Texan John Poulos arrested for murder of Colombian DJ found in suitcase

CAUCA, Colombia — U.S. citizen John Poulos, 35, was arrested last week in Panama by Interpol agents for the alleged murder of his fiancée, a celebrated DJ from Bogotá. The body of 21-year-old Valentina Trespalacios was found in a dumpster in the Fontibón district of the Colombian capital on January 22, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Trespalacios’s remains had been placed in a “blue plastic-lined travel case, which was well packed in a white plastic bag”, Semana magazine reported officials say, and the body had been found by a homeless man rummaging in the trash. Prosecutors also noted that Trespalacios’ cell phone was found in a garbage can at Bogotá’s Dorado International Airport.

Authorities listed Trespalacios’ cause of death as “mechanical strangulation” and added that the autopsy indicated she had also had intercourse with her killer shortly before her death. There were also bruises on her lips, cheeks, back and arms.

Texas-born Poulos was almost immediately extradited to Colombia, where the divorced father-of-three denied all charges.

Poulos was trying to board a flight from Panama to Turkey when he was apprehended to the Colombian police, which also published photos of the tickets allegedly in Poulos’ possession at the time. His final destination was apparently Montenegro, which currently has no extradition treaty with the US

The murder of the popular DJ, who was a fixture in clubs across the country, has sparked so much outrage in Colombia that the lawyer representing Poulos decided this week to drop the case due to the number of death threats he had received.

The victim’s brother, Daniel Trespalacios, who also acts as a spokesman for the family, told The Daily Beast that his sister had been “very sensible from an early age”. He also said that the remarkable DJ was ‘our’ [family’s] financial support” and that she “dreamed to one day buy a house for our mother”.

Daniel, the eldest of the four Trespalacios siblings, also described his sister as a “warrior” who was “very focused on her future.”

Eva Manjarrez, a Medellin student who was part of Trespalacios’ circle of friends, told The Daily Beast: “I have always paid attention to her shows. I admired her a lot and I was shocked that one day she performs and the next day they find her in a dumpster… It hurts a lot. The whole artistic union of DJs and [her] other friends are furious.”

Manjarrez also said that Trespalacio had told her she adored her “novio” (fiancee) and was excited about their marriage and subsequent life together.

“What I do know is that Valen[tina] loved him very much,” said Manjarrez.

According to the victim’s family, Trespalacios and Poulos met through the dating app Tinder about 10 months ago. Poulos, who was reportedly a financial advisor, had subsequently made several trips to Colombia where he made a good impression on her loved ones.

John Poulos held by the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia.

Office of the Attorney General of Colombia

“He seemed like a nice person,” said family spokesman Daniel, who helped police identify photos and videos of Poulos, which ultimately led to his arrest in Panama.

“Once he took my mother and my two brothers out for dinner in a restaurant in a very good neighborhood in Bogotá. And he turned out to be a good man. He promised my sister that he would come back and get married,” said Daniel.

But before the wedding, Poulos began to show signs of jealousy, according to prosecutors.

At a hearing earlier this week, prosecutor Daniel Gómez Acuña said Poulos had hired a private investigator to follow his fiancée over “suspicions” of infidelity he had about the relationship.

“Poulos had sexual relations with Valentina Trespalacios and proceeded to violently beat Miss Valentina’s body with his own fists, then apply pressure with his hands around her neck until she died,” the prosecutor said.

The prosecutor also accused Poulos of seeing the victim as “his personal object” and “that’s why he controlled… her actions, her personal friendships, [and] kept an eye on her [social media] networking.”

Reportedly provoked by the reports of the detective he hired, Poulos returned to Colombia on January 19. He had told Trepalacios and his family that he was coming to buy an apartment and move to Bogotá after the wedding. But the family now says this was just a cover he made up to set up a foul play against their daughter.

The more we know, the worse it is, because my sister’s last moments were very difficult.

“He said he was getting married, he was going to buy an apartment and it was all a lie,” Daniel said. “He told my sister that they would only stay there for a month or two while they looked for an apartment. But now we know from the researchers that that was not the case. He had also rented a car for only [the same] three days. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

Daniel said Poulos picked up the victim along with her luggage from her family home on Friday and drove her to the Airbnb rental. Trespalacios performed a show at a club called Nexus later that same night, before returning to Poulos’ apartment.

“It was my 13-year-old brother who [last] contacted her before her death,” Daniel said. “Saturday at 11pm they had a video call until 12am. Then nothing is known until Sunday 2 p.m. when [she’s found] in a dumpster in Fontibón.”

Daniel was not home that day when his stepfather came to pick him up. “When I get in the car, he says to me, ‘They killed your sister.’ I said, ‘Who killed her, who did that to her?’

“He told me, ‘It was that gringo bastard,'” Daniel said.

John Poulos is arrested by the Panamanian National Police.

National Police of Panama

“The more we know, the worse it is, because my sister’s last moments were very hard,” he said. “Imagine that huge guy sitting on top of her, strangling her… And then he put her in the trunk. Imagine. She’s skinny but she’s tall and that trunk is super small. Poor thing. He must have broken her bones to put her in there,” adding, “He’s a beast, that man is the worst.”

Poulos has been charged with femicide – defined as “killing a woman or girl, especially by a man and because of her sex” – which would result in a minimum of 40 years in prison if convicted (Colombia does not have the death penalty) .

Retired US federal agent Mike Vigil, who has been stationed in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America for decades, said detectives in the region often take a lax attitude to crimes against women.

“Authorities in Latin America often dismiss femicides,” said Vigil, who described it as “an acceptance of toxic masculinity” in local law enforcement.

Trespalacios’ celebrity may have spurred Colombian law enforcement into increased police efforts due to public outcry. In the aftermath of Trespalacios’ murder, social media users wasted no time comparing security camera footage of Palacios’ body tucked into the briefcase with images from Netflix’s popular Jeffrey Dahmer series, which features the titular character. with a similar case for the same purpose.

“If he had nothing to do with it, he would have stayed here to show his face and support us and find out what happened to my sister,” said Daniel, who vows to find his sister’s killer before to see the court come.

There are other pressing concerns for the family at this time, especially since Valentina’s musical talents have been the family’s main source of income.

“We are humble, we have no money,” said Daniel. “I really didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

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