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Crime News Dateline

"Peeping Tom" Hides Estranged Wife’s Body in Cemetery After Mysterious Murder

Tina Sandoval, a 23-year-old nurse, disappeared in 1995 after going to meet her estranged husband, John Sandoval, to try to finalize their divorce. 

By Jill Sederstrom

For more than 20 years, the secret of what happened to Tina Tournai-Sandoval lay buried. 

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Catch up on Dateline: Unforgettable on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

Her anguished family spent decades searching for the  23-year-old nurse, who mysteriously vanished after going to meet her estranged husband, John Sandoval, according to Oxygen’s Dateline: Unforgettable

But 22 years after her disappearance, investigators finally caught the break they needed when John agreed to take them to his wife’s secret burial place inside the Sunset Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Greeley, Colorado. 

After killing his wife in 1995, John had taken her body to the cemetery under the cloak of darkness, then buried her body two feet below an open grave that was used for a planned burial the next day, encasing Tina in the tomb for decades and leaving her family desperate for answers. 

“Just when you think the case is all buttoned up and the monster is in chains, he finds a way to take control again,” Dateline correspondent Dennis Murphy said of the case that “haunts [him] to this day.”

Who was Tina Sandoval? 

Tina — one of nine children in her bustling family — had been a shy nursing student when she first crossed paths with John Sandoval at a local college in the early 1990s. At the time, John was taking classes to become a radiology technician and quickly swept Tina off her feet.

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She was really in love in the beginning,” her sister Susan recalled. “I think the way he talked to her just so gently and he just treasured her and he made her feel really special and she hadn’t felt that way in a while.”

When the couple got married in 1992 at a breathtaking chapel in the Colorado Rockies, John toasted his new bride as the “best woman a man could ever ask for.” 

What secret was John Sandoval hiding in his marriage?

But by 1995, the couple’s marriage was crumbling. John never did become a radiology technician, and struggled to hold down a job. 

Tina also confessed to friends and family members that she’d discovered John had a dark secret: He was a prolific Peeping Tom.

Tina told her sister Susan that sometimes John would get up in the middle of the night and leave their bed to crawl through his victims’ backyards, peer into their windows, and sometimes even bring home women’s underwear as trophies. In another conversation with a friend in nursing, Tina said it wasn’t unusual for John to follow a woman home from the store and then spy on her for days. 

Tina decided to leave the relationship and moved into her own apartment. John rented a house in downtown Greeley — but it seemed Tina was never far from his mind. Tina reported seeing John parked outside her apartment complex for hours. 

“He even had jumped onto the deck of her apartment from the staircase that led up to her front door and was watching her in there and told her everything he saw,” Susan said. 

When did Tina Sandoval disappear?

Despite the unnerving encounters, Tina, still just 23 years old, was looking forward to starting her new life. She began talking to some new men and going out with her fellow nurses, but she still needed to finalize the end of her marriage. 

After finishing an overnight shift at the hospital on Oct. 19, 1995, Tina told her fellow coworkers and her sister Susan that she was planning to meet John after work for a big conversation she was hoping would finally bring her divorce to a close. 

“I told her I was really concerned because of everything that he’d been doing about following her and acting up with the other women again,” Susan said. 

Susan asked her sister to call her around noon that day after the meeting was over, but Tina never called. Concerned, Susan asked her mother to drive by John’s home. Tina’s mother knocked on the door and talked to John’s aunt, who was subletting the home’s basement. The aunt told her that she wasn’t sure where John and Tina had gone, but just before she left, Tina’s mother noticed her daughter’s brand new coat had mysteriously been left behind.

John Sandoval becomes person of interest

Unable to reach Tina, Susan and her mother went to the local police station to report her missing that afternoon and spoke to several detectives who were already very familiar with John’s past. 

John had a string of prior arrests and convictions for harassment and burglary and was known around the department as the usual suspect when it came to Peeping Tom complaints. 

“John Sandoval’s connection to this case set off the alarms,” Detective Keith Olson said. “I mean we went into full investigation immediately.”

Investigators sent a plainclothes police officer  to sit outside John’s house and wait until he came home. The officer radioed detectives at 4:45 a.m. the next morning when John finally arrived back home. 

The detectives quickly jumped in their car and arrived a few minutes later to find John was already in the shower, presumably washing away any evidence that may have remained. Yet they did find a wet shovel, pail, rope, carpenter’s level, and flashlight attached to a lanyard in John’s car and several of Tina’s credit cards inside his home. 

John was taken into custody in connection with a trespassing charge in another case. He denied having anything to do with his wife’s disappearance and quickly asked for a lawyer.

Investigators also believed John was possibly trying to get rid of evidence that could link him to the case after seeing him bite off his fingernails while waiting in the interrogation room.

Yet, without a body, known crime scene, or confession, the district attorney didn’t feel there was enough to arrest John for the crime.

When was John Sandoval released from prison?

John pleaded guilty to the trespassing charge against him and was sentenced to six years in prison. He was released after serving just over four years and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada.

In the years that would follow, Tina’s anguished family and detectives continued to search through fields, ditches, and open areas for Tina’s body, but had no luck finding her.

Was John Sandoval convicted for killing his wife?

Then, in 2009, a new district attorney agreed to take on the case and an arrest warrant was issued for John.

“I was happy because I thought people had forgotten and I didn’t know if we’d ever get justice for Tina,” her younger sister Annie said.

Inside John’s Las Vegas home, investigators made a chilling discovery. John had two portraits of Tina, wearing a tiny black dress, hanging prominently on the wall. Detective Mike Prill also reported finding more than 100 VHS tapes and 70 mini-VHS tapes of John filming women along the Las Vegas strip.

In one disturbing video, Prill alleged that John followed a woman to her room and went inside when she failed to lock the door. Inside, as four women slept, John filmed the women for 17 minutes before slowly removing the sheets from one woman and allegedly sexually assaulting her, Prill said.

John was never charged for any of his activities in Vegas, but he was convicted of first-degree murder in his wife’s death. 

However, in the spring of 2016 the conviction was overturned because of some evidence a judge had allowed prosecutors to present. Authorities were all set for another trial when John agreed to lead them to his wife’s body in exchange for a plea deal. 

Tina’s family agreed to give John a deal in exchange for the information. That’s when he led detectives to the cemetery, where Tina had been buried all along under the grave of Arthur Hert, a World War II veteran.

Hert’s family gave permission to exhume his body and they found Tina’s remains buried about 2 feet below the grave. 

 “We finally knew where she was, so I was glad that we knew,” Susan said.

As part of his plea deal, John was sentenced to 25 years for second-degree murder, but he refused to tell authorities how his wife died or why he killed her. 

His next parole hearing is scheduled for 2026, but Tina’s family is already working to keep him behind bars.

“We’re working as a family to try to keep him put away,” Susan said. “He gets good behavior when he’s in prison because there’s no women in prison, that’s his favorite thing, collecting women.”