A MARINE accused of strangling his girlfriend to death before going on the lam for six years has a violent past and may have claimed other lives, warns the victim’s investigator mom.
Josephine Wentzel, a 63-year-old former police detective, spent years hunting down Raymond “RJ” McLeod, 36, before he was captured by US Marshals in Sonsonate, El Salvador, on Monday.
McLeod, a veteran Marine with a history of domestic violence, was wanted for the June 2016 murder of Wentzel’s daughter, Krystal Mitchell.
A 30-year-old mom of two, Krystal was found beaten and strangled to death inside an apartment she and McLeod were staying at during a vacation together in San Diego, California.
McLeod vanished in the wake of her death, first fleeing to Mexico and then venturing further down through Latin America – but Wentzel was hot on his heels every step of the way.
Over the course of her six-year probe into the fugitive, Wentzel spoke with dozens of former partners, ex-colleagues, associates, and other people who had come into contact with McLeod over the years.
Though she has never met McLeod for herself, in an interview with The U.S. Sun, Wentzel said those conversations helped paint a clear image in her mind of the kind of man he is.
That man, she claims, is a violent bully who gets pleasure from inflicting pain on others – and one who may have potentially killed more women during his time hiding south of the border.
“I wonder how many other lives he’s destroyed and how many women are strangled and missing in that area,” said Wentzel, who was reduced to tears at the news of his arrest.
“He’s done it before, I’ve spoken to people who have witnessed it,” she claimed.
“The last one was a Mayan woman he was dating in Livingston, Guatemala.
“According to her neighbor [McLeod] beat her really badly. When I asked how baldy, the neighbor told me, ‘very, very, very bad.’
“So I don’t even know if she lived.”
The US Marshals Service has been contacted for comment about Wentzel’s claims. McLeod has not currently been accused of any additional crimes during his time on the run.
However, McLeod did have a history of domestic violence-related incidents back home in the US prior to Krystal’s murder.
At the time of her death, he was out on bond for a felony charge of inflicting injury on his estranged wife in Riverside, California. That case remains active.
In 2009 he also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault against his then-wife and for violating a restraining order. Additional charges of assaulting a minor were also filed but later dismissed.
McLeod struck a plea deal in that case, and all charges were dropped the following year after he completed a Domestic Violence Diversion Program.
Wentzel believes McLeod’s past pattern of abusive behavior shows him to be a “violent monster [who] takes pleasure in hurting people.”
“He has no conscience,” she added. “Even as this story is breaking now, I’m getting messages from women in his hometown thanking me for saving them and telling me that all of Arizona is behind me.
“Marines who served with him have also messaged me left and right, telling me what a terrible person he is and that he was always in trouble.
“This guy is a very bad guy … [I] looked up all his records and he had a lot of domestic abuse.
“He’s just a very violent person and he’s a bully – he bullied everyone, men and women.”
Krystal Mitchell was working as a property manager in Phoenix, Arizona, when she met McLeod in the late spring of 2016.
The mother-of-two, whose children were six and seven, had just come out of a long-term relationship with another man who was “refusing to let her go and stalking her,” according to Wentzel.
That’s when body-building enthusiast McLeod, who had just arrived in town from California, walked into her office in search of an apartment.
The pair soon got talking and started dating one another in the days that followed.
After just a few weeks of seeing each other, the pair decided to visit some friends in San Diego for the weekend.
Wentzel said she was apprehensive about her daughter going on the trip when she first informed her of the plan.
The only thing she knew about McLeod, she says, was that in the days before he started seeing Krystal, he had apparently been staring at her through the window of her office, making her feel uncomfortable.
Krystal allegedly told her mom this on a phone call shortly before they started dating.
Wentzel hadn’t even seen a photo of her daughter’s new love interest by the time they decided to vacation together in California.
When Krystal reluctantly sent one over, Wentzel was less impressed with what she saw.
I don’t care if you take 10 years to file the charges against him, just keep him in a cage
“I was concerned,” Wentzel remembered feeling, staring down at an image of the burly-looking McLeod, an image that authorities would later use on a wanted poster to help find him.
“He just looked weird and completely out of her typical element.
“But unfortunately for my daughter, she had come out of a relationship with a [different] guy who wouldn’t let her go and had been stalking her for months.
“So I think she was drawn to [Wentzel] initially because he was this big, bad Marine who she thought would be able to protect her from the other guy.
“And he charmed her by saying he was a good guy with a son the same age as her son.
“That all happened in a very short space of time, and the next thing you know, they’re off to San Diego.”
A BAD FEELING
Krystal was found dead in one of her friend’s apartments along Mission Gorge Road early on the afternoon of June 10, 2016.
Authorities determined she had been brutally beaten and then strangled to death.
The night before, McLeod – who authorities described as a heavy drinker – got into an argument with a fellow Marine veteran in a bar, Marshals say.
McLeod and Krystal were kicked out of the bar. The couple then returned to their friend’s apartment, where she was found dead the next day.
Even before she’d learned of her daughter’s tragic fate, Wentzel said she was hit with a sickening feeling that something terrible had happened.
“I just knew something was wrong,” Wentzel, who is now raising Krystal’s two children, told The U.S. Sun.
“I woke up that morning, and everything just felt off. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like the spirit inside my body was half in and half out.
“I didn’t know what was causing it, but I knew something was bad, so I called some of my friends and asked them if they could pray for me.
“Well, unbeknownst to me, my daughter was laying there dead.”
FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE
Receiving the call that her daughter had been killed, Wentzel says, was nothing short of traumatizing.
She completely detached from reality for a time, focusing only on her daughter’s two children and grieving alone or silently whenever they were at school or otherwise occupied.
Sometimes she would cry in the shower, letting the falling water conceal her streaming tears; other times, she’d pull over to the side of the road on the way to the grocery store and sob helplessly into the steering wheel.
After months of grieving, struggling to come to terms with Krystal never returning home, Wentzel turned her attention to the man police believed killed her.
Having worked in law enforcement a few decades earlier for around eight years, Wentzel dusted off her detective skills and decided to work through the pain of losing Krystal.
She lobbied the White House and hounded the US Marshals Service to keep the case alive.
She also investigated tips, chased down leads, and spread awareness of her daughter’s disappearance across Latin America – spending stretches of time in various Central American countries, looking for McLeod on the ground by herself.
By April 2021, he was added by the Marshals to a list of their ’15 Most Wanted’ fugitives. A $50,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest, more than double the typical amount.
Various sightings of the alleged killer would crop up in the following months.
But after six long years, a breakthrough finally came when US Marshals received a tip from a local woman who had spotted McLeod in Sonsonate, El Salvador.
The woman had recently read about the case on a local news website and immediately contacted authorities.
McLeod was arrested around 10 days later. He was found to have been living under the alias “Jack Donovan” and working as an English teacher at a local school for $1,000 per month.
I wonder how many other lives he’s destroyed and how many women are strangled and missing in that area
When he was taken into custody, McLeod was wearing a shirt with the words “coach” and “changing lives” written on the back.
Announcing his arrest on Monday, San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan said Wentzel was instrumental in bringing him to justice.
“This defendant’s brazen attempt to evade justice is over, and the work to hold him accountable in a court of law for the murder of Krystal Mitchell can now begin,” Stephan said.
“Huge credit goes to the victim’s mother, who never gave up searching for her daughter’s killer and worked closely with our office and other law enforcement to make this arrest possible.”
‘IT’S NOT OVER YET’
The fact that McLeod is now behind bars is a “surreal” feeling for Wentzel, she says, and one that leaves her feeling mixed emotions.
Though delighted that her mission to locate McLeod is finally over, she recognizes there’s still plenty of work left to be done.
“Of course, I’m ecstatic that he’s been found and that this part is over, but at the same time, you’re reminded of why you’re there in the first place,” she said.
“There’s no victory yet until he’s been given a life sentence, and that’s now going to be a whole other journey, another chapter.
“I’m grateful to close this chapter, as are my family and grandchildren.
“We’re grateful that we weren’t forgotten and that the US Marshals went out there, invested money and time, and showed us that Krystal was worthy of justice.
“But it’s not over yet.”
McLeod remains in custody in El Salvador and is expected to be extradited to the United States to be arraigned for Krystal’s murder in the coming days.
Wentzel said she’s in no particular rush for the exchange to be made, apparently telling the Department of Homeland security: “‘I don’t care if you take 10 years to file the charges against him, just keep him in a cage.'”
In fact, Wentzel said she hopes she’s spared the exhaustion of a trial, hoping instead that McLeod falls victim to rough justice while locked up behind bars.
“To tell you the truth, I hope we don’t even have a trial,” she confessed.
“I hope he’s taken care of somewhere in jail instead.”
Wentzel is currently raising Krystal’s two children, now ages 12 and 13, in Vancouver, Washington.
She remembers her daughter as someone who was caring, supportive, and incredibly caring.
“Krystal always used to say to me, ‘When you get old I’m going to take care of you mom’, she was just that person to me, she was always there,” Wentzel said.
“She always made my birthdays or any other occasions that extra bit special, sometimes planning weeks in advance.
“And she was funny, she was always the life of the party.
“When she walked in the room, everybody noticed because she was that person that was full of beauty on the outside and inside.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t miss her.”
RARING FOR FACE-OFF
For Wentzel, her investigation to help find McLeod steered her through her grief of losing Krystal and gave her a newfound purpose.
When she received an image from the US Marshals regarding a potential sighting of McLeod in Sonsonate earlier this month, Wentzel immediately recognized him and urged officials to arrest him.
“I looked at the picture and said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s him. It is him. This is him – go get him!'” she excitedly recalled.
Now, with McLeod due back in the US any day now, Wentzel says she is raring for the moment she gets to stare her daughter’s alleged killer directly in the eyes.
She plans to be at the airport when he is extradited back to the US so she can confront him on arrival.
“I will have my opportunity to speak with him face to face, but what do you say to somebody who has no conscience?” she asked.
“I could say, ‘Why did you do it?’, call him names, but what good will it do?
“All I can say to him is ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ That’s all I can say.
“Nothing is going to bring my daughter back, but I’m relieved that this monster is now behind bars and is no longer a threat to the women of Mexico and Central America.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6125560/raymond-mcleod-murder-girlfriend-marine-violent-past-caught/ RJ McLeod ‘has a violent past & may be a SERIAL STRANGLER,’ warns victim’s mom who spent years hunting daughter’s killer