The Woman in the Vineyard & Ilma Saucedo
Hello. I’m Rebekkah Rosewood and this is Thrice Cursed.
Hey everyone! Welcome back to another installment of Thrice Cursed. It has definitely been a while, and I thank you for hangin’ in there with me. For those of you not in the discord server, and therefore slightly out of the loop… My fiance and I are now officially the proud owners of a brand-new home mortgage! I know, I know. I sound ridiculously excited to be in debt, but I can’t help being absolutely thrilled to start our new life in the gorgeous state of Vermont.
That being said, why do you care? Typically, I try to keep life updates at the end of the episode for those of you who couldn’t care less about me or my life. No hard feelings, I don’t care about me most days either. BUT. This particular life update will be determining the topic of the next 14 episodes. 14 is the number of states Luke, myself, and our 3 beautiful cats will be driving through to get to our new home. So grab your road snacks, put on your comfy pants, and buckle up! Thrice Cursed is taking you on a road trip! From murders to mysteries, no roads will be left untraveled. Oh! And please, I worked very hard on curating the drive playlist, so please don’t change the music. Y’all buckled up? Great! Let’s get going!
Now, as much as I wish I could teleport myself right out of California and start our drive in the next state over… That’s just not how driving works, yet. Get on it Elon! But since we’re not in the future, we DO have to drive through California, so that’s where today’s cases come from. Yepp! I said cases. Today is a twofer, as one can’t really be discussed without the other. I mean, I guess they could, but it would feel like an injustice to me, so we’re just going to go with it. I will have tip lines for both cases at the end of the episode, in the show notes, and on the blog.
In 2011, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department stumbled across what is described as “one of the most shocking crimes in Kern County history.” That’s saying a lot, considering that in December of 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom named Kern County the “Murder Capital” of California. For the past 4 years, Kern County has beat its own homicide record repeatedly, and has a higher per capita rate than the rest of the state. And those are just the murders we know of. And considering the state of California also includes Los Angeles county, that’s kind of horrifying? Could just be me who thinks so though. When I first came across the case I’m starting with several years ago, I recall having read an article about Kern County and their understaffed police force, leading to a high number of unsolved crimes. However, I was unable to locate that article, now that I actually need it, but did stumble upon the Kern County Law Enforcement Foundation, which says that throughout Kern County there are 29 law enforcement agencies. Another source states there are only 9. Unfortunately, KCLEF didn’t exactly go into detail in regards to what they consider law enforcement to include, so it’s possible they’re factoring in DAs offices or another part of the overall machine that is law. I don’t necessarily know where I’m going with this, other than to say that a lack of police presence could be a problem. At least in this regard. Let’s not even get me started on the history of police brutality in Kern County. Because it’s not great. Moving onward…
Throughout the years, Kern County’s orchards and vineyards have become a particularly popular location for murderers to dump the bodies of their victims. Given that as of 2018, vineyards accounted for approximately 68,112 acres throughout the county, it’s easy to see why this would make a convenient drop location. Still, it strikes me as odd that vineyards, which tend to require a lot of upkeep, would be such a favored location among murderers. After all, it seems likely the bodies would be discovered rather quickly. You’d think with all of the harsh, uninhabited desert nearby, that might be a more logical choice for someone looking to get away with the unthinkable. But, I suppose I wouldn’t want to dig a hole in the desert either. Or murder a person. So… who knows. Perhaps those who leave their victims in the vineyards want their crimes to be discovered, and are willing to do what it takes to ensure they won’t be caught.
That certainly seemed to be the case the morning of March 29th, 2011. It was in these vineyards that a body was discovered. Or, at least most of one. At the base of Bear Mountain just outside of Arvin, California, which is juuuust over the border from LA County, the body of a woman was found, naked and posed on a dirt access road between the grape vines. Despite being somewhat out of the way, the road wasn’t exactly hidden, and she would have been easily seen once daytime came. Sickeningly, her head and thumbs had been removed, and all of the blood had been drained from her body. –You would think, given that description, that the crime scene would have been an absolute mess, with blood everywhere. But it wasn’t, making it clear to authorities that someone had driven the woman, already dead and mutilated, to this location, pulled to the side of the road, and carefully removed her from the vehicle and posed her, lying prone on her back, just waiting to be discovered. According to Ray Pruitt, formerly of the Kern County Sheriff’s Dept., “...It looked like somebody had taken a mannequin, removed the head… and posed it on the dirt road.” He described the nature of her positioning as “quite sexual.”
Further inspection of the crime scene, body, and vineyard, revealed several things, while also revealing nothing at all. First, it was discovered that, not only had they been removed, but her head and thumbs were nowhere to be found. Whoever had done this either kept the detached body parts, or abandoned them elsewhere. Second, the decapitation had been a clean cut. There didn’t appear to be any signs of hesitation or struggle. Which… is pretty startling, to be honest. Had they done this before? Did they have a surgical background? But then, what kind of surgical background would lend to perfectly decapitating a person? Perhaps a neuro or orthopedic surgeon? Third, the woman had no tattoos or signs of drug use, but did have a few distinctive marks. She had surgical scars from a single mastectomy on her left breast, and a scar from a c-section. And fourth, aside from the decapitation and thumb removal, there appeared to be no additional signs of trauma.
The coroner’s office believes the woman is estimated to have weighed 98 pounds, stood 5’1” tall, and was in her mid-50s. Though it is possible she was anywhere between her mid-30s to mid-50s. She has been described as either Caucasian or light-skinned Hispanic. Beyond that, nothing else is known about the woman in the vineyard.
Now I know I said the crime scene didn’t reveal anything at all, then proceeded to list off 4 very distinct things that were deduced from the crime scene. But hear me out. What do we actually know based on the crime scene? Nothing too useful, unfortunately.
We do know that she gave birth via a c-section at some point in her life, and had likely battled breast cancer. I say likely because it could have been a preventative operation, though due to it only having been a single mastectomy, that seems less likely. Beyond that, we can speculate a little. And I truly mean just a scoche because there’s not a lot to go on. The removal of her thumbs was obviously intentional. Given that thumbprints are the only fingerprints kept in non-criminal public databases, it’s probable that Jane Doe’s thumbprints are on record somewhere. Whether that’s for a passport, a government job, or something else along those lines, we don’t know. In addition, there are currently 4 states that require thumbprints for a driver's license. California is apparently one of them. –And I say this based on internet research. I genuinely do not recall having to give my thumbprint to be licensed in California, but it was about 8 years ago when I moved back to California and had to transfer my license. It’s possible, what with my memory of a pancake, that I simply forgot. As I do. It’s one of my classic moves.
Unfortunately, without her thumbprints, or the ability to release images or reconstructions of her face, Sergeant David Hubbard of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office says, “Short of someone coming in here and telling us why they did it, I don’t know if we’ll really ever have an answer to it.” And while he is probably right, I hope he’s as wrong as pineapple on pizza, or more than one piece of candy corn.
Due to a lack of evidence or leads, authorities released information about the woman to the press in August of 2018. Prior to this, all information about the discovery had been kept secret within the police department. What may have seemed like the right call at the time, has unfortunately drastically decreased the likelihood that authorities will receive any substantial tips that would lead to the identification of Jane Doe. After all, lighter-skinned women, mastectomies, and c-sections aren’t exactly uncommon, and therefore it’d be relatively easy to forget seeing someone matching that description 7 years after the fact.
Despite this, following the release, tips flooded in about a woman named Ilma J. Saucedo. In 2011, Ilma was a 47-year-old hispanic woman who was between 4’11 inches and 5’0 tall, and weighed approximately 118lbs. Sounds fairly spot-on, right? Beyond the description, why did people think of her when the news broke? Before I go on, I’d like to preface my entire telling of Ilma’s story with this: I could find very little information that was made publicly available. The majority of what I will be telling you about this case comes from one source, and that is from the decision document from the court case no. E057558 People v. Barahona. As is the norm, this and other sources will be linked in the blog post.
46 days before the woman in the vineyard was found, on February 11th, 2011, Ilma Saucedo disappeared from her home in Riverside, California. Given that the “crime scene” was merely the drop location, and not where the murder was actually committed, to some extent, it sounded like a plausible timeline. Having said that, it would lead to some questions big enough to build a bridge over. For instance, if Ilma was gone and presumably alive for somewhere between 44 and 45 days, why was there no evidence of her being physically restrained? Surely she wouldn’t just disappear of her own accord for that long before turning up murdered without a fight, right?
In 2011, at the time of her disappearance, Ilma lived in the 4200 block of Hale Street in Riverside, and rented two rooms in her home to male boarders, Candelario and Guillermo. I know we’ve all probably watched Roommate from Hell and instantly freaked out a little, but just pause and breathe a moment, because it gets even more crowded in a minute. In addition to her two renters, Ilma had recently allowed her 20-year-old nephew, Adolfo Jose Morales Barahona to stay with her. He was unemployed, and living on her couch rent-free with no obvious desire or even attempts to find employment.
Despite the income from her boarders, and her nephew’s blatant lack of work ethic, Ilma was a dedicated and hard-worker. She left her home the morning of the 11th, and went to work at her dry cleaning job. On a typical work day, she wouldn’t be home until sometime after one pm. But today wasn’t typical. Her shift ended a little earlier than usual, allowing her to stop by the bank to deposit her paycheck, and still be home by 12:30pm. Candelario noted that he’d been leaving for work at the time of her arrival, and Barahona had been home, standing near the front door.
When he returned home at around 9:30pm, the home that housed 4 was empty. People have lives, so, not a big deal. But something was off. Not so off that it would cause immediate alarm, but just unusual enough that someone familiar with Ilma and her home would notice. Tonight the home appeared to be in a state of disarray. At least for her standards, anyway. Ilma’s work uniform had been left just inside the front door, and her shoes were left in front of her locked bedroom door. Even stranger, there were two beer glasses left out in the kitchen, and only one had been washed. Her door being locked was par for the course, but her personal belongings being on this side of it was particularly peculiar. Her renters described her as extremely neat and tidy. She wasn’t the kind of person who would ever leave unwashed dishes out. Still, maybe there was some kind of emergency and she’d merely tidy up later?
It wasn’t long before several of Ilma’s close friends became concerned. She had been expected to attend a birthday party at the home of the Padilla family, and hadn’t called ahead to inform them she wouldn’t be coming. Despite repeated attempts to reach her, Ilma never made an appearance. Growing increasingly worried, her goddaughter, Lydia Padilla, called Barahona in hopes of getting some answers. The answers she received didn’t seem to add up.
Barahona informed Lydia that his aunt had left the country, and gone to Guatemala to care for her sick mother. That would probably be fine, after all, Ilma was a caring woman and big on family. But Ilma hadn’t mentioned anything about going to Guatemala. And even more ominously, Ilma hadn’t requested any time off work, and had never missed a day without giving proper notice.
As might be expected, alarm bells were going off. But most of us are guilty of immediately jumping to the worst case scenario, when there’s usually a better explanation. Perhaps there was just something Lydia wasn’t understanding? She continued to call Barahona, who repeatedly ignored her calls until she called from a blocked number. Upon discovering the caller was Lydia, Barahona repeated, Ilma Saucedo was in Guatemala and that was all she needed to know.
Due to the lack of publicly available information mentioned earlier, the actions taken by the Padilla family between now and the next time I bring them up are unknown. What we do know, is what the resident bitchfish was up to.
According to the court document, “several weeks” after Ilma’s mysterious disappearance, Barahona took it upon himself to call Candelario and request the rent money. He also solicited Candelario’s help to collect Guillermo’s rent money. –He’s too lazy to even swindle 2 people properly. Not that I’m pro-swindling, but for real. – Barahona of course explained that he was doing this on his aunt’s behalf, like the good little nephew he’d shown himself not to be. Unconvinced, Candelario insisted that Ilma herself needed to call him, and confirm that she had in fact charged Barahona with this task. Knowing that wasn’t a possibility, Barahona the barracuda – let’s just pretend that’s a freshwater fish for a minute – well, he turned to Guillermo.
Guillermo was less hesitant. Upon hearing that Ilma’s mother was purportedly sick, he handed Barahona $400, who then gave him $50 in change. The $50 bill was not the only one in his wallet. How did this unemployed 20-year-old get so much cash? Slight sidebar, I feel so bad for Guillermo. It didn’t say this anywhere, but I imagine he heard Ilma’s mom was sick and just wanted to do anything to make the situation easier for her. I recently fell victim to a shiesty moving “broker” and am dealing with an immense feeling of failure. Like shouldn’t I have known better? I hope Guillermo didn’t deal with any of it, it’s not a fun headspace.
Anyway, I empathize. 🎶 Over mmm-pad thais. 🎶 Oh Frond.
Due to the lack of an exact timeline beyond “several weeks” after Ilma’s disappearance, I’m going to roughly estimate that this request came around the first or second week of March. Around this same time, the Padilla family had enough of waiting on Barahona to give them answers. They forced the door to Ilma’s bedroom open, and discovered that there was absolutely no way Ilma had left the country. The entire time Barahona was insisting Ilma was in Guatemala, her driver’s license, credit cards, and valid passport were all sitting behind her locked door, in a bedroom that had clearly been rifled through. The Padilla’s immediately called the police, who soon discovered that all of the cash had been removed from Ilma’s wallet, and her safe, which was found closed, appeared to be missing at least $2,000. This is the amount Ilma typically kept in her safe at any given time. That was in addition to the money she would stash in various drawers and closets throughout the house.
By now, Barahona had pretty much disappeared, but we do know some of what he’d been up to. In continuing to investigate Ilma’s disappearance, the authorities discovered that Barahona had been engaging in an online relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Yep. A minor. Her name is available publicly, but I think that’s kind of in poor taste considering she was underage, so I’m not including it here, and will call her X. Prosecutors would later argue that not only was he in an online relationship with her, but that he’d become obsessed with her. In the week prior to Ilma’s disappearance, X had suggested she’d wanted to end her relationship with him, but he tempted her to stay with him with promises of visits, cash, and a cellphone.
Two days before Ilma’s disappearance, Barahona texted X “,missing you crazy crazy.” She asked him to buy her a cellphone. On February 11th, the two had planned to meet. This meeting never came to pass. The next day, he texted, “Hey, do you want to buy a cell today? It got late yesterday because I had an accident. But I’m about one hour and 30 from Bakersfield.” Given his tendency to be unreliable, Barahona was met with skepticism. He reassured X, saying “Really, Girl, yesterday I had an accident.”
Later that day, he picked X up in his aunt’s Honda Accord, and told the same story he’d later tell authorities. He’d just purchased the car. He never did tell her what kind of accident he’d supposedly been mixed up in the day prior –on the 11th– and, according to X, there had been a gun in the glovebox. He drove her in the stolen vehicle to buy a $500 cellphone, which he paid cash for. He checked into a motel room under a false name and paid cash for everything.
But on April 2nd, Barahona resurfaced when he was arrested in Bakersfield. He’d been driving Ilma’s car at the time, and gave the arresting officer the name “Yahir Guzman.” When asked how he’d come to be in possession of Ilma’s vehicle, Barahona told the officer that he'd purchased the Honda in Los Angeles. Upon further questioning, he also told them that he’d never lived in Riverside, had no family in the United States, and didn’t know Ilma Saucedo.
For some unknown reason, he later recanted large portions of his original statement. –Probably because Ilma’s boarders would be able to easily identify him in a line-up? But that’s just my guess. Despite disavowing his original tale, he held firm that he’d purchased the vehicle in Los Angeles. According to the authorities, Barahona showed no reaction or emotion when informed that his aunt was missing, regardless of his claims that Ilma was like a mother to him. He also didn’t respond when he was informed that the police already knew Barahona had taken the car the same day she’d disappeared, or when they asked why he’d attempted to collect rent money from Guillermo and Candelario. He also denied using Ilma’s cellphone, even though phone records clearly contradicted him, showing that Ilma’s phone had been used to make calls in Bakersfield on February 12th and 13th.
Barahona was charged with 1st-degree murder. The prosecutor argued that Barahona had only one mission in mind on February 11th. He needed to see the girl he “loved.” That, and he needed to impress her. He theorized that Barahona had decided to steal whatever money possible while his 3 co-habitants were at work. But if you’ll recall, today Ilma came home early, surprising Barahona and catching him red-handed. He then admitted to having no idea what happened next– a bold move considering this will usually end in an acquittal– but that whatever occurred absolutely led to her murder. Prosecutor John Aki said, “The lack of a body, fingerprint evidence, DNA, blood, or witnesses is no reason to doubt the defendant’s guilt.” He then questioned where Barahona got all of his money, considering he was unemployed.
Barahona’s attorney had several questions of his own, arguing that the prosecution’s case was “based on a hunch” with no real evidence. He said,” They’re playing a guessing game. What if Ilma was kidnapped? We don’t know. How do we know she’s dead? If she is, then they should be able to answer the simplest, easiest questions… Where’s the murder scene? What happened? How? Who did it and when? The prosecution has put together a story because the pieces aren’t there.” – It was an inability to answer these kind of questions that put Casey Anthony back on the street, free to wander around, party, open a PI firm, and procreate. Y’know. That nonsense.
The defense attorney also had an explanation for the money. Barahona was a drug dealer. And you KNOW a defense is in trouble when they go to the drug dealing defense. Just as the prosecution was unable to provide more than circumstantial evidence, the defense was unable to provide any evidence to contradict their story. Barahona did not speak at his trial.
On October 11th, 2012, a jury convicted 21-year-old Adolfo Jose Morales Barahona of felony first-degree murder of his aunt Ilma Saucedo after only 90 minutes of deliberation.
On August 1st, 2014, Barahona filed an appeal, maintaining that there was insufficient evidence against him. He also insisted that that there was no evidence to indicate an intent to rob Ilma, or that all felonies occurred in one continuous string of actions. There was also a contention that a parole revocation fine be stricken, as no period of parole was included in his sentencing. Of all these appeals, The People only conceded to the latter. They upheld all charges against him.
Barahona, now 31, is currently serving his sentence of life without parole at California State Prison- Centinela in Imperial, California.
DNA evidence determined that the woman in the vineyard and Ilma Saucedo were not the same person. Ilma Saucedo’s body has never been found to this day, and the woman in the vineyard remains unidentified.
If you have any information about Ilma Saucedo, you can contact the Riverside Police Department at 951-353-7135 or 951-826-5531.
If you know anything about the woman in the vineyard, you can call the Kern County Sheriff’s Office at 661-861-3110, or remain anonymous by calling Secret Witness at 661-322-4040.
As always, this information will be in the show notes and blog post.
This has been the cursed tale of 2 women whose lives were tragically cut short, and their tale never fully told.
For more cursed content, you can follow me on social media @ThriceCursedPod. You can also join the facebook group by searching Thrice Cursed Fan Group or clicking the link on the website. You can also just head to the website for funsies to check out the blog, or buy the merch I worked so hard on! That’s ThriceCursedPod.com. Unlike me, at least the branding is consistent. You get me?
Until next time, keep your curses hexy, and your hexes sexy. I’ll see you in Nevada!