Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Murder of Carina Saunders


Carina Saunders still had her whole life ahead of her when she was tragically murdered during October 2011. 

The 19-year-old young woman was living in Oklahoma City at the time of her death. She grew up in the nearby suburb of Mustang, Oklahoma. Mustang is a small community; recognized for having only one high school in the entire town. Carina attended said high school, where she was known for her superior abilities in both mathematics and singing. She participated in the Honors Choir and in mathlete competitions. Carina eventually graduated early in 2010. She hoped to pursue a career in either music or accounting. 

After graduating, Carina moved out of her parent's house. She reportedly began experimenting with drugs shortly thereafter. Carina struggled with addiction over the next few months before she entered a rehabilitation program during the summer of 2011. 

According to her loved ones, Carina appeared to be optimistic about her recovery after she finished the program. She began staying with her cousin Kathryn as she got back on her feet. The two cousins were also best friends, and they were enjoying their time together. Kathryn was the last family member to see Carina aliveOn September 28th, 2011, Carina reportedly made plans to meet up with someone at a Taco Bell off of Interstate 40 and Rockwell in the town of Bethany. She asked Kathryn for a ride to the fast-food restaurant, and the two headed there in Kathryn's car. Once there, Kathryn watched as Carina got into a mid-1990s Chevrolet Blazer driven by an older man. 

Carina was seen several times by other individuals throughout the first week of October 2011. The last documented sighting of Carina occurred on October 8th, 2011. That day, she was captured on CCTV footage outside of Newcastle Casino and Gaming Center - located approximately 20 miles away from Oklahoma City. The footage shows Carina getting into a red, four-door truck driven by an unknown man. 

Five days later, an animal rescue group was attempting to rescue feral cats behind a Homeland Grocery Store in Bethany when they spotted a black duffel bag. The bag reportedly had a foul odor that prompted the police to be called. Once there, detectives made a horrifying discovery: dismembered human remains were inside the bag. They appeared to belong to a young female. Several different body parts were wrapped in plastic bags within the duffel bag. It was clear that this young person had been brutally murdered. Days later, the remains were identified as Carina Saunders. 

Several different theories began emerging about Carina's killer. Police investigated several different people, but it took months before an arrest would be made. During 2012, a witness named Tia came forward claiming to have seen a video of Carina being tortured and murdered. Tia told police that she saw the video on a cell phone belonging to a man named Luis Ruiz. According to Tia, Ruiz and another man named Jimmy Massey are seen torturing Carina in the video. 

Another witness named Michelle also came forward. She said she, too, had seen the video of Carina being tortured and murdered. Michelle told police that she had been kidnapped by Ruiz and Massey, and they had forced her to watch the footage. Although investigators were still unable to locate said footage themselves, they still moved forward with the case. On July 5th, 2012, Ruiz and Massey were charged with Carina's murder. Another man named Francisco Gomez was also charged, but he was eventually released due to lack of evidence.

There were still many unanswered questions after the arrests of Ruiz and Massey. Still, it appeared that Carina's loved ones were one step closer to getting justice. Unfortunately, many twists would occur that would cause the case to unravel.

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The murder charges.

Luis Ruiz and Jimmy Massey. (source: News9.com)

Both Ruiz and Massey had extensive criminal records prior to being charged with Carina's murder. Both men were known to be involved in both drug and sex trafficking. The witness Michelle stated that the video she saw of Carina appeared to have been filmed at a house on S Harvey Street. Said address has had several reports of drug use and sex trafficking occurring at the house. 

The house on Harvey Street. (Source:News9.com)

Given that Carina struggled with drug addiction at the time of her death, it did not seem like a stretch for her to have crossed paths with people such as Ruiz and Massey - who were heavily involved in the drug scene. Still, the only witness who could ever place Carina at the Harvey Street address never actually saw her there - she only saw a reported video of Carina that appeared to have been filmed at the house. 

Although investigators still had not seen the video themselves, it appears that they still believed the witnesses' statements. Both women said that they witnessed Carina being tied up and tortured by Ruiz and Massey. Both also stated that they Ruiz cut off Carina's left foot with a hacksaw. The two men then attempted to cut off her right foot, but the hacksaw broke. One of the witnesses claimed she ran away to avoid having to watch the rest of the video, so she did not actually see the men killing Carina. However, the fact that Carina was found dismembered seemed to support the witnesses' statements about what they saw in the video.

Carina's autopsy also seemed to support the witnesses' statements. Both witnesses said they saw Carina being tortured on the video, and the report confirmed that Carina had suffered torturous homicidal violence. Her body had "suspicious contusions" on her face and her back, which are believed to have been inflicted prior to her death. It was also revealed that Carina's killer(s) had tried to cut off a tattoo on her back - possibly in an attempt to conceal her identity. It's unclear if this occurred before or after her death. 

Initially, it appeared that prosecutors had a fairly strong case. Then, as the months went on, their case began to weaken. 

The case falls apart.

As Ruiz and Massey remained in jail without bond, investigators continued to search for the video - which was due to be key evidence at the trial. Computers, hard drives, memory cards, cell phones, and several other devices were examined - but no such video was ever found. 

Additionally, it was revealed that Tia and Michelle gave somewhat conflicting accounts about the video. Michelle claimed it happened at the house on S Harvey Street, but Tia claimed it happened at a different location. Additionally, Tia was supposed to be a star witness at trial, but she eventually recanted her story altogether. She admitted that she had not actually seen the video of Carina, but had heard of its existence. 

At that point, the prosecution did not have a strong enough case against Ruiz and Massey. The murder charges were subsequently dropped. Massey continued to face drug trafficking charges, but he did not face any charges related to Carina's case. 

The charges against Ruiz and Massey were dropped in February 2013. Meanwhile, the Bethany Police Department decided to hand over Carina's murder case to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations. It was noted that two of the Bethany detectives involved in Carina's investigation had been let go by the department due to various charges. It was clear that Carina's case needed a new set of eyes to move forward. 

Revisiting initial evidence. 

With the OSBI now in charge of the case, the investigation into Carina's was essentially started over from the beginning. The new detectives began to take a fresh look at Carina's life in the days leading up to her murder. 

As previously stated, Carina's cousin Kathryn was the last family member to have seen Carina alive. Kathryn last saw Carina at the Taco Bell in Bethany, as she was entering a vehicle driven by an older man. That man was later identified as 44 year-old Kenny Richards.

Kenny Richards was a name that her loved ones recognized. Carina referred to him as a friend, despite the fact that he was reportedly attempting to make Carina into a porn star. There were many rumors about Richards' reported amateur adult films, and some believed that he was operating more like a pimp than a film director. 

When police initially questioned Richards about Carina, he said that he met up with her at the Taco Bell on the evening of September 28th. Richards said that he hung out with Carina for a bit before dropping her off at an apartment complex in Bethany.

Richards' initial account actually helped investigators build their timeline in the events leading up to Carina's death. The next piece of their timeline involved the apartment complex, where she was seen the following week. 

The apartment complex.

Throughout the next week or so, a man named Keegan reportedly saw Carina the apartment complex. Keegan and Carina already knew each other from high school. Keegan said that he immediately recognized her when he saw her in the building's staircase on October 6th or 7th.
 
Keegan said that when he approached Carina, she appeared happy to see him and eager to catch up. Carina told Keegan that she was staying with the handyman of the apartment building. She was reportedly completing tasks around the building to help pay for the hospitality. 

Keegan would run into Carina few more times over the next two days. During one of the encounters, Carina revealed that she had not eaten in a few days. It also appeared that she only had a small bag to carry around all of her items. Keegan subsequently gifted her with a green duffel bag he was no longer using. This was reportedly the last known sighting of Carina at the apartment building. It's unclear if the building was thoroughly investigated. It's also unclear if the person Carina was staying with was ever identified.

The casino.

The next known sighting of Carina alive occurred at the Newcastle Casino and Gaming Center. As previously stated, the CCTV footage shows Carina getting into a red, four-door truck driven by an unknown man. 

The truck similar to the one Carina was seen in. (Source: OSBI Facebook)

Before Carina gets into the car, the driver, described as a man with full tattoo sleeves on both arms, is seen exiting the vehicle. He then approaches Carina and begins speaking with her. Around the same time, another vehicle is seen in the footage. This car is full of a group of women who also begin speaking with Carina.

In the footage, it appears that the women are trying to encourage Carina to NOT get into the red truck. However, Carina eventually does get inside the truck and is driven away by the unknown man. 

None of the people in the footage, other than Carina, have ever been identified. Since these people were known to have seen Carina just days before her remains were found, they would likely be able to provide investigators with useful information. Unfortunately, these witnesses have yet to come forward.

An initial person-of-interest.

As the OSBI reviewed Carina's case files, they learned that a man named Cody Perez was a person-of-interest in the initial stages of the investigation. Perez was a friend of Carina's, and he reportedly behaved suspiciously in the days surrounding Carina's murder. 

On October 10th, 2011, Perez pawned his knife collection at a local pawn shop and then left town. It was believed he was headed towards Arizona or California. Many found it suspicious that Perez had abruptly left town around the time Carina was murdered. It was also noted that Perez had posted song lyrics on his Facebook page that referred to killing someone.

Perez eventually contacted authorities in Bethany and claimed that he had nothing to do with Carina's murder. He said his move was prompted by a dispute he had with another person and the incident was completely unrelated to Carina. The knives that he pawned were tested for evidence and nothing of interest was found.

A threatening text.

On October 9th, 2011 - just one day after Carina was seen at the casino - her cousin Kathryn received a threatening text message from an unknown number. The message read, "I'm going to bury you next to Carina". At the time Kathryn received this text, she had not seen or heard from Carina since September 28th. When Kathryn learned that Carina had been murdered just a few days later, she shared this text message with investigators.

Investigators later learned that the text message had been sent by a man named Kyle Savage. Savage and Carina had been friends for about two years prior to this incident. Cell phone records revealed that Savage and Carina had been in touch in the weeks before her death. 

Savage denied any involvement in Carina's death. He said that he had romantic feelings for Carina and he saw Kathryn as a rival. For unclear reasons, Savage reportedly believed Kathryn and Carina were romantically involved. He claimed that he sent the text to Kathryn as a result of his jealousy. 

Police thoroughly interrogated and investigated Savage, and he was eventually ruled out as a suspect. To this day, it is unknown how he got Kathryn's phone number.

A second look at Richards.

After the OSBI learned that both Perez and Savage had been ruled out, they decided to take another look at Kenny Richards - who had seen Carina just days before her death.

There were several reasons to be suspicious of Richards. Not only were there rumors of him trying to turn Carina into a porn star, he also was linked to another murder that occurred in March 2012. Richards was at a night club called Night Shifts when he called Oklahoma City police to report the death of an exotic dancer. Very few details are available about the woman's death, but certain reports state that the dancer had signs of trauma on her body and investigators believe that she was murdered. 

It's unclear if Richards is a suspect in that murder, but it certainly appears suspicious that he had connections to two separate murdered women within the same year. The March 2012 murder occurred while the Bethany Police were in the midst of investigating Carina's murder, but it is believed that the Bethany detectives were too wrapped up in building their case against Ruiz and Massey that they ignored this information. 

It also appears that the Bethany police ignored tips that they received in January 2013 regarding Richards. The tips claimed that Richards had killed Carina, and her personal items could be found buried on his property. These tips were not revisited until 2016, after the OSBI became involved in the case.

Kenny Richards. (source:news9.com)

In 2016, Richards was arrested on unrelated drug charges. While he was in police custody, investigators searched his phone. It was then that a previously unseen picture of Carina was found in Richards' possession. 

In April 2017, investigators obtained a warrant to search Richards' property. They hoped to find items that tipsters had claimed would be found on the property. One of the tips claimed that a video of Carina's murder would be found in Richards' car. Investigators did not find any vehicle, nor did they find the video on Richards' property. 

However, septic tanks on the property contained a few items of interest. A pair of woman's sandals, a woman's tank top, and a jacket were found hidden in the tank. These findings were certainly unusual, but it was unclear if the items were ever positively linked to Carina. 

Richards has not been cleared in the case, but he has not been charged with anything related to the murder of Carina Saunders at this time. 

A plea for information and the reward.

In 2018, an anonymous donor announced a $50,000 reward for the identity of Carina's killer(s). The reward also entailed the alleged video of Carina's murder being provided to investigators within a month. If the deadline was not met, the reward would drop down to $30,000 for the identity of Carina's killer(s). 

Despite this lucrative award, nobody came forward with the video or the identity of Carina's killer. The $30,000 reward still stands today.

Where the investigation stands today.

More recent reports about Carina's case state that the investigators have turned their attention back to the CCTV footage from October 8th, 2011. Detectives hope that the people in the CCTV footage will come forward with information about their interactions with Carina.

So far, nobody has come forward. Carina's case remains unsolved. If you have any information that could finally provide justice for Carina and her loved ones, please contact the OSBI at 1-800-522-8017.

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