Stacie Mendoza was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Hanford, California, when she first met Kenneth Coyle, police say.
Hanford Police Capt. Karl Anderson said in a press conference that Mendoza and the 70-year-old Vietnam War veteran developed a relationship between six to eight months ago. He said Coyle often visited the restaurant that Mendoza worked at, according to The Hanford Sentinel.
Coyle’s sister told police that the veteran, who had no children, often visited restaurants in an attempt to make new friends, The Hanford Sentinel reported. But Anderson said Mendoza had no intention of simply developing a relationship.
“We believe she was trying to use a friendship with an elderly gentleman that was looking for people to talk to and just visit,” he said, “and we think she manipulated that relationship to gain his trust and defraud him of money.”
Stacie Mendoza and Jose Mendoza, her husband, visited Coyle’s house on April 5, police say, and that’s when things grew violent. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the couple tied the man to a bed, tortured him for information so they could access his bank account and then killed him through "blunt force trauma and suffocation."
Police say that by April 8, the couple had driven to rural Madera County with Coyle’s body and their three children in a U-Haul, according to ABC7. The couple is accused of burning his remains in front of their children.
"We know the children were taken to where the body was burned,” Anderson said, “and watched the body burn.”
Police say the couple tried to steal more of Coyle’s belongings from his home on April 12 — but their visit to the 70-year-old man’s house didn’t go unnoticed by property management employees, who asked the Mendozas what they were doing, according to ABC7.
The couple said Coyle was in northern California getting treatment at a care home for an injury, police allege. The workers didn’t buy their story — and called local law enforcement that same day.
According to The Hanford Sentinel, police began to investigate and tracked Coyle’s cellphone to the Mendoza’s house in Fresno and found more evidence there. Officers then found the couple in a Denny’s and arrested them.
Jose Mendoza had already paid for a flight to his home county of El Salvador, police say, and had a credit card that belonged to Coyle. Both he and his wife admitted to the killings, Anderson told The Hanford County Sentinel.
Both Jose and Stacie Mendoza face charges for torture, murder, elder abuse, child abuse and other charges and are held without bail. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that their children are with Child Protective Services.
For Anderson, the alleged crime is “just evil.”
“It’s an evil crime,” he said. “They victimized an elderly man that served our country, that was living in our community hurting no one.”