HALLOWEEN: San Diegos gruesome murders

by Staff

San Diego is involved in multiple unsolved murders, including a link to the infamous Black Dahlia murder. Copyright ThinkStock

Warning: The unsolved crimes described are not for the faint of heart

Cases compiled by Managing Editor, Allie Daugherty

San Diego may have one of the highest rates for solved homicide cases, but that doesn’t stop the slaughter. Many homicides still remain unsolved, even after decades of looking for clues. The city is even linked to one of the most infamous murders in U.S. history — the Black Dahlia murder. Below are gory summaries of some of the most gruesome homicides from the city’s history, with descriptions taken from the San Diego Police Department Cold Case Homicide Team’s index of reports.

Unidentified female

On June 13, 1973 San Diego police discovered the body of a young woman underneath the pier at the foot of Laurel Street. The woman’s body had been dismembered and placed into an orange suitcase and several green plastic garbage bags.

The woman was never identified, nor was the perpetrator, and the motive behind her death remains a mystery. The woman was a white female, possibly of Portuguese or Italian descent. She was 5’1” tall and weighed approximately 150 pounds. She had black, medium length hair, brown eyes and perfect teeth. There was a ?” birthmark on her left outer thigh, similar to a mole.  There were also two smallpox-type vaccination marks on her right shoulder and possibly a small round scar on her left cheek.

Although the woman’s remains were found in San Diego, investigators at the time thought she might have been from the Los Angeles area.

—Courtesy of San Diego Police Department Cold Case Homicide Team index of reports

Barbara Nantais

On the morning of August 13, 1978, police officers responded to Torrey Pines State Beach where passers-by found the body of 15-year-old Barbara Nantais lying on the sand. Nantais had been strangled and beaten to death, and one of her breasts had been severed. Nantais’ boyfriend, with whom she had gone to the beach the night before, was also discovered nearby suffering from a severe head wound that left him semi-conscious and with no memory of the attack. The evidence at the scene suggested that an unknown suspect attacked Nantais and her boyfriend while they were lying together on the beach.

Although this case and the case of Claire Hough (August 24, 1984) occurred six years apart, similarities in the cases suggest both were committed by the same perpetrator.


—Courtesy of San Diego Police Department Cold Case Homicide Team index of reports

Unidentified males

On June 12, 1990, at about 10 p.m., a park ranger driving along State Route 78 en route to his job at the Wild Animal Park noticed what he believed to be a woman walking along the side of the roadway in an apparent “dazed” state. The ranger continued on and reported to work, but about four hours later he had an opportunity to return to the area to check on the woman, at which time he found her again in the same location as before, but this time sitting slumped on the edge of the highway unresponsive and bleeding from a head wound. The guard summoned help and the woman was taken via ambulance to Palomar Medical Center, where it was discovered that the woman was actually a man dressed in female attire, and that he had suffered a single gunshot wound to the head. The victim never regained consciousness and died later in the day.  Relatives identified the deceased man as Rafael Sanchez.

Meanwhile, that same morning at about 7 a.m., a truck driver traveling along the same area of Highway 78 spotted a second victim; the body of what appeared to be a woman on the shoulder of the road, about 50 yards away from where the first victim had been found.  The truck driver flagged down a passing San Diego Sheriff’s Department unit who checked and determined the victim was in fact deceased, having been killed by a single gunshot wound to the head. This victim, like the first one, was actually a man dressed in female attire. He was later identified as Castro Estoban.

Estoban and Sanchez were transvestites who worked as prostitutes. Sanchez frequented several bars in Escondido, in particular the Pastime Club on West Grand Avenue, where he was known as “Blanca.”  Estoban, aka “Cinthia,” had recently arrived in the Escondido area. Each had been killed with a single gunshot (.22 long rifle bullets) to the head. Detectives believe the victims were shot somewhere else, possibly in a vehicle, and their bodies dumped at the location. The motive for the slayings is unknown.

Sanchez was last been seen alive at about 9:00 p.m. when he stopped by a friend’s house on Lincoln Avenue to borrow twenty dollars. Sanchez intended to walk over the bridge across Highway 78 to the Lucky Advantage Supermarket to buy some fruits and sandwiches.

No motive for these slayings has ever been determined.

—Courtesy of San Diego Police Department Cold Case Homicide Team index of reports

Maria Cortes

Maria Cortes was a Mexican national who worked as a housekeeper and child care provider. She had a two-year-old daughter named Briana. Those close to Cortes described her as a devoted mother and a hard worker, dedicated to making a better life for Briana and becoming a legal citizen herself. Cortes had no car and used buses for transportation, often riding two or more buses in one trip and sometimes walking alone at night to get home from work.

Cortes was last seen alive at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night, March 3, 1992, when she picked up Briana after work at a relative’s house in East San Diego. Maria may have been on her way by bus to Linda Vista to attend a weekly sewing class at the Bayside Settlement House.

At about 7:15 the following morning, SDPD officers responded to a citizen’s report of a child sitting on top of what appeared to be a body in an open field at 7500 Mission Valley Road.  When officers arrived they found Cortes’ body lying in a muddy field behind a shopping center.  She had been strangled to death and stabbed in the groin. Sitting on top of her body was her daughter Briana – crying and suffering from hypothermia but essentially unharmed physically.  Briana ran into the arms of a female police officer when officers approached.

A friend said that Cortes had a habit of sometimes accepting rides from strangers as a way to avoid the long bus rides she normally faced every day.


—Courtesy of San Diego Police Department Cold Case Homicide Team index of reports

Unidentified female

On January 24, 2000, shortly after midnight, SDPD officers responded to the parking lot of the College Avenue Baptist Church at 6100 El Cajon Boulevard regarding a fire. When the officers arrived they found a body totally engulfed in flames. The victim was dead and no identification could be made.

A subsequent autopsy revealed the victim was a white female in her 20s, 5’9” to 5’10” and 190 – 200 lbs, with light brown hair. The woman had been stabbed and strangled to death. In addition, both of her hands and a portion of her left calf were missing, presumably cut off by the suspect to prevent authorities from identifying her.

The victim has never been identified.


—Courtesy of San Diego Police Department Cold Case Homicide Team index of reports

—Cases compiled by Managing Editor Allie Daugherty