A college student is found dead in Tijuana.

Smiling Jayson Artis with a pencil mustache

Jayson Artis

Medical examiners covering the body of Jayson Artis

Jayson’s aunt identified his body

CASE DETAILS

Tijuana is one of Mexico’s most popular border towns for college students looking for fun at bargain rates. But a good time here can cost you your life.

Autopsy report of Jayson Artis

Controversial autopsy report

August 1, 1998. 1:30 a.m. Steven Thomas was looking for his 20 year-old brother Jayson in the crowds of partiers. They had become separated while heading back to their car.

An hour and a half after Jayson disappeared, a Tijuana police officer discovered his battered body in the road.

Jason’s aunt, Teena Martin-Smith, thinks she knows what happened:

“Jayson was drinking, and he was loud and obnoxious and maybe out of control. That night, I believe that Jayson was murdered by the Tijuana police.”

Jayson Artis was attending college in Los Angeles. He brought his younger brother, Steven, out for a visit and a good time south of the Border. Saturday night, the main drag was packed. For many, the loose drinking laws here were the biggest attraction.

About 9:00 pm, Jayson, Steve, and their friend Michael Justin started bar-hopping, hitting places that offered all you could drink for less than $5.00. Jayson was usually friendly, but he had a reputation as a rowdy drinker. That night, he was already a little intoxicated and didn’t realize that tequila cost extra—$6.00 a shot. Jason’s friend, Michael Justin, says that Jason got into an argument with the tequila vendor:

“Jayson didn’t want to give up the money, so I just said, ‘Jayson, give him the money. Just give him the money and let’s get out of here.’”

Jayson in the back seat of a police cruiser

Jayson was later seen in a police car

Jayson and Steven left Michael at the bar and went back to the strip. Jayson’s brother, Steven, recalls what happened next:

“My strategy was to hurry up and find the car so we can go sit down. We’re kind of drunk, you know what I’m saying? Walking around Tijuana. We were walking down the street, and that’s when my brother accidentally bumped into a female officer.”

The officer seemed to be offended and made Jayson get on his knees. Eventually, the police let him go. Steven says he tried to get his brother to move on as quickly as possible:

“I told him, ‘Walk behind me. Come on. Let’s hurry up and try to find this car.’ He was, like, three or four yards behind me at first. That’s when I walked up some more to another block. I looked to the right, and I looked behind me and my brother wasn’t there. My first reaction was probably that he’s sitting down on a curb somewhere or sitting up against a building, anything like that…”

A car with its headlights pointing towards a silhouetted man

Did Jayson die in a hit-and-run accident?

Soon after Steven lost sight of Jayson, Michael claims that he spotted him in the back of a police car:

“I looked, and I said, ‘What is he doing in the back of a police car?’ They were the last people I saw Jayson with. I saw Jayson with my own eyes in the back of a police car, like I know my hand.”

Michael and Steven never saw Jayson again. Jayson’s family was shocked when two days later, the American consulate sent word that he was dead. Tijuana authorities told Jayson’s family that he must have gotten lost trying to get back to the border. They called it a tragic hit-and-run accident. But Steven doubts that story:

“I believe that it had something to do with the police. I feel that for a fact. After Michael told me that he’d seen my brother in the back of a police car, there’s gotta be something up there.”

Tijuana police deny the allegation. Roberto Sanchez, from the Public Safety Dept. of Tijuana, claims Jayson was never in custody:

“We check and double-check almost the whole month of August, and there is no detention with that name. Sometimes it happens that they mis-write the name in our computer, so we run it with the three names. We found nothing.”

Man with a camera taking a photo of Jayson during his autopsy

Photos were taken during the autopsy

Jayson’s family obtained a copy of the autopsy report through the American consulate and had it translated into English. Jayson’s aunt, Teena Martin-Smith, was not convinced:

“Nothing was adding up. First of all, they stated that Jayson was hit by a car, and we had these conflicting things. We had the photos of him with no injuries to his lower extremities, with these unexplained five-inch marks all over his body and chest area and in his face.”

Unsolved Mysteries asked three forensic pathologists to review the report. One agreed with the hit-and-run finding. The other two, however, questioned the official results.

Dr. Jacob Turner was one of the pathologists:

“I would be very skeptical of the autopsy findings, and the assertion that this was simply a hit-and-run accident. One has to apply a high degree of skepticism to the entire autopsy, in my view.”

For instance, the Tijuana coroner claimed the car had hit Jayson so hard in the chest that it ruptured his heart. Dr. Turner doesn’t think this was the case:

“In order for a blunt blow to get through the sternum and rupture the heart, it would have to virtually crush the chest, and it’s quite evident from the autopsy that chest is not badly mashed. There are no bruises on it, there are no big hematomas. So that becomes incredible, the autopsy report becomes incredible.”

Dr. Turner is also of the opinion that Jayson’s head wounds were similar to those caused by a beating:

“Certainly the lesions around the head and the skull, which were severe, are certainly consistent with the butt of a rifle or any other sharp or even blunt object that could be used on an individual.”

Jayson’s aunt, Teena, agrees with Dr. Turner’s assessment:

“I believe that he was beaten, and after he was beaten, perhaps in an attempt to destroy the evidence, that they perhaps ran over and/or drug him. And I believe that when he was run over, that he was already dead.”

Tijuana authorities say the case is still under investigation. But they also say, they believe that Jayson’s family may be overreacting. According to Roberto Sanchez of the Public Safety Dept. of Tijuana:

“We have had responses from the families in conflict with the autopsy and the statement from our department. Even sometimes where there are witnesses of an accident and there is a driver responsible for the accident, there have been some families stating that they are not accepting that was an accident.”


 

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season ten with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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16 Comments

  1. Fox

    RIP cousin. His story is the main reason you’ll NEVER catch me in TJ.

    Reply

  2. Mike J ... Nickname (New York)

    Jayson was my friend. We called him Byrd. They killed him that night in Tijuana. It was actually more of us on that trip that night. We didn’t want to be in the TV show though. Byrd’s little brother had just came to Cali that day. We all went to TJ that night. We hey kind of have the story a lil wrong on the show. We all knew that when you go to TJ you take a couple a few xtra 20’s for the police. They always catch you pissing and make you pay them not to take you to jail. We always left all our jewelry on the American side in our cars where we parked. They are real thirsty out there. So it’s better not to show off at all. Byrd didn’t want to leave his gold watch in the car. We told him he shouldn’t wear it. The story about him bumping into a female officer is false. He got caught taking a piss in the streets by the female cop. He tried to give her a 20 like everyone does. But she wanted his gold watch. Byrd told her He’ll No , I’m not giving you my watch. She persisted that he would go to jail if he didn’t hand it over.. He took out another 20 and said that’s the best you get! She got angry cursing us out in Spanish. Then she just walked away.. We thought it was over. We continued into another bar. When we came out we were all walking and talking. Then Byrd was just gone. It was like he vanished. We went crazy looking for him. We walked the blocks of TJ until the next morning looking for him. The story about us telling him to wait there while we go get the car is false. We were parked on the U.S side of the border. We would never drive into Mexico. We never left him alone. That makes no sense. They grabbed him while we were walking. It’s thousands of people on the street. It’s no way he got hit by a car and nobody noticed it. They killed my friend. It wasn’t until we got back to LA and his brother got a call from the Mexican embassy about Byrd.. That was 3 days later. He was murdered. Take it from someone who was with him.

    Reply

  3. Pandora

    In the Military we would party there all the time. We all knew that you stay together and to take and hide extra money. The police were paid next to nothing and would and did take money from the Gringos. You did not fight down there at all. We watched out for each other if someone got too drunk. Another Marine in our unit did get arrested because he did not have money and got loud with the police. They beat the crap out of him in jail. His face was so swollen that he could not see. They claimed he was intoxicated and had been fighting when they found him. They claimed the injuries were not a result of their doing. He can’t remember what happened in jail but he was not like that when they took him away. Don’t get drunk in TJ. without a payoff to the police.

    Reply

  4. Oscar Beltran

    As myself being of Mexican descent, Mexico is a very dangerous country. Country full of crime and corrupt people. I havent been in 30 years and i speak the language and have family down there. Truth is those people take it to heart when citizens of the US go down there act obnoxious and or think they can treat the Mexican people like theyre less. Not saying this was the case, js its been cases like that. I truly feel sorry and embarresed for these nightmarished accounts. Heart goes out to the family. If you go to Mexico, be accompanied by a local,dont go alone and dont act a fool. Mexico is not the Mexico from the 80s …theyll dissapear you in a blink of an eye!!!

    Reply

  5. Alyse

    I’m sorry about the loss of your Uncle. I remember watching the episode about his story when it first came out, and I believe that your Great Aunt’s suspicions about how he actually died are correct. Be careful out there young lady.

    Reply

  6. Alyse

    Note to Self: Don’t get drunk in Mexico! They did this brother so dirty!

    Reply

  7. Anonymous

    I was in TJ in 1998, my friend and I were in a bar about 2 pm on the strip. Bae was trying to get us drunk similar to Jason, Mariachi thought we were drunk I was 22 and completely sober bc I was in unfamiliar territory. The mariachi said the play x amount of songs for us which was not true, they demanded a large amount we gave everything we had and left. We walked out of bar out of strip and they whistles for police, police said if we didn’t pay them as well as mariachis they would beat my friend and rape me. I had 1000.00 in my bra and gave them whatever was in my pocket. I don’t know how I talked us out of it but we got let go. They are shady as hell

    Reply

    • Ann

      I’m so sorry for what happened to you and your friends. I’ve heard so many similar stories. You are very lucky.

      Reply

    • Melody

      This is EXACTLY why you dont go globe-trotting to unsafe countries! People are kidnapped down there EVERYDAY and never seen again! That alone tells me NOT to go and party in Mexico! I dont understand people! I hear about people in a North Korean prison or people in jail in Iran, and they are ALWAYS surprised at their situation and crying! Well WHY in the name of God and all that is holy did it sound like a good idea to vacation there?!?!?! Common sense doesnt kick in before you book your flight?!

      Reply

  8. Blue bird

    I Think He Was Murdered

    Reply

  9. Anonymous

    WHY DID THE FEMALE COP PUT HIM ON HIS KNEES? IT WAS SOMEONE ELSE WHO DID THAT TO HIM OR SHE KNEW HIS FATE AND HE DIED RIGHT THERE WHICH IS WHY THERE ARE 5 INCH MARKS ON HIS UPPER BODY ONLY! HIS KNEES! THAT IS WHY HE HAS NO MARKS TO CORRESPOND WITHA HIT & RUN.

    Reply

  10. Shaniya Artis

    I am his youngest sisters’ daughter. He died right before she became pregnant with me. I never got to meet him. But i know i wouldve loved him

    Reply

  11. Angie

    Seriously!? His family is ‘overreacting’ about their loved one’s very suspicious death? Very professional. This is a prime example of why one should NOT go to foreign places like this. I feel for his family and I hope one day, the truth will come to light.

    Reply

  12. Ebony

    this story is not adding with the atuposy report at all.

    Reply

    • Chanita jackson

      What’s going on here? I think the police had murdered him but my question is this what had happened that night?

      Reply

      • Anonymous

        They killed him just like they do other Americans. Nothing will ever been done about people like that or that country. I’m sorry his family had to feel that pain for no reason.

        Reply