San Diego

Caregiver Accused of Kidnapping, 1st-Degree Murder

A San Diego caregiver who abused a former client faces allegations she abused others, even keeping one disabled woman in her apartment for at least a decade while pocketing the woman's monthly Social Security benefits.

Shirley Montano, 52, of City Heights listened to testimony in San Diego Superior Court Thursday. She faces charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping for ransom, imprisonment, theft of an elderly or dependent adult and harm or death of an elderly or dependent adult.

Tamara Chagas testified she was estranged from her brother-in-law and had tried to meet with Montano to learn the circumstances that led to his death.

She said she would often speak to her brother-in-law Robert Chagas once or twice a week but that changed in 2011.

In October 2016, she learned about Robert’s death from a secretary at a local cemetery because she was the family contact on the file.

Unaware her brother-in-law had been ill, she asked to meet with the defendant. She said in that meeting, the defendant was very calm and unemotional.

Chagas said her brother-in-law whom she described as very tall and approximately 250 pounds when she knew him, looked very different at his funeral.

“He looked emaciated to me,” she said.

Prosecutors say a woman named Josefina was found beaten and starved in Montano’s apartment. The victim's last name has been withheld to protect her privacy.

Court documents allege that Montano held Josefina captive for 11 years, but it’s possible she could have been in captivity for as many as 23 years.

Montano was hired as a caregiver for the 59-year-old woman and eventually took away her phone and walker and canceled her doctor appointments, prosecutors allege.

At one point, Josefina only weighed 81 pounds, according to the Associated Press.

Montano was convicted of abusing Lorraine Vega and was sentenced to a year behind bars.

Recorded phone calls played in that case revealed how Montano impersonated Vega while on the phone with a bank to withdraw money from her account. Purchase records showed she bought tires, purses and other items with her money.

Montano could face life in prison if she’s convicted on the new charges.

Judge Esteban Hernandez ordered members of the media not to show the defendant in court. 

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