HANFORD — An elderly man who lived in Hanford was tortured, killed and burned by a Fresno couple who were looking to gain access to the victim’s financial information, Hanford Police Department officials said.
“This is so odd, I can’t even begin to explain it,” Capt. Karl Anderson said during a press conference inside Hanford City Council Chambers on Monday. “It’s just tragic. This isn’t something that happens in our community.”
Anderson started the press conference off with condolences to the family of 70-year-old Kenneth Coyle. He said the department has been in contact with the family, who all live out of the area, and said they are shocked and saddened by what has happened.
On Thursday around 3:50 p.m., Hanford Police received a call for suspicious circumstances on the 800 block of East Grangeville.
A woman had notified the property manager at this location that Coyle was injured and recovering in an unknown care facility in Stanislaus County.
Officials said the woman took the victim’s truck and other items from the house at this time. The information she provided seemed odd and suspicious, so the property manager contacted the police department.
Anderson said the department was able to track Coyle’s cell phone, which led police to a residence in Fresno, where they found the phone and other personal information of Coyle’s.
This development helped the department identify two suspects who lived at the residence: 38-year-old Stacie Mendoza and her husband, 36-year-old Jose Mendoza.
The Mendozas were located and subsequently arrested inside a Denny’s near Los Angeles International Airport, Anderson said.
Officials said Jose Mendoza was in possession of one of Coyle’s credit cards and had purchased a plane ticket to El Salvador, where he was born.
The suspects were then transported back to Hanford for interviews. During these interviews, Anderson said both confessed to killing Coyle, and Stacie Mendoza even led investigators to the location of Coyle’s remains.
Anderson said Coyle was a Vietnam veteran and was retired from working as a civilian contractor at Naval Air Station Lemoore. He said the victim’s sister described Coyle as a nice man who didn’t have any children of his own and found pleasure in making friendships at the places he ate and sharing his story with those friends.
Coyle and Stacie Mendoza first met while she waitressed at a local restaurant that Coyle frequented, Anderson said. He said police believe Stacie Mendoza was able to strike up a friendship with Coyle.
“Nothing odd about [that relationship], other than we believe 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,” Anderson said.
Police are looking into employment records and are not sure how long the relationship lasted, but Anderson said they suspect about six to eight months. As the relationship progressed, Anderson said Stacie Mendoza gained access to Coyle’s bank account information and began taking money from him.
Anderson said the department believes around April 5-6 is when the situation escalated to violence. That’s when he said the Mendozas went to Coyle’s residence in Hanford and restrained him on a bed and beat and tortured him to get financial information out of him.
Anderson said the Mendozas gained access to Coyle’s documents and records and tried to obtain as much of his money as they could. He said the couple even researched a power of attorney in order to gain more access to the victim’s financial information.
The weekend of April 7-8, Anderson said the Mendozas rented a U-Haul trailer and transported Coyle’s body to a location in Madera County, where they burned his remains.
Anderson said investigators believe Coyle was already dead before his body was burned. He said there were random items of Coyle’s in the U-Haul and believes their goal was to make the burn site look like a trash dump and hide his remains inside the trash.
Anderson said Madera County Coroner’s office will provide an autopsy report later in the week, but police suspect blunt force trauma and suffocation as the causes of death.
Stacie Mendoza and Jose Mendoza have three children, who Anderson said are currently with Child Protective Services. Anderson said the children, who were present when Coyle’s body was burned, have all given statements to the police.
“It’s quite tragic that they would involve their children to witness and be a part of these horrible crimes,” Anderson said. “We’re praying for their well-being and safety as this investigation unfolds.”
The suspects came back to Hanford on April 12 to try and get the deed to Coyle’s property and a package that was delivered to the house, which is when the property managers contacted police.
Anderson said, without a doubt, the property managers played a pivotal role in the investigation.
“Good people, recognizing when something’s not right and taking the time to contact law enforcement,” Anderson said.
Anderson said Stacie Mendoza has a criminal history of fraud, theft and embezzlement outside of Kings County. He said the department hasn’t been able to find an exact match of criminal history for Jose Mendoza because there are several matches to that name.
Anderson said there is no evidence so far that the couple has committed this type of crime before, but said it’s definitely possible.
“Personally, [after] 20 years in law enforcement, I find it a stretch that they would do something so gruesome, so calculated for their first time out committing crimes,” Anderson said.
As the investigation continues, Anderson said officers will look into similar cases to see if there are connections.
He said it breaks the hearts of everyone at the department to think about the circumstances of Coyle’s death.
“It’s just evil,” Anderson said. “It’s an evil crime — they victimized an elderly man that served our country, that was living in our community hurting no one.”
Anderson said the investigators did an outstanding job with gaining rapport with the suspects and getting information so quickly.
“They slept little, they worked hard, they took turns,” Anderson said. “Amazing teamwork by everyone involved.”
Authorities said both Stacie Mendoza and Jose Mendoza will be charged on suspicion of murder, torture, elder abuse, child abuse and financial crimes, among other charges.
Anderson said the quick resolution couldn’t have been possible without the assistance of other law enforcement partners in the investigation, including the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Kings County Sheriff’s Office, Kings County Gang Task Force, LAX Police Department, Madera County Sheriff’s Department and Coroner’s Office and the California Department of Justice Crime Lab.