On June 10, 1998, employees working at a Phoenix Whataburger dialed 911 after they were startled by the sound of a gunshot coming from the back of the restaurant. When police arrived, they discovered a man in the men's room, armed and suffering a bullet wound to the head. Frank Alvarado Martinez, 69, had intended to commit suicide, but the bungled attempt left him with only a concussion.
In Martinez's pocket, investigators discovered three notes. Two were of little interest, listing instructions for his burial and relaying a message to a neighbor, but the third opened a case so bizarre, it's no surprise the story kicks off in a trailer park.
Martinez's mobile home, police discovered, was parked at the Sun Valley Trailer Park just across the street. In his note, Martinez explained how he had come home from work and discovered his wife Gloria dead. She had committed suicide, he explained, and police could find her body in the bedroom. Apparently, Martinez was afraid the authorities might think he had killed her and decided to take his own life rather than go to jail.
When investigators checked the trailer, they discovered Gloria right where Frank said she would be. To their surprise, however, she was not much more than a dessicated skeleton. Mrs. Martinez had been dead for a very long time. As it turned out, Frank Martinez had been living with his wife's decomposing corpse for more than 11 years.
Oddly, in all that time, no one at Sun Valley ever suspected a thing. Neighbors might have been tipped off by the resulting stench of decomposition, but Martinez had allayed their curiosity by telling them a cat had died under his trailer. Apparently, that was all the explanation they needed, even though the smell undoubtedly lasted for years. Investigators noted a lingering odor even at the time of the body's discovery. Martinez himself, despite liberal use of deodorizers, had taken to living mostly on his patio.
After an extensive investigation, police decided Martinez's story just didn't add up. Even though he explained in his note that Gloria had shot herself, Martinez later told police that a burglar had killed her. Inexplicably, he also said he used the same gun for his own suicide attempt as the one used in his wife's death, which raised the question of why the supposed burglar would have left Frank his gun.
What's more, when police found Gloria's body, she was strapped up with electrical cord and her wrists bound with string. Martinez insisted he had merely bundled her together so she would stay intact as she decayed. Investigators, however, believed he had tied her up in the act of committing homicide.
After all, it wouldn't have been the first time a shooting occurred in the Martinez household. In 1983, while living in California, Frank and Gloria got into an argument over their financial situation. Gloria allegedly began hitting her husband, an occurrence Martinez later said was fairly common, and Frank reacted by reportedly threatening her with a gun. A struggle ensued, leaving Gloria with a gunshot wound to the chest.
Gloria recovered and the shooting was subsequently ruled an accident, but the incident apparently had a lasting effect on Martinez, ostensibly leading to the secretiveness over his wife's death a few years later. He was afraid that if anyone found out, given past circumstances, he'd be accused of killing her.
Now, with Frank having fudged his own suicide attempt, that's exactly what happened. Authorities formally arrested Martinez and charged him with second-degree murder.
The judge in Martinez's case, however, couldn't find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As the defense attested, Gloria suffered from depression and was not taking her medication when she died, making it entirely plausible that she had indeed committed suicide. Moreover, the judge believed that if Martinez had killed her, he would have confessed in one of his suicide notes. As a result, Frank was found not guilty.
Though Frank Martinez died in 2001, just one year after his trial ended, he continues to have a lingering impact. If you want to use the bathroom at Whataburger #226 these days, you have to ask for the key.