A Southern California couple were arrested Wednesday, accused of tricking a Texas man into a relationship, convincing him to name one of the suspects as his heir and then killing him, according to FBI documents.
Jake Clyde Merendino, a 52-year-old wealthy Texas retiree, was found dead on May 2 in a Mexico ravine near the highway between Rosarito and Ensenada. He had been stabbed many times.
Tied to his death are San Diego residents David Enrique Meza, 25, and Taylor Marie Langston, 20, according to a federal search warrant filed by the FBI.
Investigators said Merendino met Meza online in 2013 and sparked a relationship. Simultaneously, Meza was living with Langston, a Chula Vista High School graduate who was pregnant with Meza’s child at the time of the slaying.
Days after Merendino’s body was found, Meza produced a handwritten will that made him the only heir to Merendino’s estate, the FBI said.
A federal search warrant states on April 29, Meza and Merendino rented a car in Spring Valley and drove into Mexico so Merendino could close escrow on a $300,000, oceanfront condo at Palacio del Mar, an upscale development between Rosarito and Ensenada.
Because the new condo was not ready, the two men crossed back into the U.S. and checked into the Hercor Hotel in Chula Vista. On May 1, Merendino drove back to Baja California in his Range Rover, while Meza followed behind on his motorcycle -- a 2014 Christmas gift from the victim, according to the affidavit.
Federal authorities said the couple then checked into Bobby’s by the Sea hotel, not far from Merendino’s condo. The victim came down to the lobby between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on May 1, looking for a wine bottle opener, and at about 10:30 p.m., people at the hotel heard a motorcycle leaving the parking lot. Meza’s was the only motorcycle on the property that night, the search warrant says.
At 11 p.m., border cameras caught Meza entering the U.S. Merendino was last seen alive at about 1 a.m. on May 2, when he told a hotel security guard that he had to help a friend stranded on the road. His body was found off the highway at 3:33 a.m., five minutes away from the hotel.
While there were no cameras that showed Meza crossing back into Mexico, the search warrant states Meza was seen once again entering the U.S. at 3:57 a.m. on May 2. About 25 minutes later, Langston, driving a black SUV with no license plates, was seen at the same port of entry, also crossing into the U.S.
“Meza owns a black 2012 Hyundai Tucson SUV,” an FBI investigator wrote in the search warrant. “I believe that this black SUV with no license plate was Meza’s SUV, and I suspect that the plates were removed to disguise the identity of the registered owner of the SUV (Meza).”
At 7 p.m. on May 2, both Meza and Langston returned to Bobby’s by the Sea in the black SUV. According to hotel staff, he said he needed to pick up some personal items from the room he shared with Merendino. Mexican officials later reported to the FBI that Merendino’s $15,000, diamond-stuffed Rolex watch, iPhone, iPad and laptop were all missing.
After news of Merendino’s death spread, an attorney in Texas, who had drawn up his will in 1998, filed probate paperwork in Texas on May 8, but about a week later, Meza, through his attorneys, contested the will.
They filed a handwritten will, scribbled on letterhead from the Hercor Hotel, which Meza said was written by Merendino on Dec. 21, 2014. It named Meza as the victim’s sole heir.
According to the affidavit, investigators interviewed Meza in June when they served search warrants to his apartment and vehicles. During that interview, officials say Meza denied killing Merendino but did say he and Langston were planning on robbing him. He said he called Merendino on the night of his death and asked him to meet at the spot his body was found.
Meza told authorities that instead of robbing Merendino, he got cold feet and left. When Langston was interviewed, she said she crossed into Mexico on May 1 to visit Meza’s friend “Joe,” the search warrant states. She said they sat at Joe’s table for four hours, without eating, drinking or watching TV, and then returned home.
“Joe,” identified as Jose Aguilera by the FBI, told investigators that he had not seen Meza and Langston for about a year and a half and that the couple had never visited his home in Tijuana. According to the documents, Aguilera told agents that Meza called him a week after the killing and asked him to lie to police if they called, telling them that the couple came to his house.
Meza now faces federal counts of interstate or foreign domestic violence resulting in murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Langston is accused of obstruction of justice, false statement to a federal officer and conspiracy to obstruct justice. They are scheduled appear in court Thursday. It’s unclear if Meza and Langston have obtained attorneys.