Episode 10: Cold Cases Defrosted
In this week's episode of Blood & Wine, Brittany and Tyler defrost a couple of cold cases whose killers finally faced justice: The Murder of Beth Bramlett and The Murders of Michelle Lozano and Bree’Anna Guzman.
Wine Pick: 2016 Geneseo Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, California
Genesco Cellars is named for the historic area of Paso Robles where vines were first planted in 1886.
I listened to a news spot from KCBX by Randol White, who did some research on the pronunciation of Paso Robles. Paso Robles - Paso ROH-blays, Spanish pronunciation. But that’s the minority in the area, Paso Robles is often pronounced Paso ROH-buhlz in the area. It depends on the crowd. “The Pass of the Oaks”, many places in California have Spanish origins. It’s dialect, and places evolve with dialect. With the introduction and growth of the wine industry, there comes a change in what is acceptable and what is proper with regards to pronunciation. Residents, that have nothing to do with the wine industry say Robles (non-Spanish), and that has been passed down. It’s be hard to tell these 5th gen people to say Robles (Spanish). The City line, when called, pronounces it Robles (non-Spanish). So, the Spanish pronunciation is definitely in the minority.
Got this bottle at HEB, first non-TJ’s wine on this podcast. On the weekends vendors come in to HEB for beer and wine tastings and this happened to be this week’s featured wine. The person doing the pouring seemed to know nothin about the wine, but our tiny sample was enough to convince me that this was the bottle for this episode, and I can’t wait to actually have a glass.
It was a bit more than our usual wines at $14 a bottle, but for a good Paso Robles Cab, it was worth it.
This big, bold, Cab is packed with briars berry and juicy cassis aromas, with hints of toasty oak, has a rich texture, and has a long silky finish.
Brittany's Beth Bramlett Notes:
Last Night: August 7, 1982
Beth Bramlett, who in 1982 was 17 years old and preparing for her senior year.
She was part of Axtell’s tight-knit community, a quiet girl who as a teenager became known for riding her buckskin horse “Coco” at rodeos in the area.
Lisa Lynn Warren Gray, Bramlett’s best friend recalled their love of music, and all the songs they’d sing at the top of their lungs on repeat.
With summer winding down, Beth Marie Bramlett—like many students of Axtell High School—crowded into Trading House Lake, a lush blue-water reservoir in Waco, Texas, for an end-of-the-season bash.
It was August of 1982 and Bramlett, 17, was preparing to begin her senior year.
As the party was in full swing a brawl ensued. Later, in an unrelated incident, a teenager who was playing with a pistol fired a shot into the air. Shortly after, Bramlett decided it was time to go home.
She started walking on Hall Drive when Johnny and Teresa Wood offered her a ride. En route to Bramlett’s home in nearby Axtell, the car ran out of gas.
Shortly after 1:00 a.m. the pair dropped her off on the side of Wilbanks and Hall Drive and returned to the party.
Once there, Teresa saw her father, Talmadge Wayne Wood.
Wood, according to investigators, told Teresa not to hang out with Bramlett.
Wood then threatened to “kill” his daughter if she didn’t arrive home before he did.
As Teresa raced home, Bramlett remained stranded. Then she saw Talmadge Wood’s car on the road and she flagged him down, according to Detective Fuller.
Bramlett never made it home.
Bramlett’s body lay face down for several days on abandoned railroad tracks near her home in Axtell before a fisherman found her in the middle of the afternoon on Aug. 10, 1982.
Bramlett died from a .22 caliber gunshot to the head, although autopsy would show she suffered more than one bullet wound, McNamara said.
When she was found Bramlett was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
At the crime scene her body didn't appear to have been brutalized, but one deputy who worked the original case said when investigators turned her over, it looked as if someone had chewed or gnawed, maybe even eaten a part of her body.
The cold case detective didn't have any physical evidence to work with; no weapon, no vehicle, no place where tell-tale DNA might hide.
The town of Axtell, which had a population of about 500 people in the early 1980s, still remains small with roughly 2,000 residents according to census data, everyone knew each other.
A Lead in the Case
The Waco Citizen, in an effort to aid the investigation, listed Bramlett's murder twice in their “Crime of the Week” column to no avail.
Short on evidence, the McLennan County Police Department had several leads but the quest to solve the murder stalled.
Then, in October 1982, authorities thought they caught a break.
That month Jimmy Dean Roe turned himself in to local police and confessed to killing Bramlett with Carlos Castro as his accomplice, according to a police report.
“He said he had gone and spoke to the Lord and the Lord told him to confess to these murders,” said a detective with the Kerrville Police Department. Roe claimed to have extra-sensory perception or ESP, and told police he had clairvoyant abilities.
“He sometimes dreamed of the people being killed and that the person doing the killing was him,” according to a follow-up police report by the Waco Police Department, who concluded that Roe was hallucinating. “He was just making up the story, for some type of recognition on his part or trying to get famous on someone else’s doings.”
Both men were arrested but authorities concluded their story was fake.
Charges were dismissed after Roe failed to answer basic questions about the chain of the events leading to the murder.
After that, the case went cold for decades before media attention sparked renewed interest by investigators in the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office.
Solving the Crime
36 years later, authorities have finally solved Bramlett's murder thanks to help from the office's newly established cold case unit, they were able to determine the murder suspect was one of the initial people of interest in the homicide investigation.
One of the cold case squad members, also an Axtell native, actually worked on the original investigation, was well acquainted with Bramlett’s family and knew the accused man from childhood, detective Terry Fuller.
As interest in the case reignited in 2017 after KWTX ran a story on the 35th anniversary of the murder, investigators turned their attention back to Wood, Teresa’s father - the friend of Beth.
There had long been hushed conversations in the town about his violent behavior.
The unit carefully reviewed the crime scene and through an extremely intensive investigation was able to eliminate every other suspect in the 35-year-old case and presented Wood as the only suspect that had the motive and opportunity to kill Bramlett.
According to investigators, in the 1960s and 70s, Wood was suspected in being involved with his sister’s disappearance and uncle’s death in a mysterious house fire.
He was never arrested or charged in connection with either case.
Wood, according to Sheriff Parnell McNamara, also had a history of domestic abuse and on at least one occasion beat and tied up his wife before showing photos of her bruises to his neighbor.
Four months after Bramlett’s murder, Wood broke into a widow’s home a week before Christmas, shooting the woman and her son.
The pair survived and Wood, who claimed self defense, was sentenced to 10 years' probation.
The next year, he attempted to kidnap an elderly woman at gunpoint at Richland Mall, McNamara said.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Released in 1994, Wood continued to have brushes with the law and in 2014 died of natural causes. With Wood dead, investigators say people began to come forward once Bramlett’s case was reopened.
“There is no question in our mind that he did it,” said McNamara, who said that authorities have found physical evidence that links Wood to the murder.
If you remember, Teresa and the friend returned to the party after dropping Beth off on the side of the road bc they were running out of gas.
Wood was allegedly upset to see his daughter there and told her she had better beat him home.
Wood allegedly left the party five minutes before his daughter did, and though the daughter traveled the same route, she didn't see her dad at home.
Investigators believe Wood had an ongoing dispute with Beth, who waved him down for a ride home that night. They believe that's when Wood killed her.
Authorities interviewed more than 60 people, who reported seeing Wood’s clothing covered in blood when he returned home around 4:30 AM the morning of Bramlett’s death.
But crucial evidence didn't come out until after his death, according to the report. "People were scared to death of (Wood)," Fuller said. "We had people who told us that the only reason they went to his funeral in 2014 was to make sure he was dead. People were terrified of him and they wouldn't have talked if he was still alive."
According to McNamara, on the night of the party, Wood reportedly instructed Teresa to discard two guns. Authorities are searching search a stock tank near his home in an effort to retrieve them.
“The silt on the bottom is probably six or seven feet deep,” McNamara said. “We had a master diver probably in there an hour at the bottom of that tank in 18 degree weather.”
In a report by the Associated Press, Bramlett’s mother told investigators that she was thankful that they “never gave up.”
In a Facebook message to The Daily Beast, Denise Smith, Bramlett’s younger sister—who was 12 years old at the time of the murder—shared fond memories of her late sibling.
“When I was born she would get me out of my baby bed and walk around with me saying that I was her baby,” said Smith. “There is a time when big sisters become annoyed with their little sisters because they are always having to tag along. Me and my sister were finally getting to the stage where she wanted me there.”
Smith, who said she’s found “peace,”added, “there is no such thing as closure or justice. It hurts maybe even more now then back then.”
Tyler's Murders of Michelle Lozano and Bree’Anna Guzman Notes:
On Monday, April 25th 2011 a homeless person called police after finding a nude body in a broken-open container in the brush near the southbound 5 Freeway at State Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights at about 11:30 p.m. Authorities pronounced the girl dead at the scene early Tuesday. The victim was determined to be Michelle Lozano, a recently missing 17 year old girl from the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles.
Michelle was the oldest of six. On easter day, April 24th of 2011 she had told her mom she was going to take a walk to the store. That’s the last any of her loved ones saw of her. She was last seen alive across from Lincoln High school at around 4PM one day before her body was found
Michelle had been sexually assaulted, murdered, and Investigators determined from evidence that she had been wrapped in plastic bags and stuffed in the plastic container. Afterward, the container was dumped over a concrete barrier along the freeway. When it hit the ground, the container broke open and spilled Lozano’s body into the shrubs.
On December 26th 2011, later that year, a 22 year old mother of two, Bree’Anna Guzman was feeling sick. According to her mother, Darlene, the scene played out as follows:
Bree’Anna isn’t feeling well. She has a sore throat and is asking for tea. She wants to rest.
It is the day after Christmas, 2011. About 6:45 p.m.
Suddenly, Bree’Anna is getting dressed. She’s putting on a magenta T-shirt and a gray sweater. She’s wearing jeans and tan boots. And perfume. She wants to buy cough drops and meet her boyfriend, maybe grab some fast food.
Her 5-year-old daughter Janelle is playing with bubbles in the tub. Bree’Anna’s 11-year-old sister Rachel is there too. In the bedroom is Bree’Anna’s other daughter, Jayde, who is 1.
Darlene hands Bree’Anna a $5 bill. She doesn’t like her daughter’s boyfriend. But she shrugs. It’s the holidays.
OK, she nods. When you get back, maybe we can watch a movie, Darlene says.
Bree’Anna assures her she’ll return soon. Then she walks out of their unit, down a flight of stairs and into the street.
Bree’Anna wouldn’t return home that night and her mother reported her missing. She lived less than a mile from Michelle in the same Lincoln heights neighborhood and when Bree’Anna went missing eight months later, the neighborhood was on high alert for a serial killer. Her stepfather took to looking for a body, riding his bike along the Los Angeles River, checking in dumpsters. But Darlene led daily search parties for a daughter she imagined was alive and in need of help. She mentally prepared to support Bree’Anna through rehab or therapy.She printed thousands of fliers and loaded up friends and family members into the back of a borrowed truck. They hopped on highways, exiting to canvass neighborhoods and question store owners.
Have you seen this girl? Can we hang a flier in your window? Will you call if you hear anything?
Darlene sported a T-shirt with Bree’Anna’s face and confronted gang members. She hung banners and gave out her personal cell number.
Firing off emails to acquaintances as far away as New York, Washington, Colombia, Spain, Australia — she made a plea. Please print the attached handout. Make copies. Post them anywhere, everywhere.
Dozens of strangers called. I saw your daughter. The details were always off. Wrong height, a description that didn’t make sense.
As overwhelming as it all was, Darlene liked having tasks to focus her frantic energy and wandering mind.
And it wasn’t just busywork.
“I thought I would find her,” she recalled years later, her voice a shaky whisper.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25 of 2012, on the 2 Freeway onramp near Riverside Drive in Echo Park a partially clothed unknown woman's body who had been dumped there was found in a bush about 9 a.m. by California Highway Patrol officers. Due to the state of the remains, investigators were not immediately able to identify the victim.
A Gemini tattoo on the back of the victim’s neck helped.
Bree’Anna and her mother had gotten the matching symbols a few birthdays ago.
But when Darlene heard the helicopters and commotion in her neighborhood that morning, she thought nothing of it. It was exactly one month since her daughter disappeared, and she was planning a vigil that night to reinvigorate interest.
Both women were young Latina women from Lincoln Heights. They shared similar builds and looks. The two women disappeared during a walk to a nearby store. And both bodies were found left by freeways.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s high-profile Robbery-Homicide Division assumed the two investigations, but had trouble making progress. It took some time but authorities would later link Bree’Anna’s and Michelle’s killings through forensic evidence.
Investigators went through “exhaustive protocols” set up by the state Attorney General's Office to request a familial search because while they did have the attacker’s DNA, it had not been found in existing state or national criminal databases.
After conducting the familial DNA search in April of 2017 they discovered a link to 32 year old Geovanni Borjas. The DNA of Borjas’ father was in the state’s crime database. Police matched the DNA found at the crime scenes to the father’s. There was no match. But it was close enough for detectives to trail his son, Geovanni, to collect his DNA without his knowledge.
Geovanni was followed by investigators, and during that surreptitious pursuit, he spit on the sidewalk. That spit was collected and tested, and the DNA matched evidence linked to both killings.
On Thursday, May 25th of 2017, Geovanni was arrested at his home in Torrance, where he lives with a family on suspicion of murder by the LAPD's elite Robbery Homicide Division and tactical Metropolitan Division officers. He was been charged with two counts of murder, two counts of rape and one count of kidnapping. At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.
On Wednesday, May 30th 2018 the prosecution announced that it will pursue the death penalty against Geovanni for the sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder of Michelle Lozano and Bree’Anna Guzman. The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during the commission of a rape involving both victims and murder during the commission of a kidnapping involving Bree’Anna.
The case marked the second time Los Angeles police have relied on a familial DNA search, which can narrow the search for a suspect to a particular family and point detectives to suspects whose DNA is not yet in a database as Geovanni’s DNA was not in any existing database prior to his arrest.
The only other case in which the LAPD used familial DNA was the Grim Sleeper serial killer case, in which detectives used a discarded pizza crust to collect DNA linking the killings to Lonnie David Franklin Jr., who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2016.
He is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Aug. 17, 2018 for a pretrial hearing.