Suspect in 3 homicides is named

Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Homicide investigators believe 57-year-old Saul Ramon Avila violently killed a 19-year-woman last week because she reported to police that he had been sexually assaulting her for five years.

Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres said during a press conference Wednesday that Rebecca Lee Cantu made the accusations against Avila, who is believed to be the father of the toddler found unharmed in Apt. 5 at 301 W. Kuhn Drive, just four days before the murder.

Rebecca’s mother, Magdalena Cantu, 48, was dating Avila. Magdalena, along with Aaron Cortez, a 30-year-old home healthcare worker who provided care to the toddler, who has 24-hour medical needs, were also killed in the attack.

The chief said that at some point between Dec. 6 and Dec. 10, Avila learned that Rebecca went to police to accuse him of ongoing sexual molestation,

“We are not sure if Magdalena or Rebecca told someone else or told him. We don’t know that. We don’t have that information,” Torres said.

The chief added that Avila made an irate call to Magdalena’s sister about the allegations and also called his sister about the police report.

Torres said no one from his department contacted Avila about the accusations.

As for what the chief has called a “horrific” crime that was a “dark day” for Edinburg, authorities discovered a gruesome crime scene that included the bodies of a mother and daughter killed by stab wounds to the neck.

The police department responded to the apartment at 6:49 a.m. that day after a 9-1-1 caller reported finding three bodies inside an apartment.

Authorities found Rebecca dead on the first floor of the apartment at the bottom of the stairs with a gunshot wound to her head and stab wounds to her neck, Torres said.

Cortez was found dead on the upstairs bathroom floor with gunshot wounds to his neck and to his head.

Police discovered Avila dead in an upstairs bedroom with a gunshot wound to his chest, Torres said, adding authorities found a .45 caliber handgun next to him.

The toddler was found in a separate bedroom on the second floor, the chief said.

Torres said Wednesday that the toddler was in safe hands, but said he wouldn’t elaborate further.

Police are currently waiting on a DNA test to confirm Avila is the child’s father.

Several hours after responding to the scene, investigators found Magdalena.

She was not inside the apartment, but was found hidden under a thick blanket in a laundry room adjacent to the apartment.

Police announced on Facebook on Dec. 10 at around 11 a.m. that they had found a fourth body at a separate location.

At the press conference, Torres said Rebecca went to the Edinburg Police Department on Dec. 6, a Friday, at 12:07 p.m. to tell police that Avila had been sexually abusing her since the girl was 14-years-old.

Torres also said Magdalena, Rebecca’s mother, knew about the sexual abuse and allowed the behavior.

“On the same date after she left the police department an officer calls Magdalena to ask her to return to the police department so that we can continue the investigation and fill out a complaint so we can make an arrest,” Torres said.

Investigators called Rebecca at 2:48 p.m. and asked her to come in because she previously told an officer who called her earlier that day that she didn’t want to file charges.

“On the same date, she agreed to come and see us here at the police department but she never showed up,” Torres said.

Police also contacted Child Protective Services that afternoon, which began its own investigation, and told the family that Saul could no longer be allowed at the house.

“We waited for Rebecca a few minutes after 5 o’ clock and she never returned and she never called us back,” Torres said.

The chief said investigators continued on Monday attempting to contact Rebecca.

“On Monday, our Criminal Investigations Division persisted on calling her several times and it appears that her cellphone was off and there was no answer,” Torres said. “We were not able to leave voicemail messages. Her mailbox was full, and the very next day was when this occurred.”

Torres also said that it’s possible the crime happened Monday night, Dec. 9, which is when the first page of a police report says the incident began.

The investigation remains open and ongoing, Torres said, as authorities await the result of the DNA test, sift through phones and computers for evidence and review video to determine if Avila planned the attack.

“We really can’t close this investigation until we get all the information that’s going to support our findings,” Torres said.