It all started with a wealthy Texas businessman looking to retire in paradise. That plan took a very tragic turn when he met a young lover hiding a secret life.


Texas millionaire businessman Jake Merendino could easily measure his true wealth by his close circle of loyal friends.

"He was a gentle giant. He a big guy, kind as kind can be," Jake's friend Abbe Ricken tells Crime Watch Daily.

The well-heeled bon vivant enjoyed being the center of attention at any cozy get-together.

"He would have everyone in tears at the dinner party with his stories, literally in tears," said Abbe. "He was just so funny and he was always the life of the party."

"Jay," as he was affectionately called, made his fortune flipping houses. And with an inheritance to boot, he traveled abroad and had a showy watch collection.

"He liked to buy expensive toys," said Abbe.

And Jay had just plunked down $300,000 on a luxury oceanside condominium across the California border in Mexico.

"That was his next adventure," said Abbe. "He went there several times and fell in love with it, and so he wanted to build a condo there. He told me that it was a very safe area, that there were a lot of Americans living there."

Jay was living life large -- so big he was going to retire early and start a new life.

"Jay was going to be packing up a lot of his belongings and was planning on going to go to the condo in Mexico," said Abbe.

He made it clear too: Mi casa es su casa -- "My house is your house" -- the more the merrier.

"Jay had a lot of friends. I never thought of Jay as being lonely," said Abbe.

But the 52-year-old art connoisseur's best-laid plans came to a shocking and violent end on a rural highway in Mexico just miles from his opulent new digs. His throat was viciously slit. His bloody body was dragged and dumped like garbage 200 feet over a cliff.

"Jake was at the bottom of that cliff," said journalist Carmen Olsen.

Local reporter Carmen Olsen covered the headline-grabbing murder of the rich American who had been stabbed 20 times.

"Everybody got scared. Such a thing had never happened in Rosarito," said Olsen.

But who would want to kill such a kind, loving bear of a man? Mexican authorities were baffled. This is paradise, a resort town where life is literally a day at the beach.

But news of Jay's murder didn't travel across the Texas border as fast. Abbe Ricken is still haunted by the chilling phone call from one of Jay's close friends.

"She was crying and she said that Jay had been murdered. And I was shocked," said Abbe. "And she kept saying 'Abbe, he was murdered, he was murdered, I can't believe it, he was murdered.' And I sat down and I started crying. I was thinking that this had to be a mistake, that I would hear from Jay that they mistook him for somebody else."

It wasn't a mistake. It was a mystery. Jay Merendino didn't have an enemy in the world. But his killer showed real signs of rage.

"It sounded to me like it wasn't just somebody trying to rob him for a watch, it sounded more like it was somebody who knew him," said Abbe.

The FBI quickly stepped in to work with Mexican law enforcement since Jake Merendino was an American killed on foreign soil.

"The details are very eye-opening about to what extent they went to to cause harm to Merendino," said Michael Hughes, Merendino's estate attorney.

The last place Jake Merendino was seen alive was at Bobby's By The Sea Hotel, just south of Rosarito Beach. He went down to the lobby at 1 a.m. on May 2, 2015, and told a hotel worker that he had to go help a friend who was stranded by the side of the road. Merendino took off in his Range Rover, and never returned.

"Merendino's body was found on the highway five minutes from Bobby's By The Sea," said Michael Hughes.

Could it have been a random robbery, or a business deal gone bad? The list of suspects was thin.

"They thought that it was like a serial killer," said Carmen Olsen.

Then out of nowhere, a handwritten note surfaces and with a huge clue, a name that leads police to Mario Romo. His real name is David Meza. Meza had a secret side: David Meza was a male porn model. And Jay Merendino was twice Meza's age, and had fallen for him.

"Jay was extremely generous to this guy David. He gave him gifts, expensive gifts. That was Jay," said Abbe Ricken.

He even presented his boy toy with a souped-up motorcycle. So why in the world would Meza want his "sugar daddy" dead?

"The only thing that could come to my mind is money," said Abbe.

The last text Abbe Ricken received from her dear friend Jay Merendino before he was lured to his death on a rural road in Mexico near the U.S. border reads:

"Wonderful evening! Thanks so much! We'll see each other VERY SOON and talk!"

"He didn't deserve to die. He was a wonderful, fantastic man, bigger than life," said Abbe.

Mexican police are baffled by the vicious murder in this little piece of paradise, but Abbe quickly points the finger at one person.

"I actually said that 'I can't believe this was anyone besides David,'" said Abbe.

David Meza at the time was a handsome bodybuilder and porn model who was half Jay's age, boasting about his sexual prowess on a male porn site.

"I had asked Jay if he was going to marry David, and he said no. That was not even a consideration," said Abbe. "I said 'What are you going to so if it doesn't work out?' And he said 'Well, I'll just get another pool boy.' David, I think, was just somebody he was just keeping company with."

Then comes a shocker: David Meza has a girlfriend named Taylor Langston, and shortly before Jay's murder, this bombshell drops: Taylor is pregnant.

"To put another twist, he has a small child with his girlfriend. She was pregnant at the time of Merendino's death," said Michael Hughes, Merendino's estate attorney.

"I said 'What? What? And she's pregnant? She's having a baby?' I couldn't believe it, the story just got stranger and stranger," said Abbe.

Jay's boy toy and his baby mama quickly become the FBI's prime suspects. Cops claim David lured Jay from the beachfront hotel where they were staying, telling Jay his motorcycle had broken down and that he needed help.

"It seemed very planned to call ask him, to get him outside of the hotel into a secluded area," said Abbe.

Jake was stabbed to death in between the luxury condo that he had just purchased and the fancy hotel on the beach that he was staying at with his boyfriend.

"Meza denied killing Jay Merendino, but admitted to agents that he had called Merendino in the early-morning hours, and he had met Merendino at the bend in the road described by Mexican officials as the spot where Merendino's body was found," said Michael Hughes.

Then Meza allegedly tells the FBI this story:

"Meza stated to FBI agents that he meant to rob Merendino, but that he got cold feet and left. That was his story," said Hughes. "Meza also said that he called Langston, his girlfriend, and enlisted her assistance in robbing Merendino. Not a very accomplished criminal. Not one to come up with a good alibi either. Alibi folded up like a cheap suit."

But there's more: Just days after Merendino was knifed to death, Jay's new will mysteriously shows up, and it's handwritten.

The fate of Jake Merendino's fortune may rest on a little hotel notepad. Jake supposedly scratched out a new will on one of these pads and left his entire estate to his lover David. David Meza was the sole beneficiary.

"First reaction was that it was a forgery, it may have been signed with a knife to his throat," said Michael Hughes.

Michael Hughes is a wills and trust attorney.

"I would say this case is as unusual as any case we've ever handled," said Hughes.

So, could the simple document scribbled on a hotel notepad override a well-lawyered one signed in front of witnesses in which David Meza's named is never mentioned?

"If it was wholly in his handwriting and it was done at a time when he had control over his facilities and knew what he was doing, it could be valid. Handwritten wills in Texas are recognized every day," said Hughes.

Meza just might be riding the gravy train -- but it could also be a one-way ticket to life in prison.

"Nobody saw this will until after the death of Jake Merendino. That will wasn't worth anything with Jake Merendino alive, because he could disprove it," said Hughes.

The federal case against Meza and Langston continued to grow. While Jay's $15,000 Rolex watch remains missing, they did find his iPad at the couple's home. Not only that, police claim the alleged deadly duo tried to cover up the crime by erasing critical timeline data from their cellphones.

"The phones were wiped clean. During the period in question, when Jake was murdered, you can't trace what communications there were between David Meza and Taylor Langston," said Hughes.

Eight months after Merendino's death, the feds arrested David Meza and Taylor Langston, to whom he was now married. Langston pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice for a false alibi and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Her attorney claimed Meza manipulated and physically abused her.

David Meza was convicted of murdering Jake Merendino.

"The second will proves some kind of motivation for there to be an end to Jake Merendino," said Michael Hughes.

David Meza was sentenced to life in prison. The judge called his actions "extreme brutality."

"Both David and Taylor should rot in jail. I think they should spend the rest of their life in jail," said Abbe Ricken.

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