On May 10, 1990, Jessica Martinez went missing while playing in front of her apartment on the 5000 block of Belle Terrace in Bakersfield. Her body was discovered 11 days later in a nearby field. Despite an investigation, the perpetrator(s) have yet to be identified.
The Disappearance And Murder Of Jessica Martinez
In a matter of minutes, Jessica Martinez, a four-year-old girl, was taken from her home in Bakersfield by an unknown individual. Her mother, upon hearing the news of her disappearance, rushed home in panic. Despite the tireless efforts of Jessica's family, local police, and nationwide media coverage, Jessica was never found alive. Her body was discovered in a cotton field eleven days after her abduction. Despite the passing of thirty years, the perpetrator responsible for her death remains unidentified.
Here Are The Facts Of The Case
1. On May 10, 1999, 4-year-old Jessica was playing outside her family's apartment at the Timber Cove Apartments (now Pine Brook Apartments) on 5000 Belle Terrace in Bakersfield, California. Her stepfather was present at the home while her mother Nellie was away at work.
2. Jessica was playing with her brother at a distance of around 40 feet from their apartment, while her stepfather monitored them from a patio window. However, he momentarily lost sight of the children, and during that time, Jessica vanished. It is believed that the abduction occurred between 8:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
3. As soon as Jessica was reported missing, the police were notified and began their search for her.
4. After five days of searching, on May 15, 1990, with no leads or signs of Jessica's whereabouts, police formed an official task force to find her.
5. On May 20, 1990, Fox aired an episode of "America's Most Wanted" featuring the case of Jessica's disappearance. The police received 58 calls in response to the episode, but none of the tips provided led to the recovery of Jessica.
6. On May 21st, eleven days after her disappearance, Jessica's body was found partly buried in a cotton field located 10 miles south of Bakersfield, on Bear Mountain Boulevard near Ashe Road. The body was discovered by a farm worker operating a tractor.
7. Because of the state of decomposition, the exact cause of death could not be determined. However, the coroner reported that Jessica had been strangled before her body was disposed of in the cotton field. The police were unable to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted.
8. A Bakersfield police detective reported that Jessica had been dead for a few days, leaving a week or so of her activity unknown.
9. On April 22, 2008, officials from the Kern County District Attorney's office announced that they had found DNA from both a male and a female on Jessica's shorts.
10. Despite ongoing investigation, no arrests or charges have been made in connection to the kidnapping or murder of Jessica. The case remains open.
Suspects And Theories
During the investigation into Jessica's murder, hundreds of individuals were interviewed, including registered sex offenders residing near the Timber Cove Apartments. One such resident at the time of her disappearance was Christopher Lightsey, a convicted sex offender. Lightsey was convicted of molesting two girls, and had been tried for inappropriately touching children at a grade school where he worked as a teacher. He had also been convicted of multiple drug offenses.
In 1993, Lightsey was arrested and convicted for the murder of his neighbor, William Compton, an elderly cancer patient, whom he had stabbed 43 times. Recently, detectives re-investigated Lightsey as a suspect and visited him in prison. During the interview, Lightsey abruptly left the room. DNA samples taken from Jessica's clothing were compared to Lightsey's, but there was no match.
Another New Suspect
Former Kings County sheriff's commander, Mr. Mark Bingaman, holds the opinion that the Bakersfield police department mishandled the kidnap-murder case of Jessica Martinez.
In 1995, Mr. Bingaman was the lieutenant in charge of the murder case of Maria Piceo, an 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed in Lemoore. The perpetrator then drove south and disposed of her body in Poso Creek in Kern County. As the leader of a team of investigators, Mr. Bingaman was instrumental in solving the case, which led to the arrest and conviction of Navy Petty Officer Gene McCurdy, of Wasco. He has recently written a book about the Piceo case, titled "Vanished In Broad Daylight."
Mr. Bingaman is convinced that McCurdy, who he describes as a monster, was also involved in the murder of Jessica, which occurred five years prior to the Piceo case. He states that there were several indications linking McCurdy to Jessica's death.
When being questioned, McCurdy was asked about the deaths of other children, particularly Jessica in 1990 and Deisy Herrera in 1987, both from Bakersfield. The former commander stated that McCurdy fell out of his chair when the names were mentioned. When probed further about the two girls from Bakersfield, Bingaman claims that McCurdy made what can be considered a confession.
During his investigation of the Piceo case, Mr. Bingaman and his team traveled to various locations such as Whidbey Island, Washington to examine Navy records and gather evidence against McCurdy. He states that McCurdy had a tendency to visit his parents in Bakersfield whenever he had the chance. Jessica was abducted on May 10, just three days before Mother's Day.
The doubts expressed by Mr. Bingaman have resonated with Nellie Martinez, the mother of Jessica. She said "What did they miss? What didn't they ask?"
Currently, Christopher Lightsey is the primary suspect in the case, but no one has been arrested for Jessica's murder. The police have been monitoring Lightsey, who is on death row for an unrelated murder of his neighbor, but they do not have enough evidence to charge him with Jessica's murder. If you have any information regarding this case, please contact the Bakersfield Police Department at (661) 327-7111.