23-year-old Kristina “Tina” Tournai met John Sandoval at the University of Northern Colorado where she was studying to become a nurse. The pair began dating and on December 31, 1991, they exchanged their vows at a lavish wedding ceremony in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Tina graduated in the top 5% of her class and was hired at the North Colorado Medical Center. John acquired a job at a local cemetery.
Tina thought she had married the man of her dreams, but it turned out John wasn’t the person she thought he was. Five months into their marriage, he was arrested for stalking a female co-worker and breaking into her home. He was sentenced to five weeks in jail. Tina soon learned it wasn’t John’s first stint behind bars.
John gained pleasure by spying on women without their knowledge. In other words, he was a serial peeping tom with a lengthy criminal record for stalking, harassment and burglary. John would stalk women, break into their homes, hide and watch them for hours.
John’s third time in county jail did little to rehabilitate him. In March of 1993, he was arrested again; a woman named Wendy Faust filed a police report claiming a man had been following her in his car. She had written down his license plate and it led police straight to John.
John promised Tina his voyeuristic days were behind him, but when the police arrested him again in August of 1995 after a woman found him hiding in her closet, she decided enough was enough. Tina packed her bags, moved into a new apartment and filed for divorce.
Three months later, on October 19, 1995, Tina planned to meet with her estranged husband at his aunt’s home where he was living to settle an IRS debt and finalize the divorce. She told her sister Susan that she was reluctant to meet with John and afraid of how he would react, but she needed to move on with her life.
Tina promised to phone Susan as soon as she parted ways with John, but the call never came.
Tina left work at 7 am. By 12:30 pm, Susan still hadn’t heard from her sister and asked their mother Mary to check in on her. Mary rushed to Tina’s apartment but she wasn’t there and neither was her car. She then went to John’s aunt’s home who told her that John wasn’t home. When Mary peered inside, she saw Tina’s jacket lying on the kitchen table.
At 9 pm, Mary reported Tina missing.
At 3 am, Tina’s car was found parked only four blocks away from John’s aunt’s home. When officers knocked on the door and attempted to speak with John, his aunt told them he wasn’t home. Suddenly, they heard a loud thud. A shirtless John had jumped from his bedroom window and was on the run, but he didn’t get very far.
John was arrested and charged with felony trespassing for another unrelated stalking incident. When officers brought him to the station they questioned him regarding Tina’s disappearance and noticed he had fresh scratches on his neck and chest and his fingernails were dirty.
Officers searched John’s car and found Tina’s credit cards, a wet and muddy shovel, a 9mm handgun, rope, a flashlight and a bucket. John refused to explain why he had those items in his possession and insisted he didn’t know where Tina was, or what had happened to her.
A tip came in that John may have buried Tina in an open grave at Sunset Memorial Gardens, the cemetery where he worked. Detectives searched several open graves and even exhumed several bodies, but they could not locate Tina. After searching nearby reservoirs and wooded areas, the case ultimately went cold.
In 2010, John was arrested at his home in Las Vegas and charged with first-degree murder after it was decided that enough time had gone by to assume Tina was no longer alive; her bank account had been untouched since October of 1995, her nursing license had expired and had not been renewed and her credit cards and student loan had been sent to collections.
John was extradited to Colorado. The trial cost over $110,000 and was, at the time, the longest trial in Weld county history.
Wendy Faust, the woman who John had stalked in March of 1993, testified that on the day in question she had been driving from store to store presenting a sales pitch as part of her job as a sales representative for the Greeley Tribune when she noticed a man following her. Frightened, she drove back to the Tribune and ran inside. As Wendy was informing her supervisor of the situation, the man who had been following her walked in.
Wendy’s supervisor confronted the man but he denied following her and insisted he was only there to place an ad for a piano.
“I looked through the windows of a car next to me to see what this person looked like. I thought, Do they know me? It was weird because I didn’t know him. I got a flushed feeling, so I backed out at that point, thinking he was following me. I went past his car and got his plate number. He backed out and continued following me,” Wendy testified.
A man named James Tincher who had befriended John at a bar one day before Tina disappeared testified that during a conversation where the two men vented about women John said, “too bad you just can’t kill them.”
John’s high school girlfriend, Jennifer Karr, testified that when she ended their relationship he broke into her home several times over the course of a year and on one occasion he put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, “He told me he was going to take me into the mountains and chop me up into little pieces so nobody would ever find me.”
Several of Tina’s co-workers, friends and family members testified that she had told them she feared John and that if anything were to happen to her, he would be the one responsible.
An overwhelming 137 witnesses testified for the prosecution. It was clear from their testimonies that John was a dangerous, unstable, serial offender who wouldn’t take no for an answer and wasn’t above using violence to get what he wanted.
John was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison but his conviction was overturned in 2016 and a second trial was scheduled.
Three weeks before the second trial was to begin, John shocked everyone when he offered to reveal the location of Tina’s body in exchange for a guilty plea to the lesser charge of second-degree murder, which came with a lighter sentence.
It turned out the tip detectives had received twenty-two years earlier was credible after all. Tina was found buried under the grave of a World War II veteran who had died two days before she disappeared. Sometime during the middle of the night on October 20, 1995, John buried Tina two feet below the man’s pre-dug grave, prior to his funeral.
Tina was found wrapped in a blanket, sealed with duct tape. Her cause of death has not been released to the public.
“For 7,826 days, 3 hours and 22 minutes, the location of Tina’s remains has been a mystery. One that has haunted her family, the investigators who worked this case from the minute it was reported, and the community as a whole. We have finally been able to give her family what they so desperately wanted. Tina has been returned to her family and may finally be laid to rest.” — District Attorney Michael Rourke
Due to the plea deal, John was sentenced to 25 years with credit for time served. He will be eligible for parole on July 11, 2021.