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Tuesday, 20 May 2014 17:05

Ceres, CA, Man Found Dead in Auto Body Shop Freezer Reportedly Married to Suspected Killer

On April 14, 2014, Thomas Kroger (aka Thomas Cervantes), 49, was found dead in a chest-type freezer of an auto body shop in Ceres, CA, that was owned by his husband Jacob Cervantes, 26, who pleaded not guilty to the crime. Kroger’s death may have occurred anywhere between December 1, 2013, and April 10, 2014—his autopsy is pending. Police have not said how Kroger died.

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Kroger and Cervantes' wedding license noted that Kroger had been previously married for four years to Bernabe Garcia, who filed for divorce on June 21, 2013, but died a month later of gastric cancer. Kroger married Cervantes on August 13, 2014, just two and a half weeks later, according to public records.

Cervantes claimed he had no previous marriages, but records show he married Mindy Gutierrez in 2009.

When asked, Gutierrez refused to comment on her former husband’s case, stating she would not attend court hearings, according to the Modesto Bee.

 

A former neighbor of Kroger and Garcia in west Modesto, CA, said the two were a quiet couple. He’d see them gardening in their front yard or playing with their dogs, but everything changed about a month before Garcia died.

The neighbor, who declined to give his name, said he saw a sign posted on their front door noting that oxygen was in use inside the house, possibly an indicator of Garcia’s illness.

Around that time, Garcia filed papers with Stanislaus Superior Court to divorce Kroger, citing irreconcilable differences.

The neighbor said people he’d never seen before started coming and going from the couple’s home, including Cervantes. He said he saw Cervantes and another Latino man take furniture from the home and change the locks twice.

The neighbor said he last saw Kroger around August 2013, when he was yelling at some of the new people who appeared to have taken over his home. As many as 20 people were there at a time, said the neighbor, drinking alcohol at tables that had been set up in the front yard.

The neighbor said he last saw Cervantes at Kroger and Garcia’s former Woodland Avenue home in January or February of 2014.

Kroger was last known to live in the Modesto and San Francisco areas of California, and previously in Oklahoma and Texas. Cervantes has owned multiple auto body shops throughout Stanislaus County, CA.

Detectives are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Kroger’s next of kin or other family members, people who knew him, and potential witnesses. Anyone who is related to or knew Kroger, had contact with him, or has any information about him is encouraged to contact detective Derek Perry at 209-538-5730 or derek.perry@ci.ceres.ca.us. Crime Stoppers also can be called at 209-521-4636 (callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward) or texted at 274637 (type TIP704 along with the message).

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