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On June 25, 2008, an El Dorado County, California fire inspector who’d responded to a blaze in a deep ravine along a winding backwoods road spotted a vehicle through the smoke.
“It looked like a ghost ship,” Tom Oldag, a Cal Fire investigator, told “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. Approaching the vehicle, he smelled what experience told him was burning flesh.
Oldag thought the fire could be linked to a missing person’s report put out a day earlier for Ron Presba, a 54-year-old well-liked business leader, by his wife, Patricia. He’d never returned to his Garden Valley home after going out for propane.
The charred remains were sent to the coroner’s office to confirm that the driver was Ron. Investigators quickly verified that the burned-out SUV belonged to the Presbas. His wife, who was known as Patty and worked for the California Conservation Corps, seemed devastated when she learned the news, investigators told producers.
As officials investigated the scene of the burning car, they observed blood on the road near the site. Had the accident been caused by an animal in the road? No carcasses were found.
Blood on the road and in a plastic bag found in the ravine that matched Ron Presba’s led authorities to suspect the crash was intentional and not an accident. The fire was used to conceal a homicide that happened before the car went into the canyon, they theorized.
Questioned by authorities, Patty said Ron had no enemies. She also confirmed that 21-year-old Jaime Ramos, who she was mentoring at the Conservation Corps, had recently been living with the Presbas. Ramos had abruptly moved to Texas on June 25, she said. But while questioning her, they discovered suspicious blood spatter at the home. They believed they found the site of Ron's murder.
Patty seemed to have a solid alibi, so investigators attempted to hunt down Ramos. As they did, Curtis Edwards, another California Conservation Corps worker, came forward. He met with authorities at the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office and told them that he’d discovered that Ramos and Patty had been having an affair.
Edwards said he was shocked by the relationship. “She was 56. He was 21,” he told producers. “They were hooking up regularly … they were living on the edge.”
Investigators theorized that Ramos could have been a jilted lover who committed the crime and then went on the run. When they questioned Patty, she initially denied that Ramos was her boyfriend but eventually confessed that they had been involved. She claimed she had broken it off days before Ron’s death. She said she wanted out of the affair and was afraid of Ramos’ alarming, self-destructive behavior when she called it quits. By this time, she alleged, Ron had learned of the relationship. He had agreed to buy Ramos a car so that he could move back to Texas and get on with his own life.
After weeks of communicating with authorities, Ramos agreed to tell them what he knew about Ron Presba’s death. In advance of that meeting, Patty was called in for more questioning. She said that she feared for her life and that Ramos had told her that if he can’t have her, nobody’s going to have her. Authorities questioned Patty’s truthfulness, though. Despite the fact that Patty said she’d broken up with Ramos, recent security video from the car dealership showed them holding hands as they shopped for a vehicle.
But before detectives could confront her with this information, they learned Patty had gone missing.
At the Presba home, there was evidence of a disturbance along with visible blood spatter in a bathroom. Detectives were concerned Patty, who claimed that she feared Ramos, has been taken hostage or murdered. Officials put out an APB.
The search led authorities to Salt Lake City Utah, where the car Ramos was driving was spotted in a motel parking lot on July 25, Mike Paletta, an investigator for the Utah Dept. of Motor Vehicles, told producers. Inside, officials found Patty and Ramos, who’d suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.
Both were taken into custody, and while Ramos was treated for his injuries, investigators questioned Patty. She said she had tried to get away from Ramos and that she shot him three times. She again claimed that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death.
But when Ramos heard that Patty said he took her hostage, he told them everything. He admitted that he had bashed Ron in the head repeatedly. He then cleaned up the crime scene, drove to the ravine, set the car with Ron in it ablaze, and sent it down into the canyon. Ramos said that Patty, who was in on the crime, had told him that he needed to make the murder look like an accident.
“He said he felt like she manipulated him,” Paletta told producers. “She set it up.” Ramos, who was malleable, was led to believe by her that Ron was abusive. He would have done anything to protect her, he said.
Ramos claimed that Patty had told him that they needed to make it look like he had taken her hostage. She instructed him to break down the door at her house and when he did she shot him several times. She put the muzzle of the gun to his head and tried to fire, but the gun jammed. Despite that, the two still went to Utah together.
Detectives learned through Ramos that Ron Presba had a $150,000 life insurance policy that would pay double if he died in an accident. They found a motive for the murder. As they dug deeper, they even learned that Patty had approached other people about murdering Ron.
Ramos and Patty Presba were arrested and brought back to El Dorado County. Patty eventually agreed to cooperate with prosecutors for a lighter sentence, according to “Mastermind of Murder.”
On June 29, 2009, Ramos pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and agreed to testify against his former lover. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Days before her trial was to begin in February 2010, Patty Presba pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to 42 years for the murder of her husband and the attempted murder of Ramos.
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