On May 27, 2011, 26-year-old nursing student Michelle Le was in the middle of a clinical training session at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward, California. At 6:55 PM, during the class's 15-minute break, Le walked to the hospital’s parking garage to get some medication from her car. But when Le’s instructor realized she hadn’t returned to class once the break was over, she began to worry.
Concerned something may have happened to the young student, Le’s instructor went into the parking garage, where she caught a brief glimpse of Le’s white Honda driving out of the lot. In the “Snapped” episode “Giselle Esteban,” former Hayward police inspector Fraser Ritchie explained that “it was very out of character for Michelle to just wander off,” especially since it was the last night of her hospital internship, which she needed to complete in order to graduate.
Since this sudden departure was so unlike Le, her instructor and classmates inundated Le’s phone with frantic calls and text messages, but heard nothing in response. Then, 15 hours after Le was last seen, her friends and family received a flurry of reassuring texts from Le’s phone telling them she was fine and had just wanted to get out town for a while, according to “Dateline.”
Her responses, however, were very “strange,” said Hayward Police Lieutenant Roger Keener. According to “Dateline,” when Le’s ex-boyfriend texted her — whose number she “knew almost as well as her own” — she responded, “Who is this?”
When Le’s classmates showed these odd texts to their instructor, she reached out to hospital security to take a look at the parking garage where Le was last seen. When they reached the space where Le’s car had been parked the night of her disappearance, “the security guard found what he believed was blood on the tarmac,” according to inspector Ritchie.
During a search of the hospital, “Michelle’s purse was found at the hospital in the break room where she had left it and her wallet was in there, her driver’s license was in there. It was very unnatural for somebody to just leave those belongings behind,” according to inspector Ritchie.
Police then began searching for Le’s Honda, which they found about a half-mile from the hospital parking garage. When investigators unlocked the car, they were “able to see a lot of blood,” said inspector Ritchie. A college ID badge from another student was also found in the car, and it had been reported missing around the same time police located Le’s car.
Investigators sent her car for processing, and then they reached out to Le’s friends and family to see if they knew of anyone who would’ve wanted to harm her.
According to inspector Ritchie, the only name that kept coming up during his interviews was 27-year-old Giselle Esteban, Le’s former best friend whom she moved to San Francisco with after graduating from high school together in 2002. Though the two remained close at first, they grew apart after Esteban fell in love, got pregnant and moved in with her boyfriend Scott Marasigan. Esteban and Marasigan broke up three years later in 2008, but Le reportedly stayed friends with him.
When police came to Esteban’s apartment to see what she knew about Le’s disappearance, Ritchie explained she didn’t seem too concerned about her former friend. She did, however, reveal something surprising to investigators: The night Le went missing, Esteban claimed she was at the hospital for an OB-GYN appointment, and she even saw Le on the walkway to the parking structure.
After Esteban’s initial questioning, police asked her to come to the station for a formal interview, during which they learned the friends’ falling out was due to Esteban’s belief that Le and Marasigan were sleeping together. Marasigan, however, said both he and Le repeatedly denied the affair to Esteban, but she wouldn't listen.
“There was no [love] triangle, but she believed that there was,” said Lieutenant Keener.
After the couple’s breakup, Marasigan “became convinced Giselle was mentally unstable,” and he even accused Esteban of stalking him, according to “Snapped.” Esteban was later diagnosed as manic-depressive, and Marasigan ended up filing a restraining order against her to protect himself and their child, whom he’d won primary custody of.
Even with all of this information, police didn’t have enough to hold Esteban, but before she left the station, they confiscated the sneakers she was wearing in case she had worn them the night Le went missing.
Investigators then pulled up Le’s phone records to track where she had gone in the hours after her disappearance. Her phone records took police on a path that led from the hospital to the parking lot where her car was discovered, and then into the hills outside of town. When investigators tracked Esteban’s phone, inspector Ritchie explained, “The cell tower hits showed a path for both Michelle and Giselle’s phone to the area where Michelle’s vehicle was located. [...] We believe at that point Giselle was driving Michelle’s car.”
When police interviewed employees at Samuel Merritt University, where Michelle had been finishing up her nursing degree, they made another discovery: Esteban had been at the university the day before Le disappeared to inquire about the nursing program. While sitting in a secretary’s office under the guise of waiting to meet a professor, Esteban had reportedly swiped the ID card that was later found in Le’s car.
According to inspector Ritchie, “Later that evening, Giselle came back to the campus and used the electronic key card to gain access to the campus.” While on campus, she entered an off-limits area to steal a class roster, which would have revealed “when Michelle was going to be at the hospital,” according to journalist Eric Kurhi.
After making this discovery, forensic results came back from Le’s car, and Esteban’s DNA was found on the signal handle of Le’s Honda. Le’s blood was also found on the bottom of Esteban’s sneakers that police had confiscated.
Police then arrested Esteban on September 7, 2011, and 10 days after she was taken into custody, Le’s family and a group of volunteers searched for Le's body in the remote area where her phone records dropped off. A search dog discovered a shallow grave that contained Le’s remains, and her medical scrubs were reportedly still intact.
Police believed Esteban came up behind Le in the garage, attacked her with a knife and then buried her in the foothills outside of town, according to "Snapped."
During the trial, Marasigan turned over tapes that contained conversations with Esteban that he had secretly recorded to gain his restraining order.
In one tape, Esteban told Marasigan to stop denying his relationship with Le, and she threatened, “You will be honest with me regarding her, otherwise I will take your life and hers.”
Esteban was found guilty of murdering Le, and the judge sentenced her to 25 years to life in prison, according to NBC.
[Photos: Hayward Police Department]