Lovers’ tryst cited in arrests for janitor’s stabbing death in Pleasant Hill

Lovers’ tryst cited in arrests for janitor’s stabbing death in Pleasant Hill

Lovers’ tryst cited in arrests for janitor’s stabbing death in Pleasant Hill
Pleasant Hill Police arrested 3 in connection with a February stabbing death. (Photo courtesy Pleasant Hill Police.)

PLEASANT HILL, CA (June 9, 2024) — A lover scorned led to three arrests in the violent stabbing death of a Pleasant Hill Recreation and Parks District custodial worker.

Pleasant Hill police investigators arrested three people on May 31 in connection with the Feb. 10 death of Santiago Jacobo, 37, of Pittsburg. Pablo Gutierrez-Morales, 31, Concord; Vanessa Vera-Aguilar, 24, Antioch; and Jazmin Ruiz, 25, Antioch, all knew Jacobo. Officers booked them into the Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The department’s three-month investigation revealed that Jacobo and the assailants worked together at the Watermark assisted living facility in San Ramon. Jacobo had held multiple jobs to help his family make ends meet.

The evidence showed that the suspects planned, coordinated and carried out the attack on Jacobo after he finished his night shift as a custodian at Pleasant Hill Park, according to a department statement. Detectives determined that prior to Jacobo’s murder, he had been in a relationship with Vera-Aguilar while Gutierrez-Morales also pursued a new relationship with her.

A very violent attack

Pleasant Hill Police Chief Scott Vermilion noted at the outset of the investigation that they had found no evidence and no one came forward.

“What was apparent was a very violent attack,” he said of the crime scene. “Number of times he was stabbed showed there was rage and anger behind it.”

That led investigators to believe high emotions played a part between the victim and suspect, excluding other possible motives like robbery and a chance encounter.

About 4:50 a.m. on Feb. 10, Jacobo’s wife Alejandra’s discovered his body in the main parking lot of Pleasant Hill Park along Gregory Lane. She had come to the park after he failed to return home after his shift. She called 911, but officers and medical personnel responding to the scene determined Jacobo had died from stab wounds.

Digging into the background

Investigators started looking in Jacobo’s background, leading them to the Watermark connection.

“At one point we did interviews with some of the involved people. We later found that they had been dishonest to us,” Vermillion said.

“Evidence does not lie and people do. Investigators found circumstantial evidence that connected them to the scene and contradicted statements that were obtained by us,” he added.

Vermillion didn’t know if Jacobo’s spouse was aware of the apparent situation involving her husband. Jacobo’s wife was cooperative from the beginning and continues to be, Vermillion added.

The investigation became more challenging because of a double homicide a month later. That case involved a cannabis industry delivery person and one of his assailants.

“We had to prioritize our resources in working two cases at one time,” said Vermillion. “We have never worked two homicides at one time. In all times I have been with the department, this was a first.”

While the investigation continues to tie up loose ends, officials had enough to move forward with charges against the suspects.

Vermillion lauded the hard work of his investigators and sworn personnel. They assisted with getting search warrants in what was hardly an easy case to solve due to the lack of evidence and witnesses. The agency expressed thanks to San Ramon police for its assistance. They also thanked the Recreation and Parks District for its support during the homicide investigation.

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.