Jessica Martinez disappeared on May 10, 1990, while she was playing in front of her home at an apartment complex on the 5000 block of Belle Terrace, Bakersfield. Her body was found in a field 11 days later. The killer(s) has never been identified.
The Disappearance And Murder Of Jessica Martinez
Within the span of 15 minutes, 4-year-old Jessica Martinez was grabbed by an unknown assailant from her Bakersfield home. Her panicked mother rushed home when she heard the news that her precious daughter was missing. Despite the efforts of Jessica’s family, local law enforcement and national media attention, Jessica would never be seen alive again. Eleven days after her disappearance, Jessica’s body was discovered in a cotton field. Thirty years later, her killer still remains unknown.
Here Are The Facts Of The Case
- On May 10, 1999, Jessica was playing outside at the Timber Cove Apartments (now Pine Brook Apartments) located at 5000 Belle Terrace in Bakersfield, California. Her stepfather was home while her mother, Nellie Martinez, was at work.
- Jessica was playing with her brother about 40 feet away from their apartment. Their stepfather watched over them from a patio window. At some point he took his eyes off the children and in that time Jessica was gone. It is estimated that Jessica was abducted between 8:15 and 8:30 p.m.
- The police were called and the search for Jessica was underway.
- After five days, on May 15, 1990, police form an official task force to find Jessica after finding no trace of her anywhere.
- On May 20, 1990, “America’s Most Wanted” aired on Fox featuring Jessica’s disappearance. Police receive 58 calls, but none of the tips lead to Jessica’s recovery.
- On May 21st, 11 days after her disappearance, Jessica’s body was found partly buried in a cotton field 10 miles south of Bakersfield on Bear Mountain Boulevard near Ashe Road. A farm worker driving a tractor unearthed her body.
- Due to decomposition, an exact cause of death was never determined. However, the coroner could tell Jessica was strangled before her body was dumped in the cotton field. Police could not determine if she was molested.
- According to a Bakersfield Police Detective, Jessica had been dead for a few days, so that left a week or so of unknown activity.
- On April 22, 2008, Kern County District Attorney officials say they found male and female DNA on Martinez’ shorts.
- The case remains open, but no arrests or charges have been filed in Jessica’s kidnapping or murder.
Suspects And Theories
Hundreds of people have been interviewed during Jessica’s murder investigation, including registered sex offenders living in and around the Timber Cove Apartments. One resident at the time of her disappearance was Christopher Lightsey, a convicted sex offender. Lightsey was convicted of molesting two girls and tried for inappropriately touching children at a grade school where he taught. His record also included several drug offenses.
In 1993, Lightsey was arrested and eventually sent to death row for killing his neighbour William Compton, an elderly cancer patient, by stabbing him 43 times. Detectives looked into Lightsey again as a possible suspect and paid the convict a visit. When asked about the case, Lightsey stormed out of the interview room. Lightsey’s DNA was compared to the samples taken from Jessica’s clothing, but they did not match.
Another New Suspect
Mr. Mark Bingaman, the former sheriff’s commander from Kings County, believes Bakersfield police mishandled the kidnap-murder case of Jessica Martinez.
Mr. Bingaman was the lieutenant in charge of a 1995 murder case in Lemoore. Maria Piceo, 8, was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered. Her killer then drove south and dumped her body in Poso Creek in Kern County. Mr. Bingaman led a team of investigators that eventually cracked the case with the arrest and conviction of Navy Petty Officer Gene McCurdy, of Wasco. Mr. Bingaman recently wrote a book about the Piceo case, “Vanished In Broad Daylight.”
Mr. Bingaman believes McCurdy also had a hand in the murder of Jessica, which happened five years earlier. He describes McCurdy as a monster. He said several red flags were raised about McCurdy’s involvement with Jessica’s death.
During questioning, McCurdy was asked about the deaths of other children, specifically Jessica in 1990 and Deisy Herrera in 1987, both of Bakersfield. McCurdy fell out of his chair when both names were brought up, said the former commander. When questioned further about the two Bakersfield girls, Bingaman said McCurdy made to what amounts to a confession.
During his investigation in the Piceo case, Mr. Bingaman said his team travelled extensively to places, such as Whidbey Island, Wash., to check Navy records and gather evidence against McCurdy. According to him, McCurdy had a habit of returning to Bakersfield at every opportunity to see his parents. Jessica was kidnapped on May 10. Mother’s Day was three days away.
The questions being raised by Mr. Bingaman have resonated with Nellie Martinez, Jessica’s mother. “What did they miss? What didn’t they ask?” said Nellie Martinez.
Only one person, Christopher Lightsey, remains a key suspect in the case, and no one has ever been arrested for Jessica’s murder. Police have kept tabs on Christopher Lightsey, who is on death row for the unrelated murder of his neighbour. But police have not had enough evidence to charge Lightsey with Jessica’s murder. If you have any information about this case, please contact the Bakersfield Police Department at (661) 327-7111