A waitress accused with her husband in the torture and murder of a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran spent months winning the man’s friendship and trust in order to gain access to his money before he was killed and his body was burned, police believe.
Kenneth Coyle, a childless single man who worked as a civilian contractor at Naval Air Station Lemoore, died in his Hanford, California, home, Hanford police Capt. Karl Anderson alleged in a news conference on Monday. Coyle was apparently killed by blunt force trauma and suffocation after being tied to his bed.
“It’s just evil,” Anderson said. “They victimized an elderly man that served our country that was living in our community and hurting no one.”
Arrested in the case are the former waitress, 38-year-old Stacie Nicole Mendoza, and her husband, Jose Mendoza, 36, both of Fresno, California.
They are being held without bail in the Kings County Jail on felony charges of murder, burglary, robbery, torture, causing an elder dependent harm or death, child endangerment and conspiracy to commit a crime, jail records show.
The couple’s three children, now all in the custody of state child protective services, were allegedly made to accompany their parents and watched as Coyle’s body was burned, Anderson said.
The victim’s family is “just devastated,” he said.
“They described Kenneth as a nice guy, he didn’t have any children of his own, he often found happiness with making friendships with waitresses where he’d eat … a really big tipper [who] just would visit and share his life stories with people he’d come into contact to in his life.”
Police say Coyle met Stacie six to eight months ago at the Hanford restaurant where she worked.
There was “nothing odd” about their relationship, Anderson said, “other than we believe that she was trying to use a friendship with an elderly gentleman that was looking for people to talk to and just visit, and we think she manipulated that relationship to gain his trust and defraud him of money.”
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As the relationship evolved, Stacie “started getting access to his bank account information and getting money from him,” Anderson said.
It escalated to violence when the Mendozas went to Coyle’s home on April 5 or 6, police suspect.
“They restrained him on a bed and beat him to get access to his bank account information, passwords and other account information,” Anderson alleged on Monday. “With that information they continued to gain access to his financial documents and records, trying to take over as much of his money, and they were researching power of attorney,” while also seeking the deed to his property.
Police allege they murdered Coyle during that time and on April 7 and 8, they say, the couple rented a U-Haul truck, loaded it with “random” items of Coyle’s along with his body and drove to a spot in a nearby county where they dumped and then set the body and other items on fire.
“I think their goal was to make the burn site look like a trash dump, and then hide his remains inside the trash,” Anderson said. “We do not believe he was still alive when he was transported.”
Police were alerted on Thursday, after the couple returned to Coyle’s home and tried through a property manager to get the deed to Coyle’s property along with a package delivered to his address.
The suspects reportedly said Coyle “had been involved in some type of incident where he was injured and he was now in a care home in Northern California,” according to Anderson. “They were coming to get belongings and also some other items that were sent to the house.”
Suspicious about the story, the property manager called police, who traced Coyle’s cell phone to the Mendoza home and then located the couple at a Denny’s near Los Angeles International Airport. They were found carrying Coyle’s credit card, and a ticket for Jose Mendoza to travel to his native El Salvador, Anderson said.
On Friday Stacie led authorities to the burn site and the couple admitted their roles, Anderson alleged.
“It’s quite tragic that they would involve their children to witness and be a part of these horrible crimes, and we’re praying for their well-being and safety as this investigation unfolds,” he said.
Coyle’s treatment “breaks our heart,” he said.
Neither Stacie nor Jose Mendoza has yet entered a formal plea to their charges and it could not be determined on Wednesday if attorneys have been named to speak on their behalf.