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Court documents say call from victim’s brother panicked murder suspects

Juan GarnicJr.  |  AurorPolice photo

Juan Garnica Jr. | Aurora Police photo

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Updated: March 23, 2013 6:09AM

In the hours after Juan Garnica fatally struck Abigail Villalpando seven times with a hammer, he and Enrique Prado took several steps to cover up the crime, documents filed in Kane County Court say.

However, it wasn’t until Villalpando’s brother called Garnica — as 18-year-old Abigail’s body burned in the back yard of a near East Side home — that the two men apparently became concerned Aurora police were on the way.

Those and other details contained in a recently filed search warrant affidavit begin to fill in some of the gruesome timeline first outlined by authorities earlier this month when Garnica was charged with Villalpando’s murder. Garnica remains in the Kane County Jail on $5 million bail. Prado has been charged with arson and concealing a homicide. A third man, Jose Becerra of Oswego, faces charges of concealing a death and concealing a homicide.

Villalpando, a waitress at the Denny’s Restaurant at the Westfield Fox Valley Mall, disappeared after leaving for work on Jan. 31. She left her apartment dressed for work around 2 p.m. that day, but never arrived for her shift.

Police previously said that Villalpando stopped at the Jefferson Street home owned by Prado’s girlfriend before her shift to hang out with Garnica and Prado, which she did regularly in her free time. Prado told investigators that the three smoked marijuana on a couch when Villalpando walked over to a fish tank after Garnica mentioned a dead turtle in it, according to the affidavit.

As Villalpando bent down to look in the tank, Garnica hit her in the head twice with a hammer, according to the document. He struck her five more times after she fell to the ground. Garnica retrieved a blanket, wrapped Villalpando’s body in it and placed it inside a plastic storage container, which was left in the garage.

“The storage container containing Abigail’s body remained in the garage overnight,” Aurora Police Detective John Munn wrote in the affidavit, after interviewing Prado.

The next morning, on Feb. 1, Prado drove his mother’s sport-utility vehicle to Garnica’s house. Garnica had a red gas can with him, and the pair drove to Lebanon Park where Garnica stole a metal garbage barrel. After dropping off the barrel at the Jefferson Street home, they drove to a nearby gas station. Both men appear on video surveillance, the affidavit states.

They again returned to Jefferson Street, where Garnica put Villalpando’s body in the barrel with wood and gasoline and ignited it. Prado, according to the affidavit, told police the contents “burned for some time, while Juan stoked the flames with a stick.”

As that fire continued, Garnica drove Villalpando’s Nissan Altima, with Prado following in the SUV, to a spot under the High Street Bridge. Prado told police he saw Garnica douse the car with gas and set it ablaze. The men then returned to Jefferson Street “to continue with the disposal of Abigail’s body,” the affidavit says.

“Detectives learned that as the two returned ... while the contents of the barrel were still burning, correspondence is made, via telephone, from Abigail’s brother to Juan inquiring about (her) disappearance,” Munn wrote, adding the brother’s suspicions prompted him to tell Garnica he would be calling the police. “According to Enrique, the two began to extinguish the barrel in fear that the police were in route,” the affidavit says.

The men emptied the barrel into a plastic storage container and called Becerra, who had a pickup truck, to transport the container. The three then drove to the area of Fifth Street and Waubansia Avenue in Montgomery, where they emptied the container in a field about 200 feet from the intersection. A police dog later found Villalpando’s burned remains in a marshy area with tall grass close to a frozen pond.

During an initial visit to the Jefferson Street home, investigators found two gas cans and a blue plastic storage container, which had been placed in the rafters of the garage. The homeowner, Prado’s girlfriend, said she had not seen the container previously. Police described the container as having “burned/charred marks” inside, as well as several plastic bags and a pair of gloves with “what appeared to be a cut clump of black hair, approximately 3 inches in length,” Munn wrote in the affidavit.

Garnica told police during an interview that he saw Villalpando at the Jefferson Street home on Jan. 31 when she came over to buy marijuana from Prado. Garnica, who said Villalpando left after making the purchase, denied any direct or indirect knowledge about her disappearance.

Becerra’s case was in court briefly on Thursday, when Judge James Hallock granted more time for him to hire a lawyer. Garnica and Prado in the past week both have requested a substitution of judge request to move the case from Hallock’s courtroom.

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