A 23-year-old Colombian DJ named Valentina Trespalacios was found dead inside a suitcase in a trash can in Bogota, which led to an international manhunt for a Texas man accused of killing her.
The only suspect, John Poulos, 35, an American citizen, was arrested at an airport in Panama last week as he attempted to board a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Colombian authorities allege that Poulos murdered Trespalacios, who was allegedly his girlfriend, in a jealous rage, then disposed of her body.
Trespalacios was an up-and-coming DJ in Bogota, gaining recognition in a Colombian dance genre known as guaracha. She reportedly won the Breakthrough DJ of the Year award at the Colombia Dance Awards in 2019. But her rise to music stardom took a tragic turn after she met Poulos, a much older American man and father of three, who previously posed for a photo with former vice presidential Republican nominee Paul Ryan.
Trespalacios and Poulos were involved in a relationship for about 8 months and were planning on moving into an apartment together in Bogota, Trespalacios’ family told Colombian news outlet Caracol.
“He wanted to marry her, to make a life here with her,” Trespalacios’ mother told Caracol. “He was obsessed with my daughter, a bit jealous. I had a discussion in December with her and it was about jealousy.” Trespalacios’ brother alleged that Poulos hired a private investigator to follow the DJ to parties and track her movements.
Surveillance photos and witness testimonies of the final days of Trespalacios’ life paint a tragic portrait of the crime.
Poulos arrived at an apartment in the north of Bogota where the couple intended to live on Thursday, January 19, with a blue suitcase — the same one that Trespalacios’ body was allegedly later found in. On Saturday, the couple arrived at the apartment together with luggage carrying Trespalacios’ belongings into their new apartment, before heading out that night to a club.
The couple reportedly left the club in the early morning hours of January 21 and used a rideshare app to take them back to the apartment. The driver later told Caracol that he received a message from Trespalacios that said in Spanish: “Help, I’m in danger.” But when he asked her if she was alright, Poulos entered the vehicle, and she told the driver that she’d written it as an accident. The driver said that the couple appeared normal in the car, but perhaps a little drunk, and they left the car at 3:48 am on Saturday morning. That was the last time Trespalacios was seen alive.
On Sunday morning, surveillance video from the apartment showed a man that is believed to be Poulos carrying a large suitcase covered in a blanket, and putting it in the trunk of a rental car. Poulos later boarded a flight to Panama.
Trespalacios’ body was discovered soon after by a city garbage worker. Poulos quickly became the prime suspect and Colombian authorities announced an award of 20 million Colombian pesos, or roughly $4,500, for information leading to his capture. An Interpol red notice was also placed on the American man, which led to his arrest before he was able to board the flight to Istanbul from Panama. Poulos was returned to Colombia and is currently being held by authorities.
Colombian prosecutor Daniel Gómez laid out the police’s theory during Poulos’ first court hearing on Friday, alleging that Trespalacios was strangled to death by Poulos.
“[Poulos] had sexual relations with Mrs. Valentina Trespalacios and proceeded to beat her violently with his own fists,” said Gómez. “Then he exerted pressure with his hands around her neck until she died.”
Gómez alleged that the crime was a result of “jealousy” and “obsession” and that Poulos believed Trespalacios was his “personal object.” He alleged that Poulos threw the suitcase with her body into a trash can in “the hope that it would be dumped in a landfill.”
“With this rude way of manipulating the victim’s body, you affirmed your conviction that Valentina was a thing, an object, you dehumanized her,” the prosecutor continued.
Authorities charged Poulos with femicide and tampering with evidence. Poulos did not accept the charges. The hearing was postponed, but he will be required to enter an official guilty or not-guilty plea during his next hearing.
It’s unclear the status of Poulos’ marriage, but in 2018 former House Speaker Paul Ryan Tweeted photos of Poulos and his then-wife, along with their 6-year-old son who had beaten a rare form of cancer.
The post An American Allegedly Murdered His DJ Girlfriend in Colombia. Then He Tried to Flee. appeared first on VICE.