"Man's enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself."
It was the 16th of August 2005. A Tuesday. Twenty two year old Jennifer Cave was looking forward to starting a new job the next day in Austin, Texas, United States. She had been offered a job at a law firm. At 9pm that night, Jennifer planned to go downtown to get something to eat and she called her friend Colton Pitonyak.
Jennifer called Colton as she had missed a call from him earlier that evening at 6pm so she rang him back at 9pm and they arranged to meet downtown. They met and had some food at a restaurant and afterwards went to a bar on Sixth Street in downtown Austin. When they were there, they met a few of Jennifer's friends. Jennifer's friends then wanted to go to another bar just across the street. Jennifer and Colton said that they would join them. It was around midnight. They were a little behind the group as they had to pay the bill and Jennifer's friends saw them at the door of the bar as if they were about to join them but then for some reason, they both just walked away.
The next day, the 17th of August, Jennifer did not show up at the law firm and by the afternoon, they still had not heard from her so one of the attorneys called Jennifer's mother Sharon to ask if she knew where she was.
Sharon thought it was strange that Jennifer did not go to work that day as it was a job that she wanted and was delighted when she got it. Sharon called Jennifer but there was no reply. She tried her a number of times. But there was no answer. Sharon contacted Jennifer's cell phone provider and obtained a list of calls made to and from her phone.
Sharon called the numbers on the list and spoke to Michael Rodriguez. Michael was a friend of Jennifer's and he told Sharon that he called her at 10.30pm the night of the 16th of August. Jennifer told him she was spending time with Colton and that he was "having some issues". He sent her two text messages that night and she replied and Michael called her twice more, at midnight and 1.05am. According to Michael, Jennifer told him that Colton was upset and Colton told her that the only people who could help him were in jail. Jennifer seemed fine when Michael spoke to her. She didn't sound intoxicated or that she was in any sort of trouble. When he made the 1.05am call, Jennifer was walking towards her car with Colton. She told Michael Colton lost his phone so she was going to help him look for it. That was the last time Michael spoke to her. So based on that information, Sharon contacted Colton.
Colton told Sharon that he did not know where Jennifer was. Sharon spoke to some of Jennifer's friends, the same friends who saw her the night before, and none of them knew where she was either. They all said that she was with Colton the last time they saw her. But they all agreed that she seemed fine and there did not appear to be any problems or issues.
Sharon called Colton again that evening, the evening of the 17th of August, and told him police were on the way to his apartment to speak to him. She had reported her daughter missing.
The next day, the 18th of August, Sharon still had not heard from Jennifer and nobody knew where she was so she drove to Austin from Corpus Christi with her boyfriend Jim Sedgwick.
The police told Sharon that they found Jennifer's car. It was parked at the apartment complex where Colton lived. Sharon, Jim and Jennifer's sister Vanessa went to Colton's apartment. He wasn't there. The police could not enter Colton's apartment without a search warrant so they left. There was a chip in the glass in one of the windows so Sharon was able to unlock it that way and Jim went inside. Jim searched the apartment and made a horrifying discovery in the bathroom. Jennifer's dismembered body was in the bathtub. The police were called immediately.
Jennifer had been shot, stabbed and her body was mutilated. Her head and hands were found in a plastic bag beside the bathtub.
After four days, Mexican police apprehended Colton Pitonyak in Piedras Negras, Mexico. He was not alone. He was with Laura Hall.
Authorities in Mexico turned them over to US Marshalls at the border.
Colton was charged with murder and Laura was charged with tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of Colton. They pleaded not guilty.
At Colton's Trial, more details emerged. Jennifer and Colton met in the Summer of 2004 and became good friends. Everyone who saw them out the night of the 16th of August described the situation as normal, nothing seemed out of place and it was clear they were both just friends.
Colton testified at his Trial. He told the Court that he remembered meeting Jennifer at the restaurant downtown but he had no recollection of what happened after that. He had taken Xanax and had been drinking Vodka since 5pm that evening. He was a heavy drinker and a drug addict. He told the Court he had no memory at all as to what had happened. He pleaded not guilty to first degree murder as he argued that his drug use meant he was not capable of intention which was the key element in a first degree murder charge.
Colton said that at some point the morning of the 17th of August he went to the bathroom in his apartment and Jennifer was lying in the bathtub. She was dead but he did not know what happened to her. He conceded that from the evidence, it appeared that he had shot her.
Jennifer was killed by a single gunshot that passed through her right arm, right lung, and aorta, causing her death within fifteen seconds. But it was what happened after that that was even more horrific in nature.
Jennifer's head and both hands had been severed from her body and were found in a black plastic garbage bag that lay on the floor next to the bathtub. A machete and hacksaw were found in the bathroom.
A second bullet was fired post mortem through the severed neck up into the skull. There were twenty nine post mortem stab wounds on the face, chest, and hand.
Evan did not answer. Colton told Nora that he had been in a gunfight with “some Mexican guys” at his apartment. He said that they fired five shots and he fired two. Nora saw a small amount of blood on his forearm. Nora thought he was making it up as he appeared to be intoxicated and she had not heard any gunshots that night.
The Trial heard that cell phone records showed that Colton called Laura Hall at 5.59am the morning of the 17th of August and the call lasted for 13 minutes. Further calls were made at 6.57am and 7.24am.
Colton and Laura Hall met in the Spring of 2005. At the Trial, Laura was described as being in love and obsessed with Colton. Colton did not feel the same way about Laura but it was revealed at Trial that they had sexual relations around once a week in the Spring and Summer of 2005.
That morning, the morning of the 17th of August, Laura called around to Colton's apartment.They discussed ways of getting rid of the body and decided to dismember Jennifer. Colton claimed that he did not see Laura cut Jennifer's body, but he remembered her telling him that “what she was trying wasn't working, that she needed some things.”
At 3pm that afternoon, Colton went to a hardware store with a list of items that he claimed Laura needed. He bought a hacksaw, shop towels, bathroom tissue, latex gloves, dust masks, 55–gallon drum liners, ammonia, carpet cleaner, and odor eliminator.
Forensic evidence showed the two bullets found in Jennifer's body were from a Smith & Wesson SW380 pistol that belonged to Colton. DNA tests showed that neither Colton nor Laura could be excluded as the source of DNA evidence on the grip, slide, and magazine of the gun.
A blue towel found on the coffee table in Colton's apartment was not stained with blood but contained both Colton's and Laura's DNA.
Only Jennifer's DNA was found on the blade of a hacksaw found lying on her chest. The handle was not tested.
Colton was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison.
Laura Hall was convicted of tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of Colton. She was sentenced to ten years in prison. Laura was released in 2018.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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