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When Fort Walton, Florida, police found the body of Cordell Richards, the charred remains were so battered and disfigured they couldn’t even determine a sex. The 31-year-old Air Force veteran and line cook was chained to a tree in March of 1999, with his wrists also bound.
Richards had gone missing a month before, worrying his ex-wife and friends, who knew him as a reliable hard-worker and good dad, although he was having money problems, according to “Killer Couples,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
After an autopsy, which painted a picture of a brutal beating and throat slashing, they found enough of a print remaining on one thumb to ID him. Investigators had few clues to go on: some tire impressions, a roll of duct tape and a Sprite bottle.
A couple also indicated that they had been on a walk in the area around the estimated time of death and seen three teenagers hanging around a car with a broken-out window. They told police that the group was acting suspiciously.
Police had poked around a bit at Richards’ apartment after his initial disappearance without turning up much. They encountered a young couple — 16-year-old Kristel Maestas and 17-year-old Ronald Bell — sleeping in a bedroom. They told police that Maestas was renting the room from Richards, but they hadn’t seen him in a few days — not unusual, given his busy work schedule, the teens said.
But once they knew Richards had been murdered, they returned to the scene. Using Luminol, they detected blood evidence of a violent encounter — and Maestas and Bell were nowhere to be found.
Investigators started asking around about the teen couple and soon received a tip that local 15-year-old Renee Lincks had allegedly told her mother that she was in an apartment where someone was killed. The girl and her mother both denied it strongly, but police had an inkling that Lincks may have been one of the teens spotted near the murder scene the month before.
They headed to the home of Maestas’ parents, but on the way noticed a car parked along the side of the road with two occupants. As officers approached it, they noted a busted back window with a black garbage bag covering it, and they brought Maestas and Bell to the station for questioning.
Detectives separated the couple and went from room to room, questioning each. Neither cracked until Maestas was allowed a brief visit from her parents, who urged her to tell the police everything, because she was “in a lot of trouble.”
Maestas tearfully told police about her relationship with Richards from the beginning, when she rented a spare room from him, with her boyfriend, Bell, paying for it. Things were fine at first, until, according to Maestas, Richards started acting overtly sexual toward her. He would allegedly expose himself and walk around in revealing underwear. On occasion, he even entered her room while scantily clad, she claimed.
Once, Richards allegedly asked Maestas to have sex with him and, when she refused, pushed her against the wall, resulting in a bruise. That was the last straw for Bell, she said.
Bell bought a deadbolt for his girlfriend and told her to call him the next time that her older roommate made her feel uncomfortable, she told police.
On Feb. 2, 1999, Maestas said, Lincks was over hanging out with her, when Richards started harassing them. They fled to Maestas’ room and bolted the door. Then, Maestas phoned her boyfriend in a panic, claiming that Richards was trying to kick down the door. Her boyfriend sped to the apartment, burst in and started fighting with Richards.
After getting the older man into a chokehold until he passed out, Bell told the girls to get some rope and a baseball bat, Maestas said. Then he encouraged Maestas to beat her roommate with the bat. According to authorities on “Killer Couples,” that initial beating was enough to shatter some of Richards’ bones.
Then, the trio wrapped Richards in a blanket, put him in Bell’s trunk and drove him out to the woods. As they dragged him through the underbrush toward the tree at which he would die, Richards was “begging for his life,” Maestas confessed to police.
The teens chained Richards to the tree and took turns wailing on him with the baseball bat. Before taking a shattering swing at the man’s head, Bell crowed, “I’m Babe Ruth,” according to Maestas. That blow caved Richards’ head in. Bell then doused him in lighter fluid and set him ablaze, after which the teens fled.
The next day, Maestas recalled to police, they returned to the scene and found, to their horror, that Richards was still alive, weakly begging for help. Bell went to a nearby department store and bought a meat cleaver, returning to the dying man and using it to cut his throat. After that, they used Sprite to wash blood from the cleaver and returned it to the store for a refund. Bell was captured on surveillance footage at the department store.
Lincks confessed to nothing but was offered a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Maestas and Bell, to which she agreed. She portrayed the couple as sadistic and alleged that they wanted Richards’ apartment for themselves.
Lincks was given a 15-year maximum sentence for manslaughter and false imprisonment, according to the NWF Daily News. Maestas was given a life sentence plus 30 years for kidnapping, according to “Killer Couples.”
Bell, meanwhile, was sentenced to death originally, but in 2002, the sentence was overturned when a judge found that his age wasn’t properly taken into consideration the first time.
Maestas and Bell were resentenced in April 2019 following a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional. They were given life again, according to the NWF Daily News.
“The only thing I can say is my family and I are still just in shock we had to go through this in court, Reanna Richards, Richards daughter, said after the 2019 hearing, according to the Daily News. “I thank God the judge found the wisdom to rule the way he did.”
Lincks was released from prison in 2012, after serving 12 of her 15 years.
For more on Cordell Richards’ murder, watch “Killer Couples” at Oxygen.com, and airing Thursdays at 8/7c.
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