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How much information can a simple black suitcase give you? The answer to that question, posed by a Texas detective investigating a grisly murder, is plenty. Enough, in fact, to see justice done in two homicides.
In one, a woman’s nude body was found stuffed inside a suitcase in a Lubbock, Texas landfill on September 13, 2005. It was a fluke that the brand new piece of luggage caught the eye of a city worker amid the mountains of trash.
Detectives knew that searching for clues wouldn't be easy in the site, which was about three football fields long. “The landfill was about two years deep,” investigators told “One Deadly Mistake,” airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
However, after a thorough search, they concluded it didn’t appear that the murder had taken place where the body was discovered. Instead, it seemed the body had been transported there.
Investigators also found nothing in the suitcase to identify the victim. She had no clothing and no identification. The word "summer" was tattooed on her ankle.
The medical examiner determined that the victim, who’d been dead for about 24 hours, had endured blunt force trauma to the head and strangulation. There were signs that the victim had been sexually assaulted, according to “One Deadly Mistake.” The cause of death was positional asphyxiation.
“She suffocated in the tomb of her suitcase,” Lubbock County Asst. D.A. Tray Payne told producers.
The autopsy also revealed that she was five weeks pregnant. That fact made the case a capital murder.
Finally, through driver’s license fingerprints, the victim was identified as 29-year-old Summer Baldwin.
Without a crime scene, detectives had very little evidence to go on, so they returned to the suitcase for any clues. Cross-contamination from the landfill ruled out useful DNA evidence, but there could be something tangible. And there was — a tiny UPC code. “Basically it’s the fingerprint for this suitcase,” said Lubbock County D.A. Matt Powell.
That code identified the manufacturer as well as who sold it in Lubbock: Walmart was the only retailer of the luggage.
Detectives determined that two suitcases matching the one used to dispose of Baldwin had been sold within 48 hours of the crime. Each purchase was captured by surveillance cameras.
One purchase was made at 3 p.m., and that buyer was cleared as a suspect. The other transaction took place at 3 a.m. After interviewing Baldwin’s friends, they had learned that she had been seen late on September 11 getting into a red truck with an unidentified young man with short hair — a description that matched the man seen buying the second suitcase. He was also spotted buying latex gloves.
The name of the buyer: Rosendo Rodriguez.
Although Rodriguez, a U.S. Marine Corps Reservist, didn’t have a record, his name was familiar to detectives. It had come up in connection to the disappearance of 16-year-old Joanna Rogers, who had vanished from Lubbock two years earlier.
At the time a search of her computer revealed that she was secretly chatting with hundreds of older men online. One of those men was Rodriguez. Investigators tried to interview him then but were unable to do because he was out of town on military training. His name subsequently went to the bottom of the list in the Rogers investigation.
Investigators learned Rodriguez had been in Lubbock for Reserve Training the weekend Baldwin was killed and that he stayed at a hotel near where Baldwin was last seen. A search of the room he’d stayed in, which was still uncleaned, turned up traces of blood on the carpet and bed, a Walmart receipt, and used latex gloves.
Forensic experts analyzed the blood found in the room and matched it to Baldwin’s. On the outside of the gloves, investigators found the victim’s DNA. The genetic material inside the gloves belonged to Rodriguez.
Detectives interviewed Rodriguez at his parent’s home in San Antonio, where they recovered the shirt the suspect wore in the Walmart security video as well as his laptop. Although Rodriguez never asked investigators why he was being questioned, a forensic search of his computer revealed searches about Baldwin and Rogers.
After securing a warrant, a cell phone record search showed that he had spoken with Rogers twice on the night she went missing and then never called her number again.
Detectives pressed first about Baldwin. Rodriguez claimed that after having consensual sex with her she pulled out a knife and threatened him. He said he killed her in self-defense. “I just panicked,” he can be heard saying in a police tape obtained by "One Deadly Mistake."
However, his calm demeanor in Walmart and lack of defensive cuts from the alleged knife fight refuted his claims.
After conferring with Baldwin’s family and getting their go-ahead, investigators offered to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for information from Rodriguez about what he did with Rogers.
“They offered him an opportunity to save his own life,” an official told producers. Rodriguez seized it.
Rodriguez said he met covertly with Rogers for consensual sex. He said she told him that she was just 16 and threatened to blackmail him. A fight supposedly ensued and he claimed he killed her in self-defense. He then stuffed her inside a suitcase and tossed it into a dumpster.
His way of disposing his victims earned Rodriguez the moniker, the “suitcase killer.”
Lubbock townspeople turned up in droves to search for Rogers in the city’s garbage dump. After five days, against all odds, they found her remains.
Rodriguez eventually decided to withdraw his guilty pea, which meant the death penalty was still an option for him, reported KCBD at the time. In the 2008 trial, the state also brought forward several women who said Rodriguez had sexually assaulted them in the past, according to a separate KCBD article. The jury returned with a guilty verdict after a short deliberation.
On March 27, 2018, one day after his 38th birthday, Rodriguez was executed.
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