The Horrific Murders of Two Teen Sweethearts--Houston, Texas 1993

 Elizabeth Pena

Elizabeth Pena

Historically, July ranks as the second hottest month for the city of Houston, Texas. The temperature combined with the humidity can make for oppressive summers in the southern metropolis. This leads many residents to seek relief by swimming. On the night of June 24th, 1993, two young teenagers had been doing exactly that. Jennifer Lee Ertman (14) and Elizabeth Pena (16) had spent their evening at a pool party with friends, but all too soon their 11:30 pm curfew loomed near. The girls bid their goodbyes to the other party guests and left for home around 11:15. Knowing they would be cutting it close to making it on time, Jennifer and Elizabeth elected to take a shortcut through a city park to shave minutes off their walk. Tragically, this well-intended decision lead to a fatal encounter for the girls.

 Jennifer Lee Ertman (left)

Jennifer Lee Ertman (left)

It was in this same park that six young men had gathered for nefarious purposes. Five of them, Peter Cantu (18), Jose Medellin (18), Venancio Medellin (14), Efrain Perez (17), and Derrick Sean O’Brien (18), were members of a gang dubbed the "Black and White". The sixth person, Raul Villarreal (17), was being initiated into the group that night. This ritual involved heavy drinking and being beaten by each member of the gang for several minutes at a time. They had completed this induction by the time the two girls set off on their route.

As Ertman and Pena cut their way through the park, the boys spotted them. Pena was snatched immediately, but Ertman initially managed to escape into the nearby woods. When she heard her friend’s desperate screams, though, she turned around and bravely attempted to help. It was then that she too was captured. What happened next has been described as a ‘sadistic frenzy’ by those familiar with the case. The girls were orally, anally, and vaginally gang raped for well over an hour. The younger Medellin brother was only a voyeur at first, until urged by the others to participate. Ertman and Pena were still being assaulted in this violent manner when Cantu, the group’s self-appointed leader, decided the girls needed to die. He did not want to take the risk that the girls could identify their attackers. Every gang member except Venancio Medellin had an active hand in the deaths and it is impossible to exaggerate the level of overkill committed. Ertman and Pena were beaten, kicked with steel-toed boots, strangled, and had their throats stomped on.

After this disgusting orgy of cruelty, the young men dragged the girls' bodies into the woods and coolly went to hang out at Cantu’s home. The corpses of Ertman and Pena were found four days after the crime, and the perpetrators were quickly identified due to their abundant and gleeful bragging. With the exception of Venancio Medellin, who was given 40 years in prison, each member was convicted of homicide and sentenced to death.  Due to a later Supreme Court decision based on their ages at the time, Villarreal and Perez had their sentences commuted to life in prison. The other three were all executed, with Cantu’s 2010 death by lethal injection being the last.

Adam Quirk

Adam Quirk, MBA and MCJ is a licensed private investigator with over 15 years of investigative experience, as well as advanced degrees in Criminal Justice and Business Administration.