A long-serving border agent who prosecutors say confessed to murdering four South Texas women was charged with capital murder on Wednesday. His targets during an admitted serial-killing spree that terrorized the region were all said to be sex workers who were likely chosen due to their extremely vulnerable and almost-hidden status in society, according to authorities in Laredo.
Juan David Ortiz is a 9-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and now-former supervisor with the law enforcement agency. Over the course of just two weeks, Ortiz allegedly shot his four female victims in the head and discarded their bodies alongside lonely rural patches of Interstate 35 in Webb County, Texas.
After being interrogated, Ortiz confessed to the four-known murders. Additionally, Ortiz confessed to aggravated assault and kidnapping, according to the Webb County Sheriff’s Office. This marks the second homicide investigation [in recent months] in Webb County of an agent serving the Laredo sector of the U.S.-Mexico border.
A fifth believed-to-be potential victim, Erika Pena, escaped from the killer’s truck at a gas station in mid-September and quickly told a state trooper that Ortiz had attempted to kidnap her. Pena’s internal alarm bells sounded after mentioning a prior killing and noticing that her would-be-kidnapper reacted strangely. Then he pulled a gun on her.
With Pena’s help, authorities from several state and local law enforcement agencies eventually tracked the Navy veteran down to a hotel parking garage in Laredo and arrested him after he briefly gave chase and hid inside of a vehicle.
In the time period between Pena’s attempted kidnapping and Ortiz finally being arrested, however, the CBP intelligence supervisor claimed his final two victims: 35-year-old Guiselda Alicia Cantu and 28-year-old Janelle Ortiz. The first two women admittedly slain during the two-week-long killing spree were 29-year-old Melissa Ramirez and 42-year-old Claudine Luera.
Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz confirmed that all of the women targeted by Ortiz had worked selling sex in the area. Some of the women are believed to have known one another and authorities confirmed that Ortiz knew each of the women personally.
Webb County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Federico Garza noted:
He had the trust of most of the victims that were involved in this killing. So he took that opportunity to commit this crime.
Authorities have also noted that Ortiz expressed disrespectful feelings for sex workers. Throughout the course of his apparent anti-sex worker pogrom, Ortiz continued to report for work and lived in his normal, suburban home with a wife and two children.
After Ortiz was taken into custody on September 15, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said, “The county, the city can rest assured we have the serial killer in custody.”
The Associated Press reports that a grand jury recently upgraded the charges against Ortiz so that he now qualifies for capital punishment. According to the Laredo Morning Times and KRGV-TV reporter Valerie Gonzalez, prosecutors will indeed be seeking the death penalty against the former border agent.
[Image via Webb County Sheriff’s Office]