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Influencer Injected with Pool Cleaner, Encased in Cement and Dumped in Las Vegas Desert

Anonymous tips led investigators to missing influencer Esmeralda Gonzalez, whose body was found entombed in concrete in a wooden cube, and the people who killed her.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

In the fast-paced Las Vegas social media scene, 24-year-old Esmeralda Gonzalez was a rising-star influencer.

How to Watch

Watch Sin City Murders on Oxygen Sundays at 7/6c and next day on Peacock. 

“She was really living her best life,” Cinthia Maldonado, a KTNV Las Vegas journalist, told Sin City Murders, airing Sundays at 7/6c p.m. on Oxygen.

But on May 31, 2019, Gonzalez's rise came to a screeching halt. Her brother, Juan Gonzalez Madera, went to her home to check on her because she was struggling with her mental health. But she was nowhere to be found.  

Her door was unlocked, her car was in the driveway and her purse and wallet were inside the home. “I called my brother,” Madera told Sin City Murders. “We both agreed that we needed to call law enforcement.”

For more from Sin City Murders:
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Aspiring Musician Shot Outside Las Vegas Bar and Item Left Behind Is Eventually Tied to His Killer
Las Vegas Performer Strangled and Cut Off Dancer's Legs Before Burying Her in Cement

Investigators learned that Gonzalez’s boyfriend had called her family "and told them that he didn't believe that she was acting right," according to Tate Sanborn, a retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department homicide detective. "So, to help her, he took her keys so she couldn't go anywhere, and her cell phone," Sanborn told Sin City Murders.

Gonzalez’s home was in disarray, a sign that she wasn’t taking her medications for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Off her meds, she was known to have “challenges with her perception of reality,” said Madera. 

Upon discovering that Gonzalez had security cameras inside her house, detectives requested the footage for possible leads. While awaiting that, police learned more about Gonzalez.

Esmeralda Gonzalez featured on Sin City Murders Episode 104

Who was Esmeralda Gonzalez?

The influencer grew up in the historic Westside neighborhood of Las Vegas. She participated in beauty pageants, excelled at chess, and was ambitious. 

“She was a very driven young woman with her whole life ahead of her,” said Matthew Mosey, Gonzalez’s friend and ex-boyfriend.

Detectives canvassed Gonzalez’s neighborhood. One witness shared his security camera footage “that was concerning,” said Pam Weckerly, chief deputy district attorney at the Clark County District Attorney's Office. “She appeared to be in mental distress just prior to her going missing.”

The witness’ security recording, taken in the early morning hours on May 31, showed Gonzalez knocking on a neighbor’s door. “She was dressed in lingerie and high heels... and wasn't walking steadily,” said Sanborn. 

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Investigators learned that there had been a recent domestic dispute between Gonzalez and her boyfriend, who had taken her keys. Security footage from inside Gonzalez’s home showed that she was home alone before leaving and never returning. The boyfriend was cleared as a suspect. 

Detectives focused on Gonzalez’s work and her 300,000 followers. “When you put a picture out there that's instantly visible to hundreds of thousands of people, some of those people may want to cause harm,” said Sanborn.

Tips come in about missing influencer Esmeralda Gonzalez

At the same time, Gonzalez’s family posted flyers in the community and created a Facebook page about their missing loved one. Tips poured in, including one of special interest to investigators.

A local BMW dealer reported that Gonzalez had come to the business to get a key for her car. The dealership video showed Gonzalez in lingerie and appearing disoriented. 

Employees didn’t think much of it, according to Parker Brooks, a deputy DA at the Clark County District Attorney's Office. “They said, ‘Don't get us wrong, it was weird. But you know, it’s Vegas, so she could have been a stripper.’”

Detectives zeroed in on the fact that Gonzalez was accompanied by a man. He was identified as a neighbor who drove her to the dealership to get a new key. Police cleared him as a possible suspect, according to Sin City Murders. 

Investigators had a more complete timeline. Gonzalez visited the car dealership on the afternoon of May 30. In the predawn hours of May 31, she had knocked on a neighbor's door. After that, she disappeared. There was no activity on her bank accounts.

Christopher Prestipino Esmeralda Gonzalez Pd

Christopher Prestipino and Casandra Garrett emerge in Esmeralda Gonzalez case

On July 18, an anonymous lead came. The tipster said that Christopher Prestipino and his roommate Casandra Garrett had killed a woman.  

The source revealed that “they had injected her with a pool cleaner before taking her out to the desert in a U-Haul truck and dumping her,” said Sanborn.

RELATED: Sin City Murders Recounts Chilling Las Vegas Cases Ranging From a Missing Dancer to a Slain Rapper 

Prestipino was a stagehand at the Paris hotel on the Strip with a criminal history related to drug use, according to Weckerly. Investigators began following up the lead at U-Haul, where they found that Prestipino had rented a truck in early June.  

The rental contract revealed that Prestipino lived in Gonzalez’s neighborhood, “basically on the same street,” said Sanborn. “This was the break in the case.”

Witness says Christopher Prestipino "was acting really paranoid"

Meanwhile, another tipster told investigators to speak with Tricia Ott. When she spoke with detectives, Ott told them that Prestipino asked her to come to his home for help.

When Ott got there, she saw a U-Haul and “a big wooden box” in the garage, she told police in a recorded interview. “Casandra was cleaning the garage and she was whacked out of her mind.”

“She said that Chris was acting really paranoid, telling her this crazy story about this woman that he had at the house who freaked out,” said Sanborn. “He had to tie her up and he thought he killed her.”

Investigators determined that Prestipino had gone to Home Depot. He was seen on video purchasing wood, concrete, lime, screws, and more building materials. Prestipino’s cellphone records showed that he spent several hours in the desert on June 8.

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Police learned that Prestipino’s girlfriend Lisa Mort was in custody at a detention center on unrelated charges. They confronted her about Gonzalez, but she said she knew nothing.

Investigators flew to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Garrett was located at the time. She denied knowing anything. “I wasn't in the garage,” she is heard saying in a recording.

On September 20, investigators went to Prestipino’s house with a warrant to search the residence and to question him about Gonzalez. “He said he’d never seen her before,” said Sanborn.

The search of the house turned up no direct evidence, and the case stalled. Investigators made a deal with Garrett. If she’d lead them to Gonzalez’s body, they’d allow her to get her affairs in order before arresting her, according to Sin City Murders.

Christopher Prestipino Lisa Mort Pd

Esmeralda Gonzalez's body found, three charged

Garrett eventually agreed. On October 8, after a lengthy search of the Vegas desert, Sanborn found a large wooden crate that had been dumped.

After an arduous extraction process, a body was found entombed in concrete inside the wooden cube. Through DNA and a Rolex that was still on the victim’s wrist, it was determined to be Gonzalez.

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Prestipino, Garrett, and Mort were charged for their roles in Gonzalez’s murder. Garrett gave a statement, according to Weckerly, in which she said that a friend of Prestipino saw Gonzalez wandering the neighborhood and brought her to Prestipino’s residence.

“In her statement, Casandra said that Chris panicked because Esmeralda started acting strangely,” said Sanborn. “He had tied her to a stripper pole in his bedroom.”

He untied her and a struggle ensued that led to him striking her and injecting “pool cleaner into Esmeralda's body,” said Sanborn. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Gonzalez was strangled and injected with pool cleaner. 

The three suspects cooperated with the Clark County District Attorney. Mort pleaded guilty as an accessory to murder and was sentenced to two to five years in prison. Garrett pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 20 years with parole eligibility after eight years.

Under a plea agreement, Prestipino will serve a 10- to 25-year sentence for a second-degree murder charge and five to 15 years for kidnapping, with the sentences running concurrently.

To learn more about the case, featured as the show’s “Social Media Murder” episode, watch Sin City Murders, airing Sundays at 7/6c p.m. on Oxygen.