Hanford, Calif. — A couple allegedly tortured and murdered a 70-year-old Vietnam War veteran in Hanford, Calif. in an attempt to gain access to his financial information, police say.
Kenneth Coyle, a retired contractor for Naval Air Station Lemoore first met Stacie Mendoza, one of the accused murderers, in a Hanford restaurant where she worked as a waitress, according to the Hanford Police Department.
The two became friends, but police believe Mendoza was secretly using the friendship to gain access to Coyle’s financial information, Hanford Police Captain Karl Anderson said during a press conference Monday.
“We think she manipulated that relationship to gain his trust and defraud him of money,” Anderson said. “As this relationship grew, we know that Ms. Mendoza started getting access to his bank account information and started getting money from him.”
Police say that on April 5, Mendoza and her husband, Jose, went to Coyle’s house and tortured the veteran in an attempt to get him to reveal more financial information.
“They restrained him on a bed and beat him to get access to his bank account information, passwords and other account information,” Anderson said. After the suspected torture, Coyle died of “blunt force trauma and suffocation.”
A few days later, the Mendozas and their three children allegedly drove to nearby Madera County and burned Coyle’s body.
“We know the children were taken to where the body was burned and watched the body burn,” Anderson said.
Police say that the Mendozas then returned to Coyle’s house to steal more of his items last week, but were spotted by property management employees. The Mendozas reportedly told the employees that Coyle had been hurt and was recovering at a care home in Northern California.
Suspicious of the Mendozas’ story, the employees called police, who were able to track Coyle’s cellphone to the family’s home in Fresno.
Police later apprehended the couple at a Denny’s near Los Angeles International Airport. Jose Mendoza had Coyle’s credit card and a plane ticket to his native El Salvador in his possession at the time of his arrest.
The Mendozas are being held without bail, and their children are in the custody of Child Protective Services.