In the grand tradition of year-end wrap-ups, here is an entirely subjective list of the crime stories that dominated the headlines in 2019, month by month. Some of them are old cases that were solved this year; others are cases that had dramatic national — and international — impact. And some were just so gruesome we couldn’t stop talking about them. So let’s take a walk down memory lane, starting in…
January: Jayme Closs Found Alive
Let’s start with something that’s rare in the world of true crime: a happy ending.
But first, let’s go back to Oct. 15, 2018. Barron County, Wisconsin, sheriff’s deputies responding to a 911 call found James and Denise Closs shot dead in their home. Troublingly, their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, was nowhere to be found, and authorities believed she might have been abducted.
Enlisting the help of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the FBI, authorities searched around the family home with drones and infrared equipment. They pursued thousands of tips and watched hours of surveillance videos. Later, 2,000 volunteers conducted a massive on-the-ground search, to no avail. There were no leads in the case, but investigators — and the community — held out hope she was still alive.
Then on Jan. 10, 2019, a woman heard a knock on her door. Standing in the doorway was her neighbor and a “skinny, dirty” girl wearing shoes that looked too big for her. It was Jayme. The girl seemed emotionally “flat,” as though she were in shock. She didn’t know where she was, but she could provide police with the name of her kidnapper and a description of his car.
When he was pulled over by police, Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, immediately confessed. He told police he had planned his crime meticulously, from the moment he saw Jayme getting on a school bus. Right then, he decided she was “the girl he was going to take.”
On Oct. 15, 2018, Patterson arrived at the Closs home armed with his father’s 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun. After shooting her father, Patterson used duct tape to cover Jayme’s mouth and bind her wrists and ankles. He then shot Jayme’s mother.
Patterson threw her in his trunk and drove her to his remote cabin about 60 miles away. There, he removed the tape and ordered her to strip naked. He burned her clothes, along with other evidence, in the fireplace.
He kept her prisoner, forcing her to stay under his twin-sized bed, barricaded in with boxes and weights whenever he was gone or had family over. At times he would keep her there up to 12 hours without food, water, or bathroom breaks.
But while he was home, Patterson treated Jayme almost like a friend. He said they “were just like watching TV, playing board games, talking about stuff,” and cooking. He claims he loves her.
After 87 days, she waited until he was gone, then managed to break free and flag down a woman walking with her dog. The woman took Jayme to a neighbor’s house, where they called the police.
Patterson pled guilty to two counts of intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping. In May, he was handed two life sentences plus 40 years, without the possibility of parole. He started his term in the Dodge Correctional Institute in Waupun, Wisconsin, alongside Chris Watts, but was moved to New Mexico in July.
February: The Aurora Gunman
Feb. 15, 2019, Gary Martin was called in to his supervisor’s office at the Henry Pratt Co., an industrial-valve factory in Aurora, Illinois. Martin knew the outcome of the meeting couldn’t be good — he had already been written up several times, and according to company policy, he was now subject to being fired.
That morning (or the day before, sources differ), he told a co-worker that if he was fired, he would kill “every other m — -f — -r in here” and “blow police up.” The co-worker didn’t report the comment because as he put it, Martin said “off-the-wall” things like that all the time.
So when he showed up at the meeting that morning, he brought with him his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun — which he wasn’t legally allowed to have.
He had passed a background check when he purchased the gun in 2014. But later that year, when he applied for a concealed-carry permit, he was flagged for a felony conviction — a 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi for stabbing a former girlfriend and beating her with a baseball bat. In fact, Martin had a long history of domestic violence. He had also been arrested for stalking and threatening the life of another former girlfriend.
Thanks to the 1995 conviction, the authorities revoked his firearms owner card and sent him a letter instructing him to “voluntarily surrender” the pistol. He never did. Five years later, he would bring that pistol, outfitted with a green laser sight, with him to the fateful meeting.
As soon as he was told he’d been fired, he immediately began firing at the people in the room. He then rushed through the 29,000-square-foot factory, shooting at anyone he could see. Minutes after receiving the 911 call, officers arrived at the building. Martin had hidden himself deep within the building, and when officers approached him, he fired at them. The officers returned fire, killing Martin.
In the course of his 90-minute spree, Martin killed five workers and injured one worker and four police officers.
March: Boeing 737 MAX Crashes Again
March 10, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Just six minutes after takeoff, the plane — a Boeing 737 MAX 8 — crashed near the small town of Bishoftu. All 157 passengers and crew members died.
But this was not the first time one of these new planes had crashed in this manner. In October of 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 — also a Boeing 737 MAX — had crashed into the Java Sea only 13 minutes after takeoff, also killing everyone on board. Investigations had revealed flight control problems in the plane, including malfunctioning sensors, which were all tied to a design flaw in the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The MCAS was designed to push the aircraft’s nose down if sensors indicated it was stalling. Unfortunately, the sensors were malfunctioning as well, so the MCAS was abruptly pushing the planes into a nose-dive soon after takeoff.
Pilots had criticized Boeing for failing to warn them about this new flight-control feature and its deadly flaw. So the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing quickly issued warnings to all operators of the new 737 MAX series, emphasizing the flight recovery procedure.
But the advisories weren’t fully implemented. As a result, in March, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 experienced the same malfunction.
Now the death toll was up to 346. Regulators around the world grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX series aircraft immediately.
The US Congress and Department of Transportation began investigations into Boeing. Specifically, they were concerned that the FAA had delegated its oversight role, allowing Boeing to approve its own work.
Investigations revealed that in test flights, test pilots warned the company that the MCAS was “running rampant” in test simulations, causing nose-dive crashes, as far back as November 2016.
Boeing, however, withheld the information from regulators. The company was in a rush to get the new planes built and delivered to customers, since it was under immense pressure to compete with Airbus.
In fact, months before the Lion Air crash, a company manager had warned the company that the push to rush production had compromised vital safety precautions. Starting in the summer of 2018, the manager had implored Boeing executives, then the FAA, to look into the conditions at the manufacturing plant. His warnings went unheeded. He later testified before Congress as part of its inquiry into the deadly crashes.
After the crash of Ethiopian Flight 302, Boeing shares lost $3.4 billion, its largest ever quarterly loss. It was also ordered to pay $5 billion to its customers in compensation for their losses and disruptions due to the planes being grounded.
In October 2019, Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing, was called in to testify before Congress, where he was grilled about the company’s evaluation process.
Boeing says they have fixed the flaws in the system: the MCAS will now require an agreement from two sensors in order to activate, pilots will be able to manually override the system, and there will a mechanism to prevent the system from reactivating repeatedly.
But by December, the FAA still hadn’t approved the 737 MAX for flight, despite the company repeatedly assuring its customers that the planes would be cleared soon. After the FAA refused to promise a specific time when the planes would be cleared, Boeing announced that it was suspending production of the plane. Soon afterwards, under intense public pressure over the way he mishandled the crisis, Muilenburg resigned.
April: Possible Graves Found at Dozier School in Florida
In April, a company called Geosyntec was working to clean up pollution leaking from a fuel-storage site after Hurricane Michael. The site they were working on, about 60 miles west of Tallahassee in the panhandle of Florida, was the former site of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a reform school that had operated from 1900 through 2011. It was first known as the Florida State Reform School and then the Florida Industrial School. Besides incarcerating boys found guilty of crimes, it also took in boys for minor status offenses like truancy or smoking in school. Even orphans, children who were innocent of any infraction, were sent there.
From its very beginning, the school, which at one point was the largest institution of its kind in the US, was shown to be one of the worst. It was investigated soon after its opening, in 1903. Investigators found children as young as six shackled in leg irons; they said the institution was no different than a prison. The school would be investigated five more times during its first 13 years of operation.
The school didn’t even begin keeping records of the boys who died in their custody until 1914 — almost a decade and a half after it opened.
More recently, hundreds of former “students” at the school, calling themselves “The White House Boys” after the white building they would be whipped in, had come forward with horrific tales of torture, sexual abuse, and neglect — and of suspicious deaths.
In 2011, after an investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found “systemic, egregious and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls,” the school was finally shuttered, and in 2017, the state of Florida officially apologized to the survivors.
By 2014, the property was known to hold some 55 graves. Nearly half of these, the state, which ostensibly oversaw the school, had no knowledge of until they were discovered by a team of archeologists. Many of the boys who died behind the walls of the Dozier school were buried in unmarked graves, and their cause of death simply recorded as “unknown.” The White House Boys, many of whom are now in their 70s, have always insisted that there were still more graves to be found.
Indeed, when Geosyntec’s subcontractors began working on the site, they found 27 “anomalies” that looked like graves. However, they didn’t appear to be in any pattern, as you would find in a cemetery. This caused them to suspect that it might be a clandestine gravesite.
Thankfully, after a full investigation of the entire grounds by a team of forensic anthropologists, no human remains were found. The disturbances were determined to be from old pine tree roots.
But while the story of possible hidden graves turned out to be a dead end, it served to shine a national spotlight on a very dark and brutal chapter in Florida history.
Much of this reporting was done by the Tampa Bay Times.
May: The Murder of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez
May 17, the Chicago police broke the story of a particularly rare and gruesome crime, which took the life of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, and, eventually, her unborn son.
It started in April. On the 24th of April, Ochoa-Lopez’ husband had tried to report his wife, who was nine months pregnant, missing. The police told him to come back in 72 hours.
The day before (April 23), 46-year-old Clarissa Figueroa called 911 to her home. She told the dispatcher she had just given birth, but that the baby wasn’t breathing. Ambulances transported Figueroa to a local hospital, where the infant was placed in ICU.
Immediately nurses and staff noticed things that didn’t add up. Figueroa had blood on her upper body and face, but not on her shorts. An exam showed no signs that she had actually given birth. Yet despite the suspicious nature of the incident, the hospital did not alert the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for two weeks.
Meanwhile, Figueroa’s boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, was running a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the newborn’s upcoming funeral.
Weeks went by while Ochoa-Lopez’ friends and family searched desperately for her. But it wasn’t until May 7 that police got a break in her case. A friend of Ochoa-Lopez shared with police some Facebook posts indicating she was planning on meeting with Figueroa at her home to get some baby items. Police went to Figueroa’s house and questioned her daughter, Desiree, who at first said her mother was in the hospital for a problem with her legs. Later she told the police her mother had just given birth.
So they questioned Figueroa at the hospital; she claimed she knew Ochoa-Lopez, but that the young woman had not been at her home on April 23. However, police found her car just blocks away from Figueroa’s home.
Investigators then began digging deeper. Searches of Figueroa’s social media revealed that she had announced her pregnancy last October. Friends and family were surprised — and skeptical — given that Figueroa had undergone a tubal ligation. Yet she continued posting about her “miracle pregnancy,” including photos of a stolen ultrasound and a decorated nursery. Adding to their suspicions, several neighbors spotted Figueroa drinking and smoking during this time.
Figueroa also joined a Facebook group for expectant mothers, and was especially interested in mothers who were due in May — a group that included Ochoa-Lopez. It was through this group that Figueroa befriended the teen.
Investigators got a court order to perform DNA tests on the newborn (who was still in grave condition in ICU) and Figueroa. The tests proved that Figueroa was not his mother.
Now police had more than enough evidence for a search warrant of Figueroa’s home. Inside they found evidence of blood on the walls and floor; outside they found evidence of burned clothes. Then, on the patio, stuffed into a garbage can, they found the body of Ochoa-Lopez. Her abdomen had been sliced open and her fetus removed; a coaxial cable was wound tight around her neck.
Figueroa’s daughter confessed to police that she had helped her mother kill Ochoa-Lopez. She said her mother lured the teen to her house with an offer of free baby clothes. Then, while Ochoa-Lopez sat on their couch, Desiree distracted her with pictures on her phone. Then Clarisa came up behind her and strangled her with a coaxial cable.
But that was not the end of this gruesome crime. Once Ochoa-Lopez was dead, Clarisa cut the infant from her body with a butcher knife.
Then Desiree helped her mother stuff Ochoa-Lopez’ body into a trash can in their backyard.
The baby, who the victim’s family named Yovanny Jadiel, suffered brain damage from oxygen deprivation. He was finally taken off life support June 14.
Clarisa and Desiree Figueroa were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery. Bobak was charged with concealing a death. All three are being held without bail in Cook County Jail, and in July, Desiree Figuroa gave birth. The infant was immediately taken into state custody.
June: Serial Killer Deangelo Martin Arrested
June 6, a 51-year-old woman came to the Wayne County, Michigan, police with a frightening story. Three days earlier, she said, in the early morning hours, a man had come up behind her and put her in a choke-hold, causing her to pass out. When she came to, she was in an abandoned building with her attacker on top of her, and some of her clothes had been taken off. Fearing for her life, she was able to get a box-cutter she kept in her pocket for protection and stabbed him multiple times before jumping out an open window and running for help. But, fearing she would get in trouble for stabbing her attacker, she didn’t go to the police right away.
Only two days later, the body of Tamara Jones, 55, was found in the same abandoned building she had narrowly escaped from. Perhaps fearing Jones’ killer had been her attacker, the woman came forward.
For over a month, rumors had been circulating on social media and in real life that a serial killer was loose on the east side of Detroit. While police initially dismissed these rumours, things were beginning to point in that direction.
Back in February 2018, the body of Annetta Nelson, 57, was found in an abandoned house, laying face-down with a used condom beside her. Her cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head. Her manner of death: homicide.
More than a year went by without any leads. Then on March 19, 2019, the body of Nancy Harrison, 52, was found in another abandoned house on the east side. Like Nelson, her body was in the same position, a used condom placed next to her. Her cause of death was also blunt force trauma to the head.
Only a few days later, on March 24, the body of Trevesene Ellis, 55, was found — also in an abandoned house, in the same position. But Ellis’ body was too badly decomposed to determine a cause of death.
All the victims, besides being around the same age, worked as prostitutes.
There was also another possible survivor: in early May, a 26-year-old woman came to the police with a story much like the 51-year-old. She said a man named Deangelo Martin had invited her to come to his mother’s house, where she could take a shower and sleep. The woman, who was homeless, accepted. But once there, Martin sexually assaulted her and stabbed her in the neck. She fought back, and Martin dropped the knife. The woman picked it up and stabbed him with it, enabling her to escape.
So on June 7, police arrested 34-year-old Deangelo Martin — though not on murder charges. He was being charged with four counts of criminal sexual conduct and one count of assault with intent to murder for the attacks on the two women who survived.
While he was in custody for those charges, investigators worked to tie him to the unsolved murders. By September, prosecutors charged him with eight murder counts — one count of first-degree premeditated murder and one count of first-degree murder for each victim.
He is also suspected of killing 64-year-old Deborah Reynolds, whose body was found last December in an abandoned home. Martin was the last person seen with Reynolds.
His court date was first set for Dec. 6, but it has since been delayed.