Margarita Flores was already a mum of five and carrying her sixth baby. Then she met Josefina Sonia Saldana who claimed she wanted to help the hard-up mother with donations of furniture and nappies. In reality Josefina had more sinister plans, and neither Margarita nor her baby would survive them...
Some women were born to be mothers. And it appeared that Margarita Flores, 40, was one of those women. On 14 September 1998, when Margarita was 8 months pregnant with her sixth child, a lady arrived at her house in Fresno, California. She said her church charity wanted to donate baby furniture and a year’s supply of nappies. With all those children Margarita was certainly a worthy cause.
At about 1:30pm the two women left Margarita’s house heading to a warehouse to collect the donations. Margarita was due back in 20 minutes. The time passed with no sign. Her husband Heliodora waited and waited for his wife to return. So when she wasn’t back by 3pm, he called friends, family, and finally, the police. A kidnap investigation was launched. But why would anyone want to kidnap Margarita? Her family began to suspect that the lady from the charity wasn’t so kind after all…
Hours after Margarita left her husband, she was seen arguing with a lady identified as Josefina Sonia Saldana, 40, outside a Taco Bell restaurant, more than 30 miles away. The next morning, Josefina turned up at Valley Children’s Hospital with a dead foetus. She initially told officials that the baby was hers, that she’d delivered the child in a car.
DNA tests were done, and the results sent off to a lab. But police were suspicious and started asking questions. One person they spoke to was Josefina’s tenant, a farm worker who rented a shack on Josefina’s property. He made a startling accusation, telling police that he’d seen a corpse of an adult, wrapped in a carpet near his home.
Except when police went looking for this body, there was no sign of it. Was Josefina’s tenant to be believed? Further questioning was impossible. Because five days later, he himself was found hanged inside his cottage. Why had he killed himself? Did he have something to hide?
There was still no body. But with Margarita still missing, Josefina was arrested and accused of kidnapping. Josefina Saldana pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and awaited trial. The case shocked America. Friends and family talked of how trusting Margarita was. What a doting mother. But where was she now? And was she dead or alive?
The outcome was not a happy one. Nearly a month later, on 7 October, partial remains of a body were discovered almost 400 miles away in rubbish in Tijuana, Mexico. Fingerprints showed that the head, arm and foot belonged to Margarita Flores. Now, two murder charges were filed against Josefina Saldana – one for Margarita, and one for her 8-month-old foetus.
Margarita’s poor husband had to explain the heartbreaking news to their children. Left to explain to their 2-year-old son why mummy wasn’t coming home.
It wasn’t until March 2001, that Josefina Sonia Saldana appeared at Fresno Superior Court charged with kidnapping and murdering Margarita and her unborn baby.
She still denied all wrongdoing. But now her story had changed. Tests had showed that Saldana hadn’t been pregnant, as she’d said when she’d first arrived at hospital. DNA results showed that the baby wasn’t hers. Now she admitted that the child had been Margarita’s, and she’d agreed to sell her the baby.
The defence claimed Margarita had somehow induced her own labour, but it hadn’t gone to plan when she had a stillbirth. She said that Flores had died after they parted. The mystery deepened when the defence pointed the finger at Saldana’s farm worker tenant. They claimed he may have killed Margarita Flores and disposed of her body.
Prosecutor Blake Gunderson called the defence ‘sheer and utter nonsense.’ They said that Saldana had been sterilised years earlier after childbirth complications. But that when her lover, 15 years her junior, had announced that he would leave her unless she gave him a child, she’d taken drastic action.Befriending Flores, kidnapping her and cutting her unborn baby from her womb.
The jury deliberated for seven days before Josefina Sonia Saldana was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering pregnant Margarita Flores and her unborn child. She was facing a mandatory life sentence when just two days later she was found dead in her prison cell. She’d committed suicide. Two messages written in lipstick on her cell wall said: ‘Fresno, may God forgive you’ and ‘babies, I am not a murderer. I love you.’ Pleading her innocence to the very end..