Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and infamous murders throughout history.
For the families of Gloria Villalta and Jose Lara, October will always bring back painful memories. It was eight years ago when Villalta’s teenage daughter Cynthia Alvarez and her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, murdered Villalta and Lara, then went shopping for a Halloween party with Villalta’s dead body in the backseat.
The story of their violent love is told on the latest episode of “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Life wasn’t easy for Cynthia Alvarez. Her father was deported back to Honduras when she was just a little girl, and she grew up in a mobile home in Compton, California, with her mother, stepfather and older sister Dayana Villalta. She claimed to suffer from learning disabilities and was enrolled in special education classes at school, reported the Los Angeles Times.
While they had a limited income, Alvarez’s stepfather, Lara, was the breadwinner of the family, and he made sure Alvarez had everything she needed.
“She had an iPod, a lot of clothes, and they took her shopping a lot. That was one thing that her stepdad liked to do,” Long Beach Press Telegram reporter Tracy Manzer told “Snapped.” “They kind of tried to make up for the fact that they lived in a slightly poorer neighborhood.”
But, according to Cynthia, her biggest problem was the abuse she suffered at home.
Alvarez claimed her mother beat her with a studded belt — or anything else she could find — for the smallest of offenses, according to the Los Angeles Times. Because Alvarez was partially blind and had diabetes, Alvarez said she was expected to clean the house, do the cooking and keep on top of her mother’s insulin treatment.
Defense attorney Carole Telfer would later tell jurors, “Mrs. Villalta essentially kept Cynthia as a slave for her personal use.”
Alvarez also alleged she was sexually abused by Lara. She said Lara had a history of touching her inappropriately and raped her in 2007 or 2008, according to court documents. Alvarez reported the incidents to authorities, but when pressed, she rescinded the accusation — she said, at the behest of her mother.
“My mom told me to lie,” she testified.
Lara’s family members would later vociferously deny the abuse allegations against him, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Alvarez met Giovanni “Johnny” Gallardo at Compton’s Dominguez High School in 2010. Like Alvarez, Gallardo had learning disabilities and was enrolled in the school’s special education program, according to court documents. He was diagnosed as having cognitive disabilities at the age of 13, and a later examination determined he only had an I.Q. of 57, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Alvarez and Gallardo began dating and fell hard for each other.
“Johnny treated me nice and gave me the love my parents never gave me,” Alvarez would later testify, according to the Long Beach Press Telegram.
According to Alvarez, however, Gallardo would soon show a dark side. She said he physically abused her, drugged her and threatened her with knives and guns, according to court documents.
Gloria and Lara didn’t like her daughter’s new boyfriend. The feeling was mutual. Gallardo said Gloria called the police on him and that Lara threatened him, according to the Los Angeles Times. When Alvarez told her boyfriend that she had allegedly been raped by Lara, he said they should kill him. When Gloria told Alvarez to break up with Gallardo, they started talking about killing her, too.
Alvarez and Gallardo began planning the murders of her parents in fall 2011. She was 15 years old and he was 16. On the afternoon of Oct. 12, Gallardo showed up at Alvarez’s mobile home with a “murder kit” that included a baseball bat, a mask and rubbing alcohol, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 58-year-old Gloria was home, preparing dinner.
As Gallardo waited for the perfect moment to strike, he and Alvarez communicated through hand gestures and notes written in a spiral notebook that detectives found at the scene.
“I am to (sic) scared. I cannot do it,” Alvarez wrote.
“What about if she going to her bed (sic). Can you kill her,” says another, and finally, “You do it.”
Alvarez would later admit writing the notes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Alvarez claimed she went outside while Gallardo attacked her mother, according to “Snapped.” When she heard her mother shout her name and Gallardo call for her, she stepped back inside and found her dead on the floor. Gallardo had strangled her, according to the Los Angeles Times. They dragged Gloria’s body into the bedroom, and Gallardo bound her body with tape, taking a gold bracelet off her arm.
Then, they watched TV and waited for Lara to come home from work.
When Lara arrived home, Gallardo was waiting for him. As Lara walked through the front door, Gallardo struck him twice in the face with his baseball bat.
“I just saw black stuff coming out from (Lara’s) head,” she would later testify.
When the 51-year-old began fighting back, Gallardo asked for help, and Alvarez picked up the bat and struck her stepfather in his lower body. She then handed Gallardo a knife, which he plunged into Lara, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Following the murders, Gallardo loaded the bodies into the back of Gloria’s Jeep Cherokee. The couple drove to a vacant lot in Long Beach, where Gallardo dug a grave — but it wasn’t big enough for both bodies, according to “Snapped.” They buried Lara and drove back to Alvarez’s trailer, her mother’s dead body still in the back of the Jeep.
Over the next several days, Alvarez and Gallardo stripped Lara’s trucks for parts and sold off Gloria’s jewelry. With the money they purchased beer, soda, chips and decorations for a Halloween party they were planning to throw for their friends. While the teenagers bought glow sticks and flashing skull lights, Gloria’s corpse sat rotting in the back of her Jeep, according to the Los Angeles Times. They would later bury her in a shallow grave in a vacant lot in the city of Norwalk, California.
Gloria’s body was spotted by a jogger on Oct. 15, 2011, but it was in such an advanced stage of decomposition, authorities were initially unable to identify her. Then, Lara’s boss contacted police on Oct. 17, 2011, after he failed to show up to work. After realizing that Lara — as well as Gloria and Alvarez — appeared to be missing, she called the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Authorities arrived at the scene and found the home in complete disarray.
“It looked like someone had come in, ransacked the home for the valuables and left,” prosecutor Kristin Trutanich told “Snapped.”
While investigators initially believed the home might have been burglarized, their theory changed completely when they found the notebook Alvarez had used to communicate with Gallardo.
As the investigation into Gloria and Lara’s disappearance began to gather steam, Gallardo’s mother brought him and Alvarez to the sheriff’s station to talk to authorities. They spoke to Alvarez first, who quickly told them what happened.
After learning his girlfriend had implicated him in the murders, Gallardo said, “Oh, damn,” before laying out every detail.
Though Gallardo tried to take the blame for the murders, he couldn’t help but implicate Alvarez in his concise retelling of events, how she had helped him plan the murders and participated in them.
“She wanted to be with me,” Gallardo told Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives, according to the Los Angeles Times. “That’s why we did this, ‘cause we wanted to be with each other.”
Although Alvarez was 15, and Gallardo 16, they were charged as adults and arrested on two counts of murder with special circumstances on Oct. 21, 2011, according to CBS 2 Los Angeles. Because of their age, however, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty.
When her trial got underway in spring 2013, Alvarez’s defense contended she was a lifelong victim of abuse, whether from her parents or her homicidal boyfriend. She claimed Gallardo acted alone when he murdered Gloria and Lara, and she sat by and said nothing because she feared him.
“She gave the jury the impression that throughout her entire life, she had been a victim of these three individuals that were a part of this case. And she was the only one that really was the victim here,” Trutanich told “Snapped.”
The jury was unmoved, and she was found guilty on all counts, according to prosecutor Eric Siddal.
Gallardo’s trial concluded at the end of the month with a similar verdict, guilty on all counts, according to the Orange County Register.
Over half a year would pass before Alvarez and Gallardo would learn their ultimate fates. The two teenagers were sentenced to life in prison in January 2014, according to CBS 2 Los Angeles. While Gallardo’s sentence carried no possibility of parole, Alvarez will be eligible for parole after 51 years.
For the whole story, watch “Snapped” on Oxygen.
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