier had a copy of it. When she was a no show at Bethany police headquarters detectives went out and grabbed her and a man named Christopher Banschbach at a south side motel. It would be the only time either of them were publicly connected with the case. As of this date, no video of the murder has ever been found.

By the 19th of the month things appeared to have hit a roadblock. So much so, Oklahoma County District Attorney, David Prater asked for an additional 10 days to formally charge Ruiz and Massey.

The shit hit the fan a scant five days later on the 24th. Ruiz and Massey were officially charged with the murder of Carina Saunders. The Oklahoman reported Bethany police said the murder scene was actually at a house somewhere on South Harvey Avenue in Oklahoma City. They claimed, Saunders had been accompanied there by a woman named Michelle Hanshaw, who after realizing what was going to happen, bailed out of an open window. In addition, another woman named Tia Downour was said to be at the house, but left before the murder took place. According to The Oklahoman, which obviously got its info from the Bethany cops, she had also caught a glimpse of the first part of the horrifying video on Ruiz's cell phone while they were sharing a motel room at a later date. On top of all that the police claimed a third woman, named Stephanie Howard, alleged she and Ruiz had to, "baby sit" Saunders on occasion and Ruiz had told her the victim would have to be, "dealt with."

Then, other than the release of the autopsy report in August, for all practical purposes things went ominously silent.

On February 6, 2013 The Oklahoman reported Bethany police asked the  Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to take over the case. At that moment there wasn't a question in any ones mind Bethany had screwed the pooch. On the 25th of February the charges against Massey and Ruiz were dropped. Ruiz walked out onto the street for the first time since the previous July, while Massey remained a resident of the facility on unrelated charges.

To date no one has been held accountable for the brutal murder of Carina Saunders. There was no mention of the anniversary of the discovery of her body yesterday in the local media. She is, as they say in the business, old news.

In February of this year Luis Ruiz filed a civil law suit against the city of Bethany and its police department. Since his release he has had at least one minor brush with the law involving a car he was driving.

Jack Jencks and Austin Warfield were dismissed from the department for reasons not overtly connected to the Saunders case. Both have since been reinstated, even though Jencks has been charged with 11 counts of stealing controlled substances from the Bethany police property room by D.A. David Prater.

Yes, it is a sordid tale and it might not ever have a conclusion..

Unfortunately real life isn't like a novel. Much of the time there are no neat, or satisfying endings--there are only lingering questions, recrimination, and the knowledge that sometimes people running the show are capable of fucking up beyond belief.

That sad eyed girl is dead forever. Whoever did those awful things to her is, presumably, still alive and walking around right now.

It is the only truth we have at the moment.

We are the lesser because of it.


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