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Childhood Friendship Turned Doomed Romance Ends in Murder at a Texas Hunting Ground
Inez Santa Cruz was lured to a remote hunting ground to be murdered on the orders of her childhood friend and lover, Rosa Medina.
An unrequited love from a best friend spurred a woman to mastermind a murder. Rosa Medina’s plot to kill her friend, Inez Santa Cruz, was at the center of the newest Snapped, airing at 6/5 Sundays on Oxygen.
27-year-old Inez Santa Cruz was found shot to death, naked, with a bag over her head, in the middle of a hunting ground over Labor Day weekend 2012, in Edwards County, Texas, about 100 miles from San Antonio.
“The picture’s starting to form how this crime played out,” prosecutor Dorian Cotlar told Snapped. “It was a planned execution.”
Inez Santa Cruz's Body Is Found
A hunter, Mark Bauer, had called 911 to report the discovered body. He was with two other hunters, Tommy Darity and Troy Ryder, at the time.
Bauer told police he and Darity were together the night before when Ryder came over from a neighboring camp and they all spent the night partying. The next morning, Ryder left to go back to his camp, and about an hour later, Darity drove over to make sure he made it back OK. Darity then discovered Ryder by the side of the road looking at something.
“As I got closer on the ATV I could tell it was a body,” Darity told Snapped. “And I saw him right outside of his vehicle looking down. The first thing that came to mind was being so close to the border, you know, there was cartel. So I kind of panicked.”
Darity said Ryder refused to leave with him, so when he returned to camp, he alerted Bauer, who called 911. Ryder eventually showed back up at their camp when law enforcement arrived.
Ryder denied knowing the victim, whose identification had been found near her body.
“He was probably the most nervous of the group,” said former Texas Ranger Roger Dixon to Snapped. “To the point that at some point he had to go get some beer to calm his nerves.”
An autopsy revealed Santa Cruz’s cause of death to be two gunshot wounds to the back of the head. She also had benzodiazepines, an anti-anxiety medicine like Valium or Xanax, in her system.
Inez Santa Cruz and Rosa Medina's Relationship, Explained
When officers shared the news with Santa Cruz’s family in Arizona, her sister, Erica, was confused as to how this happened, since she believed her sister was with her childhood friend, Rosa Medina, in San Antonio. Erica herself had driven her sister to the airport on Saturday, September 1, 2012 — one day before she was found murdered.
Medina was one of Inez Santa Cruz’s basketball teammates in high school, and when Medina had issues at her own home, she stayed with Santa Cruz and her family. She even lived with the Santa Cruzs for some time. The family said what started as a friendship between the girls turned into a romance.
“It was during high school that Rosa fell in love with Inez,” Letty Padilla-Santa Cruz, Inez’s mother, told Snapped. “I would bluntly say, ‘Rosa, do you like Inez?’ And she’d say, ‘Of course I like her. I love her.’”
The family said the girls tried out a romance, but it didn’t work out, and by the end of high school, they were just friends again. After graduation, Santa Cruz joined the Navy, then got a job as a surgical tech at a hospital. Medina moved to San Antonio, Texas to live with her grandmother.
“Rosa Medina had children, but even when Rosa was in other relationships, she didn’t want Inez to be with other people,” Cotlar said.
Despite the distance, the family said Medina still had feelings for Santa Cruz.
“I think Rosa always wanted something more,” Erica Santa Cruz, Inez’s sister, told Snapped. “But the person my sister is, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my god, you like me, we gotta cut off this relationship.’ It was, ‘No, we can be friends.’”
Medina had gotten a job as a photographer, and in late August 2012, Santa Cruz offered to watch Medina’s kids for her as she photographed a wedding over Labor Day weekend.
Santa Cruz’s family was at a loss as to how Santa Cruz ended up dead, four hours away from where she was supposed to be.
Rosa Medina Leads Police to Troy Ryder
The Texas Rangers tracked down Rosa Medina to fill in the blanks.
“She said that there had been talk of Inez coming to visit Rosa over Labor Day weekend, but Inez had lost her debit card, and couldn’t get the money to pay for a plane ticket,” Cotlar said. “Rosa said Inez had told her, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be able to come.'”
Medina told the Rangers she was at a concert at the time of the murder with her children and provided photographic proof of the outing. She also admitted to knowing one of the hunters who found Santa Cruz’s body:Troy Ryder. Medina admitted she had been dating Ryder for about three months.
She turned over her phone for police to investigate.
“You would expect to see a lot of calls and text messages between Rosa and Inez, but there was not a lot,” Cotlar said. “That indicated to law enforcement that Rosa had deleted some items.”
Police received surveillance footage of a border patrol checkpoint that showed Ryder in his truck with a female who looked like Santa Cruz — but Ryder claimed to law enforcement the woman in his truck was a hitchhiker.
A subpoena of Southwest Airlines records showed Santa Cruz was in fact on the flight, as her sister said. Law enforcement reviews of security footage at the San Antonio International Airport also supported this.
“The video showed Inez and showed Troy,” former attorney general investigator Marty Baker told Snapped. “Just shows that they were together, prior to her being killed. That was a huge deal. It seemed like it took some convincing by Troy to get her to agree to go with him. She could tell something wasn’t right.”
Ryder was arrested and charged with capital murder. But police had no evidence to implicate Medina in the murder.
“The only connection between Inez and Troy Ryder in this tragic, senseless killing, is Rosa Medina,” Cotlar said. “And she continued to maintain her innocence.”
In a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, Ryder agreed to make a full confession to police.
He said in the weeks leading up to the murder, Santa Cruz was making blackmail threats to Medina to try to force her into a relationship — threatening to tell Medina’s family she worked at a gentlemens’ club. He said Medina was afraid if the truth was revealed she’d lose her kids, and she didn’t want a romantic relationship with Santa Cruz. So, Ryder agreed to kill Santa Cruz for Medina.
“Rosa promised me a life,” Ryder told police in taped interview. “I mean, a wife and kids — family, really.”
Ryder also told police Medina gave him benzos to use on Santa Cruz.
“She actually said she didn’t care how, just, ‘I don’t want her recovering in any hospital room,’” Ryder said in taped interviews with police.
When Ryder picked Santa Cruz up at the airport, he pretended to be Medina’s photography assistant, and insisted on driving her to where Medina was shooting. He also offered Santa Cruz an iced tea — her favorite drink — with crushed up benzos in it. He told police he’d hoped Santa Cruz would be dead by the time they arrived at the hunting grounds, but she was still awake, so he put her to rest in a trailer at the site — then went to the campsite with Marty Bauer and Tommy Darity, spending the night with them to establish an alibi.
The next morning, arriving at the trailer, Ryder told police Santa Cruz was still alive. He promised to drive her up to a different location on the grounds to get a phone signal. He told officers after he told her to get out and stand on some rocks to get service, he grabbed his gun and shot her in the head from behind. After she fell to the ground, he confessed to police he shot her a second time.
“They wanted to make it look like the cartel had got her, killed her, so he took her clothes off,” Dixon said. “He also put a trash bag over her head.”
Ryder was busy with Santa Cruz’s body as Darity drove up to him that morning, nearly catching him in the act. Despite this full confession, it wasn’t enough for officers to arrest Rosa Medina — more proof was needed.
Rosa Medina Arrested in Connection with Inez Santa Cruz's Death
Ryder was convicted of first-degree murder, and as part of his plea, is eligible for parole in 2042. Still, Santa Cruz’s family was upset by Medina’s lack of arrest, and didn’t buy the story that Santa Cruz was blackmailing Medina.
In June of 2019, seven years after the murder, police were able to examine Medina’s phone with new technology. Technicians were able to rebuild web pages she had browsed and restore deleted text messages. They discovered in the week before the murder, Medina was doing searches for date rape drugs, and how to make untraceable calls.
“The final thing that we found was a text that said, ‘I’m boarding my flight tomorrow, see you soon,’” said attorney general’s office lieutenant Erin Mitchell to Snapped. “That was exceptionally important when we came to showing that Rosa knew Inez was coming in.”
Rosa Medina was arrested for Inez Santa Cruz’s murder on June 29, 2020. The family was unwilling to face Medina in court, so prosecutors offered Medina a plea bargain for manslaughter.
Medina never confessed to the crime, but in April 2022, ended up pleading guilty.
“I wrote her a letter — she’s never responded,” said Letty Padilla-Santa Cruz, Inez’s mother. “That’s all I can say is why? And I guess I’ll go to my grave saying why.”
Medina is scheduled to be released in 2038. She’ll be 51 years old.
Watch new episodes of Snapped at 6/5c Sundays on Oxygen, or in the Oxygen app.