HOUSTON – A 23-year-old woman has been arrested, and two suspects are on the run, in connection to the deaths of two men who were killed in late January.
What started out as a mysterious murder in the Heights area, and a search for a missing roommate, unraveled a case involving lots of drugs, money and a coverup scheme involving several young adults.
Kathy Vu, who appeared before a Harris County Judge on Friday, is charged with tampering/fabricating physical evidence.
Her boyfriend, Polie Phan, 26, and another man, 25-year-old Jaidan Vu Nguyen, are charged with capital murder. Neither is in custody at this time.
The investigation, filled with many twists and turns, began on Jan. 27 when Houston police officers were dispatched to the 1700 block of West TC Jester in reference to a “welfare check.”
A person told officers that his neighbors’ dog had been heard barking late into the night, and the next morning, he noticed a car had been running for an extended period of time in the garage, which was out of the ordinary. The neighbor said, after he went to check on things, seeing no one inside the running vehicle, he peered into the home and, once noticing blood, backed out immediately.
Upon arrival, officers entered the open garage, where a Toyota Prius was still running with the windshield wipers engaged.
Officers then entered the home through an unlocked door leading from the garage and, once inside, found blood on the walls and a man lying facedown in a large pool of blood. The man, later identified as Dana Ryssdal, 35, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Next to Ryssdal’s body were several cardboard boxes filled with marijuana packaged in airtight wrapping, investigators said.
“He did nothing, other than walk in the wrong door at the wrong time,” Ryssdal’s stepmother Connie Concetto told KPRC 2. “It’s devastated the family. We still are having a really tough time just wrapping our arms around that idea that he’s gone.”
Concetto said Ryssdal had only been in Houston for a few days and she learned from investigators that her stepson had just returned from the gym and was ambushed as he walked in on the suspects ransacking his roommate’s home.
Officers called for backup, and when more officers arrived at the scene, they discovered even more boxes of marijuana in various places throughout the home.
They also found a door to the closet under the stairs had been broken and forced open, and the attic above the second story had also been left open. There were also firearm projectiles throughout the residence.
In the freezer, officers found bundled stacks of cash, totaling $35,980.
HPD then put out an alert that James Gerald Martin III, 37, the friend and roommate who started as Ryssdal’s business partner, was missing.
“These were guys that really loved their families,” Concetto said. “That’s the most important thing, that they found out who did this and that they would be held responsible.”
Investigators said the two men were commercial marijuana farmers who operated a legal dispensary in southern Oregon.
“For him, he looked at it as the new Google,” Concetto said about Ryssdal. She described him as an entrepreneur who wanted to be on the ground floor of the trade in Oregon.
Martin, a native Houstonian, had recently decided to move back to Houston and was allegedly in the process of selling the out-of-state dispensary.
It was also said that the missing man, Martin, was the owner of the Prius and Ryssdal had a white Ram 3500 pickup, which was also missing.
Three days later, on Jan. 30, the pickup was located in the 6900 block of Cullen Boulevard, but there was still no sign of Martin.
On Feb. 1, officers discovered Martin’s body in the trunk of the Prius, which had been towed to a storage yard for evidence processing. The body had been in the trunk since the vehicle was discovered at the home, but no one checked it at the scene.
Investigators said Martin’s feet, ankles, and hands had been bound with duct tape, which was also wrapped around his head and face.
The deaths of both men were ruled homicides due to multiple gunshot wounds.
Through the use of the “Find My iPhone” app, investigators were able to track down the victims’ cellphones, which were located in the water of White Oak Bayou, near TC Jester.
Through extensive research, investigators were able to obtain surveillance video and phone records that linked Vu to the crime.
Investigators said it appeared Phan owed Martin money, which may have led to the deadly shootings, but during interrogation, Vu said it was the other way around.
Vu claimed Martin actually owed her boyfriend $40,000 after “a narcotics-related transaction did not go as planned,” according to documents.
Detectives said Vu told them Martin had threatened a lot of people, including her boyfriend, and in her opinion, “if anything were to have happened, it would definitely have been self-defense.”
Investigators believe Martin was lured to the parking garage at Vu’s apartment complex and was possibly killed at that location. The vehicle was then driven away, and Vu got busy with her part of the coverup. Detectives recovered a grocery store receipt showing that Vu purchased items including bleach, peroxide and trash bags to help wipe away physical evidence.
Charging documents summed Vu’s alleged involvement, stating that the boyfriend “communicated with defendant Vu before, during and after the capital murder in preparation for utilizing her garage and luring Martin into said garage to commit the murder.”
Vu’s bond was set at $40,000 and court records show she posted bond on Friday.
Houston Police are asking anyone with information about Phan or Nguyen’s location to call Crimestoppers.