Heartbreak and jealousy were the twin engines driving the scheme, police would later say.
Ishnar Marie Lopez-Ramos was in love. The object of the 35-year-old Floridian’s affection, however, was tangled up with another woman. So Lopez-Ramos allegedly concocted a scheme straight from a dime novel or a telenovela to eliminate the other corner of the love triangle.
Alexis Ramos and Glorianmarie Quinones Montes, both 22, allegedly agreed to help, and in the early hours of Jan. 8 they were waiting in the parking lot of a suburban shopping center in Kissimmee, Fla., south of Orlando, police reports say.
They were looking for a woman who worked at the Ross Dress for Less. They watched a woman matching the description of their target leave the store and drive off. They followed.
The next morning, the body of 42-year-old Janice Zengotita-Torres was found in an overgrown area in Ormond Beach, a 90-minute drive from Kissimmee. The victim, who had moved with her husband, mother and 14-year-old son to central Florida from Puerto Rico a year earlier, was beaten and bound with zip ties, the Orlando Sentinel reported. She suffocated inside a garbage bag wrapped around her head and secured with duct tape.
Last Friday, law enforcement arrested Lopez-Ramos, Montes and Ramos in connection with the killing. At a news conference over the weekend, Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson told reporters Zengotita-Torres was dead because of a murder-for-hire plot born from Lopez-Ramos’s “love triangle.”
But Zengotita-Torres was not actually the romantic rival Lopez-Ramos had hoped to eliminate, he said. They had kidnapped and killed the wrong woman.
“The victim was mistakenly — again, mistakenly — targeted and murdered,” an emotional Gibson told reporters. “This woman lost her life for no reason. This mother, this wife, this daughter — for no reason.”
Lopez-Ramos, Montes and Ramos are now in custody and face first-degree murder charges. Gibson told reporters all three have confessed to the crime.
The tragedy has shaken central Florida’s large Puerto Rican community — a population that has swelled since Hurricane Maria hit the island in September. The three suspects in the botched murder plot were among the recent arrivals from the island, moving to the mainland in late December, authorities stated.
According to Gibson’s account, the plot started with Lopez-Ramos.
“The woman that was the target of the murder for hire, she was in a relationship with a man that the suspect Ishnar loved,” the sheriff told reporters.
On the night Zengotita-Torres disappeared, the suspects allegedly followed Zengotita-Torres from the store to her apartment. In the parking lot, authorities say, they forced Zengotita-Torres into the back of her own car, then drove to a nearby bank. “They forced the victim to give her ATM card and her pin card to them,” Gibson said. “Ishnar then got out of the vehicle and withdrew money from the victim’s account.”
The suspects then drove to an apartment in Orlando. “While Glorianmarie was in the apartment, Alexis and Ishnar were in the victim’s car with the victim,” Gibson said. “While in the vehicle, the two of them realized they had mistakenly taken the wrong person.” The suspects, however, “continued with their plan of murder, and tied the victim with zip ties, and then her head with duct tape and garbage bags. The victim struggled and Alexis began beating the victim until she was unconscious.”
Zengotita-Torres suffocated inside the bag and the suspects dumped her body, Gibson said.
The victim’s ATM proved to be the key to solving the case, Gibson said. The suspects continued to remove money from Zengotita-Torres’s account, he said. On Wednesday night, 45 undercover detectives were monitoring cash machines in Osceola and Orange counties, waiting for someone to use the victim’s accounts. That night, one of the suspects did withdraw money from an ATM, but none of the machines police were watching. “We missed them by just a few minutes,” the sheriff said.
Tapping neighboring police departments for additional officers, authorities covered more ATMs on subsequent nights. On Friday, Lopez-Ramos was arrested after allegedly using the card. Police said she was also wearing Zengotita-Torres’s clothing.
Lopez-Ramos gave police a full confession, Gibson said. She also pointed law enforcement to Ramos and Montes, who were both arrested at a nearby motel on Friday. News cameras caught Ramos, in a red and black Chicago Bulls shirt, as he was led into the police station. “I’m sorry,” he said to reporters, according to WFTV. Lawyers are not currently listed for any of the defendants in the case. None have filed pleas or commented.
Florida’s Puerto Rican community has reacted intensely to the murder. On Monday, state Rep. Bob Cortes told Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Dia he would push for the death penalty in the case, even if it means asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to reassign the case to a state attorney more inclined to pursue capital punishment.
Back on the island, Montes’s mother told Metro her daughter had expressed concern something strange may happen after moving to Florida.
“Those who know us and Glorian know that right now she must be in that place terrified, scared to death,” Gladys Montes told the paper. “She was a very happy girl.”
As for the original target of the plot, Gibson told reporters she knows how close she came to dying.
“We have been in contact with her, we explained the circumstances . . . that she was potentially the intended victim,” the sheriff said. “We’ve offered her protective services, and she had declined all offers.”
More from Morning Mix: