Jesse James Hollywood
A suburban drug dealer is accused of kidnap and murder.
Jesse ordered them to kill Nick
Just north of Los Angeles, in West Hills, California, Nick Markowitz celebrated his bar mitzvah with dozens of friends and loved ones. It would be the last joyous occasion before tragedy ripped the Markowitz family apart. It all started with Nick's half brother, Ben, who was seven years older. For most of his life, Ben had been in trouble. And soon young Nick would be a victim of Ben’s world of deceit and betrayal.
Ben owed $1,200 to a man named Jesse James Hollywood, who was given his notorious name at birth. Jesse grew up in a loving middle class home and was given every chance to succeed in life. But somewhere along the way, Jesse went off track and turned to a life of crime. According to Commander Bruce Correll of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, by age 19, Jesse had amassed enough drug profits to buy his own house:
“Jesse James Hollywood was driving expensive cars. He was partying with his friends on nearly a daily basis. And he was living a rather lavish lifestyle for a young man without any legitimate means of employment.”
Nick’s body was in a forest
On August 6, 2000, Jesse allegedly decided to find Ben and collect what was owed to him. According to reports, Jesse and his friends cruised the West Hills area of Los Angeles looking for Ben. They could not find him, but they did locate his younger brother, Nick. According to Commander Correll, Nick Markowitz just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time:
“Witnesses say that they saw a van pull over, and, there was a physical confrontation, and young Nick was forced into the van… On that day… his only problem was that he had an older brother who had provoked the wrath of Jesse James Hollywood.”
After repeated unanswered phone calls to her son, Nick’s mother, Susan Markowitz, knew something was wrong:
“I was making Nick breakfast and went upstairs to get him, and he was not there. I paged him, and he did not return my page. I guess I must have paged him 100 times. I knew something was wrong.”
Police believe that Nick could not return his mother's call because he’d been kidnapped and taken to a home in Santa Barbara. There he would remain a hostage until his brother Ben paid his debt to Jesse James Hollywood. Ben, however, was in no rush to pay up:
“He's a real little guy. Very obnoxious. Just the type of guy you'd want to take his stuff. I didn't fear him. He was… just a little man. I was, like, $1,200? Yeah, sure, I'll get you later, buddy.”
Jesse was finally captured in Brazil
On the following day, witnesses reported seeing Nick at the Santa Barbara home. Jesse was not at the house. Nick was no longer bound nor gagged. According to Commander Correll, Nick's captors seemed to treat him like a guest:
“Nick was free to move around the residence. Young people did come and go from the residence, although they were told that he had been in essence kidnapped…he was not acting as they might expect someone that had been kidnapped… I personally feel that Nick had the expectation that at some point in time he would be freed.”
In the ensuing days, there was no reported effort by Jesse James Hollywood to exchange Nick for the money Ben Markowitz owed him. According to witnesses, Jesse realized the situation was quickly spiraling out of control. He telephoned his lawyer for advice. Commander Correll believed that Jesse came to a disturbing realization—if Nick was released and told authorities about the spontaneous kidnapping, Jesse could spend the rest of his life behind bars:
“We believe that as a result of that conversation, Jesse came to the conclusion that he would be in a better situation to kill Nick, as opposed to trying to return him.”
Hollywood awaits trial for murder
Authorities theorize that Jesse then contacted 21-year-old Ryan Hoyt, an acquaintance who also owed him money for drugs. Jesse allegedly offered Ryan a way to pay off his debt. On August 8th, police believe that Ryan Hoyt and two friends led Nick Markowitz to Lizard's Mouth, a remote area in the Los Padres National Forest, and killed him. Four days later, the body of Nick Markowtiz was discovered.
Within days, police arrested Ryan Hoyt and three accomplices for the crime. Police had been tipped off by a teenager who had seen Nick and his captors at the home in Santa Barbara. However, Jesse James Hollywood was nowhere to be found. Police believe publicity about the murder caused Hollywood to flee. At their trial, each of the four suspects claimed they acted out of fear of Jesse James Hollywood. However, that did not stop the jury from convicting each of them with crimes ranging from aggravated kidnapping to murder.
Jesse James Hollywood has been captured. Five years after he fled the area, FBI agents tracked him down to a small coastal village near Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. He and his pregnant girlfriend were sitting at an outdoor café when Brazilian police swooped in and grabbed him. Hollywood was turned over to U.S. authorities and flown back to California. He went on trial for murder and was found guilty. Jesse James Hollywood was sentenced to life in prison without parole.