MITCHELL, S.D. — On the night of Nov. 10, 2009, a fire was reported in a rural area of western Hanson County.
Almost exactly 48 hours later, two people were in jail, having confessed to stabbing 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara and putting her in the trunk of her car before setting it ablaze with lighter fluid she had purchased earlier that night.
During nearly nonstop investigation by authorities who came from around the state, comments from those who knew Guevara and a Walmart surveillance video led investigators to 15-year-old Maricela Diaz and 20-year-old Alexander Salgado, who were questioned and arrested on Nov. 12.
“It’s just incredible how it all came together, and it just ... happened,” said Joel Reinesch, who had been promoted to investigator with the Mitchell Police Division the month before Guevara’s murder. “It was a whirlwind 48 hours, that’s for sure.”
When the fire was extinguished, investigators connected the charred green 1999 Chevy Malibu to Guevara’s family’s home, but weren’t able to confirm the body was Guevara’s.
As interviews continued, Reinesch said, it gradually appeared more and more likely that was the case, though the state’s lab didn’t release the body until nearly three months later.
Reinesch, who is now an associate professor of criminal justice at Dakota Wesleyan University, said the case marked two of the most difficult events of his career in law enforcement, the first of which was knowing with some certainty that Guevara was dead while having to question her mother, Ada Morales, without telling her.
The second difficult event, Reinesch said, occurred the following day, when he was part of the group of officers who notified Morales that Guevara was dead.
“It was a very tenuous situation, and we weren’t releasing any of that information because we wanted to keep the investigation as clean as possible for as long as possible,” Reinesch said.
Interviews with Guevara’s family and friends continued overnight and into Nov. 11. Reinesch said Guevara’s boyfriend, who has since died, was initially under some suspicion and had said that in the weeks leading up to her death, Guevara had been involved in an altercation with Diaz.
Separately, after dropping off another friend who had been interviewed, Reinesch recalled Morales saying Guevara had spent some time with a new couple who had recently moved to town. During an interview this week, Morales said she told Guevara she didn’t like Salgado and Diaz and had asked her to stop spending time with them.
“It was barely a month that they had been here. Jasmine was lending a hand to them, supposedly. Jasmine was buying clothes for them, buying food for them,” Morales said. “She said they really needed a hand to be lent. I said, 'Well, it’s nice to help people, but you have to know who you’re going to help, and I don’t think these people will appreciate it.’ And you see the consequences.”
Reinesch decided to stop by 613 W. First Ave., where the couple lived with Guevara’s friend, Steffany Molina.
There, Reinesch made the first contact with Diaz and Salgado, who said they hadn’t seen Guevara. When he got back to the police department, he realized he hadn’t gotten dates of birth for the couple, so he called Molina and asked to speak to Salgado, who gave him what was later determined to be false information.
After investigators had been working the case for 24 hours, they took a break until the next morning, when a witness came forward and said they had seen Guevara at Walmart the night she was murdered with a Hispanic couple that matched the general description of Diaz and Salgado.
Investigators got the surveillance tape from Walmart, then used equipment at Mitchell Technical Institute to enhance the video. Though the 2009 footage was grainy and unclear, Reinesch said he saw some resemblance between the couple on the tape and Diaz and Salgado, and it was determined they should be brought in for questioning.
DCI Special Agent Chad Carpenter and Reinesch went back to Molina’s house, where Diaz was home alone, listening to the radio and vacuuming. She was brought to the Mitchell Public Safety Center and put in an interview room with Sioux Falls Police Officer Hector Soto, who spoke to Diaz in Spanish, and DCI Special Agent Toby Russell.
Soto and Russell were tasked with getting information from Diaz about her mother, because they had to get parental consent before they could interview a minor.
Diaz’s real identity was confirmed when police got a call from a detective in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who said Diaz was a runaway who had called her mother earlier that day and said that Salgado was abusing her and holding her against her will. Diaz’s mother had filed a missing persons report that day.
Meanwhile, officers went to the Complete Career Center, where Salgado — who, at the time, police still knew as Alexander Diaz, the false name he had previously given — was said to have gotten work.
Salgado, who had been working at Toshiba that day, was brought back to the office by Complete Career Center staff.
“You could see a light switch,” Reinesch said of Salgado when he saw law enforcement waiting for him. “You could see that he knew that the jig was up.”
Also on Nov. 12, interviews with Salgado and Diaz began about the same time. During a break, investigators found that their stories didn’t match up. Back in the interview room with Diaz, Reinesch got a text from Det. Lt. Don Everson, who was watching the interviews on a closed circuit and said Salgado was confessing in the next room.
Using information being sent to him about what Salgado was saying, Reinesch and Soto were able to get a confession from Diaz. Soto told Diaz they could see the weight of the situation was wearing on her and that she should just tell them what happened.
“As soon as I said, ‘Tell us what happened at Walmart,’ she just broke down and started crying,” Reinesch said. “She said, ‘We did it, we did it, we did it. We killed her.’”
Law enforcement from across the eastern side of the state got a good sense of what happened the night of Nov. 10 when, less than two days later, Salgado walked them through the murder and the path he and Diaz took back to Mitchell after committing it.
Bloody clothes were also soon recovered, including a blood-stained sweater Diaz had been wearing when she stabbed Guevara, who had been the sweater’s original owner and had given it to her, said Morales and Guevara’s sister, Ada Guevara.
Though Guevara’s killers were put in jail within two days of the murder, it would be more than nine months before Salgado would be sentenced to life in prison for murder and more than six years before Diaz was convicted at trial of murder and kidnapping.