December 21, 1978
Ignacio Alberto Ortiz kills family friend Manuelita McCormack (28) and attempts to kill her three young children
Ortiz and his wife were the godparents to the McCormacks’ youngest child Charles McCormack III, who was referred to at the time as Baby Charlie. Manuelita and her husband Charles II experienced some marital difficulties leading to Charles moving out of the home. During his absence, Ortiz often visited Manuelita to offer his support and helped her run errands, such as taking her to the grocery store as Manuelita did not drive. “My mother was a dependent person,” Manuelita’s oldest child Patricia recounted decades later. It was suggested by some that the pair began an affair, though this is considered conjecture.
Eventually, Manuelita and Charles reconciled and he moved back into the family home. Ortiz was seen by neighbors occasionally visiting the McCormack household, though he only did so when Charles was away, until Manuelita told Ortiz to cease his attentions toward her.
Manuelita’s children — 3-year-old Baby Charlie, 7-year-old Bernice, and 8-year-old Patricia — went to bed around 9 p.m. on December 21, and their father left for work around an hour later. Neighbors reported seeing Ortiz’s pickup truck around 11 p.m. At some point after that, Baby Charlie woke to ask his sister Bernice for a glass of water. As she went into the kitchen, Bernice saw “Nacho” (the nickname she used for Ortiz) and her mother on the living room floor; Ortiz’s hands were around Manuelita’s neck. Bernice woke her sister Patricia shortly before Ortiz walked into the bedroom. He told the children an ambulance was coming for their mother who was ill, then left the house.
The children began to play until Ortiz returned and told Patricia her mother wanted to speak to her. Ortiz then grabbed Patricia from behind and stabbed her in the chest with a knife. She ran screaming into her mother’s bedroom where she collapsed on the bed. Bernice ran into the bedroom to see why Patricia was screaming, at which point Ortiz grabbed the younger sister from behind and stabbed her in the chest as well. Wounded, Bernice then ran into Patricia’s bedroom where Baby Charlie was still playing.
Ortiz used a can of gasoline to pour gas over Manuelita and the exit to the bedrooms before he placed a “delayed ignition device” on a pile of clothing at the foot of Baby Charlie’s bed. Ortiz told the children to remain in the house until the fire department arrived, ignited the gasoline, and left.
When Bernice smelled smoke, she picked up Patricia and Baby Charlie and helped them out of the house. Bernice and Baby Charlie were able to reach a neighbor’s house to seek assistance while Patricia collapsed on the sidewalk. When paramedics arrived, Patricia was “near death.” Each of the children survived.
Manuelita’s charred body was recovered after the fire was extinguished. Her autopsy revealed she had stab wounds to her neck and, based on the pool of blood under her body, the pathologist believed she had been stabbed in the chest as well, though her body was too badly burned to be positive. The pathologist stated that, while stabbing was the official cause of death, Manuelita may have been alive when she was set on fire. Ortiz was arrested the day after Manuelita’s murder.
While in jail, Ortiz shared a cell with another inmate who had injured his knee during an escape attempt. When the cellmate was taken to the hospital for knee surgery, he told the Attorney’s Office that Ortiz had offered to pay him $10,000 in exchange for killing Manuelita’s children, their father, their father’s girlfriend, and Manuelita’s sister with whom the children had been staying. A conspiracy to commit murder was then added to the list of charges against Ortiz.
Ortiz was convicted of one count of first degree murder, three counts of attempted first degree murder, one count of arson of an occupied structure, one county of burglary in the first degree, and one count of conspiracy to commit a first degree murder. He was sentenced to death for the murder charge, life for the conspiracy charge, and the maximum sentences allowable for the remaining charges. After spending nearly two decades on death row, Ortiz was executed by lethal injection on October 27, 1999.
Enea, Joe. “Death Row Diaries: A wounded child saves family after mother is killed by Ignacio Ortiz.” ABC 15. April 23, 2016. Updated: July 26, 2018. Accessed: December 21, 2020. https://www.abc15.com/news/crime/death-row-diaries-a-wounded-child-rescues-her-family-after-their-mother-is-killed-by-ignacio-ortiz
Ford, Beverly. “Slayer of mom of 3 faces execution today.” The Arizona Republic [Phoenix, Arizona]. October 27, 1999
Davenport, Paul. “Execution of mother’s murderer may end years of fear for children.” Arizona Daily Sun. October 24, 1999 (archived: https://azdailysun.com/execution-of-mother-s-murderer-may-end-years-of-fear/article_ce3cfb38-8b50-5d36-abf3-6989a47795d6.html)
State v. Ortiz. 131 Ariz. 195 (1981). 639 P.2d 1020. STATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Ignacio Alberto ORTIZ, Appellant. No. 4818. Supreme Court of Arizona, In Banc. November 23, 1981 (archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/arizona/supreme-court/1981/4818-2.html)