Jennifer Cave was an American college student who was murdered in the West Campus area of Austin Texas. Her body was discovered on August 18, 2005 in what was deemed the "most infamous West Campus crime".
Jennifer Cave was originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, and was one of 5 sisters in her family. In 2002, she graduated from Mary Carroll High School and in August, she moved to San Marcos, Texas to start college at Texas State University, planning to study finance.
Jennifer dropped out of college after only one semester and began working at an Austin, Texas restaurant, while briefly picking up some courses at Austin Community College. She got a new job working as a legal assistant at a law firm.
Colton Pitonyak was a finance major at the University of Texas, Austin, who was originally from Greater Little Rock, Arkansas. He had attended a Catholic school for boys in Little Rock for high school. He was a star student, a National Merit Scholar and one of 166 finalists in the state. His high grades lead him to a scholarship at UT. However, while there, he got involved with drugs, landing a stint in rehab and being arrested when police found cocaine and illegal prescription sleeping pills on him. However, he had no history of violent crime.
Laura Hall was a student at UT Austin, as well, and Colton's ex-girlfriend. She lived in Bandera, Texas with her parents and had plans to take the LSAT to become a lawyer.
THE MURDER AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
On August 16, 2005, Jennifer and Colton went out for dinner in Downtown Austin to celebrate Jennifer's new job. But the next afternoon, Jennifer's mom got a call from Jennifer's new employer who told her that Jennifer never showed up for work. Her mother was surprised, as her daughter had been so excited about her new law firm job.
Her mother, Sharon, made various phone calls to her friends, including Colton, who said he had last seen Jennifer at around midnight. The following day, Sharon and her fiance, Jim, drove to Austin with the hopes of finding Jennifer. They visited Colton's apartment, but he wasn't there. He and his ex-girlfriend, Laura, had fled the city the previous day. Shady.
They had driven to Mexico using Laura's car and crossed the border on August 18. A Mexican SWAT team discovered the 2 in a Holiday Inn on August 23, and they were driven to the border, met by U.S. Marshals who arrested Colton, but allowed Laura to leave.
On the second day of their visit, August 18, 2005, Sharon slipped a window lock and Jim climbed inside of Colton's abandoned apartment. While searching the home, they found an absolutely grisly scene: Jennifer was dead in his bathtub. She had been shot and stabbed numerous times. Her hands and head had been severed and wrapped in a garbage bag left inside of the tub. Another bullet had been found fired through her severed neck.
Colton's cell records indicated that he had called Laura at 3:30 AM on August 17, and again in a 13 minute conversation at 6 AM. Later that day, he went and purchased a hacksaw, garbage bags, cleaning products, and robber gloves. At the same time, Laura went and washed her car and filled the tank.
During his trial, Colton said he did not remember shooting Jennifer, but realizes he must have done so. He explained he had been suffering with substance abuse, and his meet up with Jennifer had been at the tail end of a days-long drug bender. He said he passed out and found Jennifer's body in the bathtub, and called Laura in a panic.
It was Laura, his ex-girlfriend and aspiring lawyer, allegedly, who came up with the plan to dismember Jennifer. She made a list of items they need. It was also her idea to flee to Mexico, where they stayed for 5 days before being caught.
Laura did not testify in her trial, but her attorney painted a much different picture of the crime. Her crime, he claimed, was loving Colton "too much", and her irrational, blind love for him allowed for her to do anything to protect him from harm. Okay, sure, but still an accomplice, my friend? He argued there was no evidence she was involved in Jennifer's dismemberment, though her DNA was found on her sandals, a blue towel, and the pistol used to shoot her. The hacksaw, knife and machete only matched Colton.
Though the prosecutors had 2 clear suspects, the physical evidence didn't make sense, and the motive was never clear. In Laura's trial, they had to focus their arguments on alleged conversations she had with a cellmate. Allegedly, she bragged about the crime, saying she had been the mastermind behind the ultimately aborted dismemberment plan, and said she didn't understand "what the big fuss was about" because Jennifer was "nobody".
"It was the post-murder behavior that made it so grotesque," Bill Bishop, the prosecutor, said. "The mutilation was anger. It wasn't any effort to hide the body or get rid of the body. It was just playing with it, like it was a toy." In somewhat relieving news, it is believed that she was killed from the shot to her chest that killed her instantly. She would not have felt the post-mortem mutilation and torture that the ex-couple put her through.
On August 23, 2005, Colton Pitonyak was charged with Jennifer's murder. He was officially convicted of the crime on January 29, 2007. He received a 55-year sentence, and will be eligible for parole after 50% of his sentence is served. He will be 51 when he is eligible for parole for the first time.
Laura Hall was arrested in September 2005. In 2007, she was convicted only of tampering with evidence and hindering Colton's apprehension, and sentenced to 5 years. (The tampering with evidence is from the PARTIAL DISMEMBERMENT OF JENNIFER'S BODY. THAT IS MORE THAN TAMPERING WITH EVIDENCE, THANKS!) It is believed her light sentence was because her father had made an emotional appeal.
It was also because the jury simply couldn't understand what happened. It is hard to believe that someone's friends, with no reasonable or apparent motive, would murder them so brutally with no emotion.
In 2010, a Travis County, Texas jury re-sentenced Laura to the maximum possible sentence, which mandated 11 years behind bars, but she was credited 2 years for time served. She was up for parole in late October, 2011, but was denied. She was denied in 2014 and 2016, as well.
On March 15, 2018, she was released on parole. Part of the requirements include GPS monitoring, not being able to go to Travis County, and not being allowed to make any contact with Jennifer's family until the end of her planned prison sentence, which was August of 2018.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?
This case is so weird. I never condone murder, of course, but a murder with absolutely not a shred of motive is so bizarre and mysterious and for that reason, all the more insane. There are many discussions about Jennifer Cave throughout the internet, and books, podcasts and other literature on the subject. Many people have theories about what actually happened at that apartment.
In one discussion, a user focuses on the absolute brutality of the murder. She was shot in the head after her head had been removed. She was stabbed post-mortem. This, they explain, indicates extreme rage. They believe that Colton didn't do it, instead, Laura did. Colton had no reason to be so enraged with Jennifer, but perhaps Laura would if she felt that Jennifer was moving in on her property. Because he said he was extremely high and out of it, he wouldn't remember enough to be able to testify against her, and she could have used that against him in her defense. Once he came to, Laura could have lied to him and said he shot her, and the 2 devised a plan together.
But others believe that the first shot was a total accident. The fatal shot went through her arm and into her heart - not exactly a planned shot. Perhaps while drunk or high or otherwise incapacitated, Colton accidentally shot her, and panicked when he learned what he had done. (His first call wasn't until 3:30 AM, and they had just gone to dinner before her first day of work in the morning. I wouldn't imagine she was there until 3:30, alive.) Perhaps he passed out, woke up and realized what he had done, and called Laura for her help, which is when it got out of hand. The mutilation and dismemberment could have been less about brutality and anger and more about trying to clean up.
Their demeanor is a big focal point for internet sleuths, as well. Many believe that it seemed like Colton was genuinely mentally ill, off of medications, sick in some way, while she seemed to be cold and unaffected. Because of this, many people learn toward the theory that she was involved in much more than just what she was convicted for.
Ultimately, I think the both of them deserved the same sentence. To me, it does seem like the actual murder was an accident, however that went down. But Laura helped a man dismember a human body in a bathtub, and then drove him to Mexico. Colton shot somebody and then used a hacksaw to remove her head. The head was shot after it was off. The 2 of them are the only ones who know what happened, and why, and I think the world is a lot less safe with someone like Laura Hall freely walking around. Some people who live in her area and know her personally corroborate that she is very emotionless and indifferent about her involvement in the grisly crime.
What we know? A young girl with a new, exciting job was shot and dismembered in a friend's bathtub after a celebratory dinner. Her parents had to find their daughter's headless, mutilated body and alert the police. Those 2 facts are enough to make me want Hall and Pitonyak to be behind bars forever.
Thankfully, the man who took the life of an innocent woman is behind bars. But his accomplice walks free, while the victim's life was cut short for no reason at all. Rest in peace, Jennifer Cave.