A 55-year-old Los Angeles man pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he killed two missing women, including one whose body was discovered in trash bags along a roadside in Rosarito, Mexico, in 1996.
Aurangzeb “Simon” Manjra took a plea offer in exchange for pleading guilty to the first-degree murder of Glendale resident Esperanza Torio and the second-degree murder of 44-year-old Los Angeles resident Maria Santos, according to Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney.
“We are very pleased to bring justice and closure to the families after so many years,” Prosecutor Habib Balian of the district attorney’s Major Crimes Unit told the Glendale News-Press.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped a special-circumstance enhancement, which meant Manjra could have been sentenced to life without parole, Robison said.
Manjra faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison, she added.
Manjra was arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of killing the women, whom he reportedly dated before they went missing, Glendale police said. Although some of Torio’s remains were found in Mexico, Santos' body remains missing.
Torio's sister reported her missing on Aug. 16, 1996, when she failed to return to their Chestnut Street home in Glendale, police said.
As a single mother, Torio, 39, raised two teenage boys and had recently landed a new full-time job. She was preparing to move into a new apartment in Glendale but suddenly disappeared.
Police detectives investigated her disappearance, but there were few leads.
Manjra, who was a salesman, was a suspect, but investigators were unable to immediately link him to her disappearance.
Two days after Torio was reported missing, Mexican authorities found remains in three black trash bags in Rosarito. The head and feet were missing.
During a preliminary hearing, a Mexican officer testified that the cuts appeared to be have made recently. However, Mexican authorities didn’t know Torio was reported missing, so they didn’t make a connection.
Nearly a month later, a road worker found a black plastic bag containing a head with long black hair buried in some sand dunes, not far from where the body parts were found.
The following year in 1997, a Modesto police officer traveled to Mexico to get DNA samples from the body parts because she was investigating another missing person’s case and was trying determine whether it was the person she was seeking.
The DNA evidence didn’t match her case, but it was stored in a law enforcement database and remained there for years.
In 2009, Glendale cold case detectives reopened Torio’s case.
They took DNA samples from her family members and discovered that the samples matched the body parts found in Mexico.
Detectives began investigating Manjra again and discovered that he also dated Santos in 2004 — the same year she was reported missing to the Los Angeles police. But Santos was never found.
Manjra is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 29 for the women’s deaths.
Rocha writes for Times Community News.