In a little over a month, it will be two years since Sierra LaMar disappeared — and we still don’t have (a) a body or (b) a crime scene. What we do have is a chief suspect, Antolin Garcia-Torres, now pleading not guilty. If you follow cop shows, you may be familiar with the idea that it’s much harder to prosecute murder cases when there’s no body involved. Garcia-Torres got caught because LaMar’s DNA was in his car and his DNA was on a discovered bag of her clothing; as such, he seems a good fit for the crime. Plus, he has a bit of a bad history with women and attempted abductions:
On March 19, a 36-year-old Morgan Hill woman told Morgan Hill police a man followed her to her car in the parking lot of a Safeway at 840
E. Dunne Ave. around 11 p.m., and about a half hour later a second woman said a man attacked her in the lot of a Safeway at 235 Tennant Avenue.
The second woman, 46, from San Martin, told police her attacker used a stun gun on the back of her neck but fled after someone nearby heard her screams.
On March 26, an 18-year-old Gilroy woman told police she was sitting in her car around 8:40 p.m. at the Safeway lot on East Dunne Avenue when a man opened her car door.
When the woman tried to remove a pocketknife from the glove compartment to defend herself, the man grabbed her hand and pulled the blade to her neck and then fled after she screamed.
Each woman provided police with similar descriptions of the attacker and officers released a sketch of the suspect.
I used to be a die-hard Unsolved Mysteries guy, and there was a case on there that always haunted me about a woman leaving to go shopping with her mother for the day and ending up dead. Her name was Alicia Showalter Reynolds and while I don’t think it’s ever conclusively been solved, one of the big aspects of the investigation was that a guy had been hitching rides on I-29 (in Virginia) and attempting to attack women; so far, he had been unsuccessful. Criminals often have a “ramp-up,” just as one might when getting new responsibilities at work. It seems like Garcia-Torres had a ramp-up and LaMar was the unfortunate end of the cycle.
If you believe Antolin Garcia-Torres is the guy — I’m pretty sure I do — there are obviously two trains of discussion out of that station. First, what happened? Second, can he be fully brought to justice?
On the first front, there are any number of different theories; here’s a discussion from CNN on the LaMar case:
Then, about two weeks later, a bizarre and frightening discovery, condoms and an empty box used for holding handcuffs were also found in the same area. Police have not confirmed whether they are connected to this case. But tonight, we are asking, is a sadistic predator behind Sierra`s disappearance?
It is still unclear whether those items are related — best I can tell — but here’s David Lohr from The Huffington Post on the same broadcast:
LOHR: Well, I mean, if you look at it, there`s — you know, nobody saw this take place. You know, there`s no evidence this girl took off on her own. I mean, either this person got extremely lucky or they were experienced. They`ve done this before. They`ve researched how to do it. And they`ll likely do it again in the future, once they realize they`ve gotten away with it.
Now, Garcia-Torres hadn’t been successful in previous abductions — so to think that he could (a) be successful and (b) hide a body / dispose of a body that no one would find for two years might actually be a little bit of a stretch. This guy was working at Safeway before. I’m not saying he’s not capable of it, but it might require a stretch of luck too.
Websleuths was all over this case, although obviously, you should take some of this content (if not all) with a grain of salt, as these aren’t necessarily professional police investigators (here’s the map the poster refers to):
6:29 Sierra posts her snapshot to Twitter (Sierra’s location is point B on the map)
6:32 Sierra posts to tumblr (Sierra’s location is point B on the map)
7:11 Sierra sends text message from her phone (Sierra’s location is point B on the map on her way to point C the bus stop)
7:15 Sierra arrives at bus stop (Point C)
7:15 Perp sitting in his vehicle as point D can see Sierra arrive at the bus stop using binoculars.
7:16 Perp abducts Sierra at gun point from the bus stop (point C)
7:17 Perp throws or has SL throw her cellphone from the vehicle at point E while en-route to point A.
7:18 Perp pulls up behind the building where SL’s purse was found to handcuff / secure her. This might involve a trunk.
7:20 Perp discards her remaining things and evidence at the location.
7:21 Perp then leaves the area with SL, location now unknown.
The condoms and the handcuff box were a dead give away to me. This perp might have watched her on more then one occasion. He might have fantasized about the abduction thus the condoms (I’ll leave the nasty stuff out).
Here’s a general map of the area for context:
Now, in terms of whether Garcia-Torres can get locked up for life over this … obviously that’s a trickier question. He probably will get some type of sentence off the DNA, but without a body, the legal dialogue will look something like this for a while:
One positive of this entire situation is that leads were generated by shows like America’s Most Wanted:
I saw a Dateline about a year ago that referenced a family connection to another case in the NorCal area; the way it was shot, it looked like Keith Morrison (their lead guy, pretty much) may have been going out there periodically to eventually do a big Sierra LaMar story, but just needs more information (i.e. a conclusion) in order to file it.
The indictment is a good start, but the body would bring closure; perhaps there can be a no death penalty deal for Garcia-Torres if he provides proper information (not sure of California law on those types of things).