Palm Springs Murder victim tortured and shot

January 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Crime, Latest Top Stories, National News

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The two brothers thought Jose Gonzalez had their money.

So, they stormed the 37-year-old’s Palm Springs apartment and kidnapped him and his girlfriend, authorities say. They took them to a garage, tied them to chairs, beat Jose with a cord and doused him in gasoline.

When they were done, detectives say they put a plastic bag over Jose’s head and shot a bullet through it. Then they buried him in the back yard.

Two days later, they dug him up to bury him elsewhere.

The harrowing torture-and-murder scene unfolded over a half-hour or more at a house near Greenacres in late August, detectives say.

But it wasn’t until the discovery of a body Tuesday in a roadside grave off Lantana Road that investigators pieced together the evidence necessary to make arrests in what they said appeared to be a vicious attempt to recover $15,000 in stolen drug money.

“It does sound like something you’d read in a book or see in a movie,” said Lt. Michael Wallace, head of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force. “It’s extremely violent, and unfortunately we are dealing with people who are extremely violent.”

On Wednesday, one of the two alleged torturers and killers was arrested, along with two other men whom officials say helped dispose of the body.

Investigators from the Violent Crimes Task Force said Wednesday they were still looking for the second brother, identified in an arrest report as John Gonzalez, wanted in connection with the abduction and killing.

The brother already arrested was identified as Jose Ramon Ramirez, 28, of Greenacres, who officials say will face felony murder and armed kidnapping charges. Also arrested were Pedro Luis Santiago-Vega, 40, and Freddy Silvagnoli, 44, both of western Lake Worth.

Detectives had suspected Jose Gonzalez had been killed because he’d been reported missing by his cousin in late August.

But it wasn’t until an informant came forward claiming to know where he was buried that the case broke.

After three searches of a construction site at the corner of Haverhill and Lantana roads, investigators unearthed a skeleton. They now believe the skeleton is Jose Gonzalez’s remains, although they say an autopsy is needed to confirm the identity.

Detectives’ interviews with the informant, and later with some of the suspects themselves, paint a grisly picture that started with the kidnapping of the man and a woman at gunpoint in the early morning hours of that August day.

Those charged say the two brothers dragged Jose Gonzalez and his girlfriend, Jiselle Woolley, 36, to Silvagnoli’s home at 4763 Bertha St. near Greenacres.

Silvagnoli was there and so was his wife and Santiago-Vega. The two men caused such a commotion that they woke Silvagnoli’s wife, who started yelling, Santiago-Vega told police.

According to interviews with Silvagnoli, Santiago-Vega and Woolley, the brothers were angry and accused Gonzalez of stealing $15,000. .

Silvagnoli eventually left for work; he says he admonished the brothers not to commit any violence at his house.

Instead, Jose Gonzales and Woolley were taken to the garage, where Gonzalez was tortured, beaten and shot, according to police summaries of their interviews.

Gonzalez’s screams were so loud, Santiago-Vega told police, that someone turned on an air compressor to muffle the noise.

He said he later scouted the area to see if anyone heard the ruckus. And the scene was so bloody, Santiago-Vega told police, that he “sanitized” it.

While they tortured Gonzalez, the brothers allegedly kept asking where the money was. Detectives say Gonzalez repeated that he didn’t have it but could take them to get it.

After Gonzalez was killed, Woolley was taken to the apartment of one of the brothers, a hoodie covering her face, she told investigators.

On Wednesday, Jose Gonzalez’s cousin, Carmen Cortes, said her family was still shocked and saddened by the death, even though they had suspected for a long time that he was dead.

Cortes said Gonzalez, who moved to Palm Beach County from Trenton, N.J., a few years ago, had battled drug addiction.

She said that although the two alleged killers must have thought he had played a role in robbing them, she said it was more likely that a friend of Jose Gonzalez did the robbery.

“I’m crying all the time,” Cortes said. “He was more like a brother to me than a cousin.”

Staff writer Christine Denardo and staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.