CAMDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New Jersey woman was buried alive in a shallow grave by her landscaper after he offered to drive her to buy a new car, authorities said Thursday as he and another man were arraigned on murder charges.
Fatima Perez was reported missing on Monday evening, the same day she left her Camden home to buy the car. The body of the 41-year-old woman was found Wednesday in Monroe Township, about 20 miles away.
Perez’s mouth and eyes were covered with duct tape before she was buried, authorities said. An autopsy determined she died of asphyxiation.
Landscaper Carlos Alicea-Antonetti, of Camden, and one of his employees, Ramon Ortiz of Pennsauken, told investigators they buried her alive, according to authorities. Perez had previously employed Alicea-Antonetti.
Investigators said Alicea-Antonetti, the owner of Villa Coamo Landscaping and General Maintenance, picked up Perez on Monday in his van to drive her to buy the car. She carried $8,000 for the purchase, according to her family.
According to a probable cause statement, Alicea-Antonetti told police he argued with Perez and she fell out of his van. He said despite being injured, Perez got back into the vehicle and was lying in the back when he stopped to pick up Ortiz.
Court papers said Alicea-Antonetti told detectives he and Ortiz bound and blindfolded Perez before driving to a wooded location where they dug a hole and dumped her in it. They then poured lime over her and attempted to conceal the ditch by covering it with branches and debris, authorities said.
The suspects told police that Perez was still alive when they left her.
“Alicea-Antonetti admitted to detectives they put Ms. Perez in the hole, that they poured lime on her and they buried her,” Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah said in court Thursday. “He advised detectives she was still alive when they buried her.”
After a massive 24-hour search, police got a tip and found the men two days later hiding at a Cherry Hill hotel, authorities said. Police said Alicea-Antonetti had more than $7,000 in cash on him at the time of his arrest.
Perez, a mother of two, came to the U.S. from Nicaragua eight years ago.
“If my sister had to fight for her life, the reason she was fighting was for her kids,” the victim’s sister, Vanessa Castro, said.
Both men applied for public defenders at their arraignment, where they were ordered held on $5 million bail each.
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