A suburban drug dealer is accused of kidnap and murder.
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:
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:
After repeated unanswered phone calls to her son, Nick’s mother, Susan Markowitz, 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:
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:
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:
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.