The case of

Crystal Theobald

crystal_theobald
Victim

Crystal Theobald

Victim Race

Caucasian

Victim Date of Birth

1982

Victim Age

24

Date Reported

2006-02-24

Date of Death

2006-02-24

Case Status

Closed

Incident Location

Riverside, California, USA

Body Location

Riverside, California, USA

Date of Conviction

2011

Body Discovered Date

2006-02-24

Murderer

Who was Crystal Theobald?

Crystal Theobald was an American Woman born in California in 1982. Her family describes her as a very loving girl, very optimistic and with a very good attitude. However, she grew up in a somewhat troubled family, her mother, Belinda Lane, constantly consumed alcohol and even used to sell drugs in her home.

Both Crystal’s mother, as well as her siblings, had a history of drug possession and certain misdemeanors. In spite of this, both her mother and siblings loved Crystal and always had her support. Crystal repeatedly asked her mother to give up her vices so she could get better.

Crystal grew up with her two brothers, and lived a happy life in her family environment despite the family’s excesses and vices. Her cousin Jaimie describes her as someone very special, who was always by her side, playing with her. Although they were cousins, Jaime felt her as an older sister.

Crystal Theobald married very young and had two children during her marriage. After separating from her husband, she returned to the family home and began a relationship with 20-year-old Juan Patlan.

On the evening of February 24, 2006, Crystal went out with her boyfriend Juan and her brother Justin to the supermarket. They were in one car and her mother, Belinda, was in another one ahead of them.

Once they reached the first intersection, a pickup truck crossed the path of Crystal’s car, a man got out of the truck and approached and fired several shots at her car.

Both Crystal and her boyfriend Juan were shot, however, she was shot in the head, which caused her death.

The night of the shooting

Crystal Theobald, her brother Justin and her boyfriend Juan, were at the young woman’s house hanging out. However, they decided it was a good time to go to the supermarket to buy some things they needed.

While they were discussing which route to take, Justin, Crystal’s brother, advised them not to go on the main streets. The three of them get into the car, Juan behind the wheel, Justin in the passenger seat and Crystal in the back seat.

Belinda Lane, Crystal’s mother, decides to ride in her own car as well, and drives ahead of them by a few feet. Belinda crosses the first intersection, when the other car, where Crystal was trying to cross, a white van appears out of nowhere. It skids on the road and crosses the car’s path.

Belinda looked in the rearview mirror to see what was happening. A man got out of the white expedition van, wearing a hooded sweater, approached Crystal’s vehicle and fired several shots at the car.

After firing the shots, the man rushed back to the van and fled after firing the shots. Belinda saw from her car a few meters ahead what had happened and could see that it was a vehicle occupied by several people.

A few seconds after the shots were fired, Crystal Theobald’s brother Justin noticed that Juan, who was behind the wheel, was wounded and that Crystal had also been shot and was unresponsive.

They quickly drove to the nearest supermarket for help. They parked the car right in front of the place and thanks to the security videos of the establishment, it is possible to see how Justin tries to see what is happening to his sister and he looks very desperate because of her critical condition.

In the video it is also possible to see Juan full of blood due to the wounds caused by the gunshots. From the store they called 911, the ambulance arrived and the time of death was declared 2 days later.

Gang-related crime

On February 24, 2006, Crystal along with her brother and her boyfriend used the vehicle to go out to buy some things at 7/11. When they left the house it was approximately 8:43 pm.

Belinda, Crystal’s mother, was going later in her own vehicle. Since the area was very popular for gang violence, Justin decided he would take some alternate routes. They were only able to go a few yards from their house.

When Crystal’s car and Belinda’s car stopped at the first intersection they encountered, a white Expedition van skidded in front of Crystal’s car, a person got out of the van and fired several shots at the car, injuring Crystal and her boyfriend.

Police investigations revealed that the white van the shooter was in belonged to a gang called 5150 that is well known and feared by Riverside residents. It is presumed that they mistook Crystal’s car for that of a rival gang with which they had a confrontation earlier in the day.

Riverside is known as a gang violence area, so the crime was associated with this.

After firing the shots, the gunman returned to the van, fleeing the scene without leaving a trace at that point. Belinda, who was in her car further ahead, could see that the van was occupied by several people and could even see the shooter’s face.

At approximately 8:47 that night, minutes after the shooting, Crystal’s brother Justin drove them to a nearby local store. In the store’s security video, Justin can be seen holding Crystal Theobald in his arms as she lay dying.

Crystal Theobald received several gunshot wounds, one of them to her head, which caused her to lose a lot of blood. 911 was called and an ambulance was dispatched, which transported her to Riverside Community Hospital where she lost her life 2 days after the shooting.

Juan, Crystal’s boyfriend, was shot in the abdomen, but after some surgeries he was able to survive.

Crystal’s tragic death marked a turning point in her family. After some police investigations and even her mother’s tireless search for clues through the social media platform, they manage to associate the case to a gang rivarly, qualifying the murder as a mistaken identity.

5051 gang members

The people in the white Ford Expedition van were identified as William Sotelo, Julio Heredia, William Lemus and Manuel Lemus.

All of them grew up in Riverside, California, and as children were closely linked to the 5150 gang, which they joined years later, when they were still very young.

It was revealed in the Netflix documentary that tells the story of Crystal’s murder that Julio Heredia joined the gang when he was 14 years old,

From a young age they lived surrounded by shootings and confrontations of this type, which the police have been fighting for years to dismantle these gangs.

After being investigated by the police in their interrogations, they were found to have criminal records, many of them related to shootings in drug gangs and minor crimes such as robberies.

Investigation Details

Since that neighborhood in Riverside was known for constant gang confrontations, the police immediately thought it might be a gang shooting.

The detective assigned to the case of Crystal Theobald’s death began by investigating her family first, and found that both her siblings and her own mother had a criminal history for drug possession. However, nothing that he could associate with the shooting so far.

After several interrogations, it was discovered that the shooter was actually looking for Robbie, Crystal’s brother, who had been involved in some altercations days earlier.

Belinda, Crystal’s mother, stated that she had seen the shooter’s face and could recognize him. After making a sketch, the police took it upon themselves to search through school yearbooks and other records for a suspect who matched this statement and was somehow connected to the case or had gang charges in the past.

They found a photo of someone who could be the shooter and Belinda said that it was indeed him. The police interviewed him and his alibi was pretty solid as to where he was and what he did on February 24, 2006, so they ruled him out.

As the months passed without any kind of response, Belinda began to do her own investigation. Her niece, Jaimie, who was very close to Crystal, told her that all of the young people were using MySpace at the time and that Nick, Crystal’s brother, insisted that surely the members of the 5150 gang would have had something to do with the shooting in which Crystal was killed and that they all had their own accounts on that social network.

Just then, Jaimie, with Belinda’s consent, created fake MySpace accounts so she could interact with gang members to get a clue as to what had happened. Jaimie used a picture of another woman and began looking up the gang members’ profiles so she could interact with them.

Jaimie was quite astute and started talking to them the same way they talk, until one day she got one of the gang members to contact her. Within a month of the murder, Jaimie, on Belinda’s orders, set up another fake MySpace under the name “Angel,” with a picture of Crystal.

One day she received a message from a man, and his profile said “I belong to 5150 and I’m ready to kill”. This detail seemed very curious to both Belinda and Jaimie and they focused on him.

Two months after Crystal Theobald’s death and several intimate conversations with the man who had contacted them through MySpace, they managed to get him hooked and more interested in the fake Crystal profile they had created.

He, in his insistence on dating her, invited her to a party and would tell her he would pick her up. At that moment they took advantage and asked what kind of vehicle he had, he replied that he had a white Ford Expedition, the same model of truck that the shooter got out of that night Crystal was killed.

That immediately set off all the red flags and that’s when Belinda decided to call the detective in charge of the case to show him everything they had done through the fake MySpace accounts.

The man behind the MySpace account that Jaimie and Belinda had been talking to was identified as William Sotelo and the police summoned him for questioning. Up until that point, Sotelo had no idea that he had been set up through MySpace.

During the interrogation, William knew that his name came up during the investigation into Crystal’s death and was asked about his relationship with the 5150 gang. It was pointed out to him that his vehicle was identified at the crime scene.

Sotelo insisted throughout the interview that he had had nothing to do with it, until at one point he agreed that they were cruising the neighborhood that night, knowing it was rival gang MD-17 territory. They encountered another van that fired shots at theirs, in that van was Robbie, Crystal’s brother.

However, police could not determine that Sotelo’s van had been targeted by bullets as no evidence was found, nor were any firearms found in the Theobald home.

Right at that intersection, there was the car where Crystal Theobald was driving and the car where Belinda was driving. Sotelo who was driving the van stopped and according to his confession, it was Julio Caesar Heredia who got out of the van and shot several times at the car where Crystal was. William “Jokes” Sotelo stated that after that night, he never saw Julio again.

The police did not have enough evidence to arrest Sotelo, and since he had been collaborating with the investigation, they let him go. During the interrogation of Sotelo they were able to identify all the people inside the van that night.

On the night of the murder, William Sotelo was driving, Julio “Lil Huero” Heredia was in the passenger seat, and Manuel Lemus and William Lemus were in the back seats. They were all gang member inmates.

Crystal’s family, especially Belinda, was very upset by the decision of the police to let William Sotelo go after the interview. Since they wanted to take justice into their own hands, the police advised them to be patient and not get involved in further violence, considering the case and his criminal record.

Belinda took control of the fake MySpace profile and wrote to several members of the 5150 gang saying that “Angel” would throw a party where everyone would be invited, with the purpose of killing them, but she got cold feet at the last minute.

Then, due to her frustration, Belinda wrote a message to Wlliam Sotelo through MySpace that said “I know who you are” and then “Why did you kill me?”, after that Sotelo stopped responding and disappeared without a trace. Belinda subsequently turned over to detectives all MySpace evidence, users and passwords.

Since Sotelo had disappeared and there was no sign of Julio Heredia, the police went looking for the other two people. It was then that Manuel Lemus and his brother William Lemus were interrogated, however, they said nothing, they knew that by telling what had happened they would be in danger and were released.

After the 5150 gang tried to kill Manuel and William’s parents, Manuel returned to the police and decided to give a voluntary interview to tell everything that had happened that night. Manuel said that Julio Heredia had been the victim of a shooting and wanted revenge.

They went after Crystal’s brother Robert and lost sight of him, so Julio Heredia decided to get out and shoot.

Thanks to Manuel Lemus’ statements, the police searched more than 35 houses and arrested several criminals in the fight against gang activity. Julio Heredia was found in Mexico, to be arrested and charged for the death of Crystal Theobald.

For 10 years Belinda Lane, did not stop searching the social networks for any clue to the whereabouts of William Sotelo, until one day through Facebook she found data that showed that he could be found in Mexico. That is how William ‘Jokes’ Sotelo was found and arrested, 10 years after Crystal’s death.

Trial

Manuel and William Lemus collaborated with the entire police investigation and testified against Julio Heredia and William Sotelo in both trials. Neither of the Lemus brothers was charged for what happened.

Julio Heredia was arrested in Mexico in 2011, 5 years after Crystal’s death. He went to trial that same year, where he was found guilty of first-degree murder, among other crimes.

William Sotelo was arrested in 2016, and was charged with first-degree murder, however, thanks to a plea deal, that charge was dropped.

Shortly before his trial began, Sotelo entered into a plea agreement pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Verdict

In 2011 Julio Heredia was sentenced to life in prison, receiving a sentence of 138 years in prison without the option of parole. He is currently in California State Prison serving his sentence.

William Sotelo was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2020, 14 years after Crystal’s death. He is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence.

Crystal Theobald’s death caught the attention of everyone in Riverside and the rest of California. The case became popular because part of its resolution was due to the use of social media.

On April 14, 2021, a documentary based on the case called “Why Did You Kill Me” was released and is available on Netflix.

Frequently asked questions

Who is Crystal Theobald?

Crystal Theobald was a 24-year-old woman who was killed in February 2006 by gang violence.

Who killed Crystal Theobald?

Crystal Theobald was shot and killed by gang member Julio Heredia.

What is the name of the documentary about Crystal Theobald?
The documentary about the Crystal Theobald case is called “Why Did You Kill Me?” and is available on Netflix.
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