Burger stand crew’s boyfriend primary suspect in rape-slay

THE heinous murder of a burger stand crew has now been branded by authorities as an alleged “crime of passion” after investigators expressed belief that the primary suspect in the case could possibly be the victim’s boyfriend.

Pampanga Police Provincial Office Director Nicolas Salvador said that the primary suspect identified as Mark Salandanan, 30, a resident of Barangay Matamo, Arayat town, “could be the boyfriend” of victim Rhema Bertulfo, 30, solo parent, as her body did not show any signs of struggle based on the autopsy report submitted by scene of the crime operatives.

He said that the victim’s body did not sustain any abrasions, hematoma or other signs of struggle except the seven stab wounds in her neck which is “very unlikely for a person who tried to fight for her life.”

Salvador added that there was no commotion seen in the crime scene as shown in several closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footages recovered by the investigating team from the barangay hall and other establishments.

“It is very basic for a person to resist or struggle when you are being assaulted by a stranger but the body of the victim did not show signs of struggle based on the autopsy report they turned over to us,” said Salvador.

“We also reviewed all the CCTV footages during the whole night when the crime transpired and we did not see any commotion or anything unusual except when the lights were turned off. People from the barangay hall and nearby gasoline station also said the same which is unlikely if the victim resisted,” furthered Salvador.

Salvador, who led SITG “Bertulfo,” concluded that Salandanan and Bertulfo were possibly set to have sex that night but for a still unknown reason, led to the heinous and unfortunate death of victim.

“The signs and evidences on the victim’s body and the crime scene corroborates to this conclusion. Right now, we are looking for a possible love triangle angle but we cannot assure anything yet as we continue to hunt for the suspect and pursue this case,” he said.

‘Look out’ arrested

Meanwhile, Salandanan’s alleged accomplice identified as Alejandro Medalla Mendoza, 30, a resident of Barangay Sto. Cristo here, was already arrested by joint operatives of Mexico police and SITG “Bertulfo.”

Mendoza, who allegedly served as Salandanan’s lookout during the commission of the crime, was subjected to physical examination and DNA testing for possible matching of the hair strands and other physical pieces of evidence recovered at the crime scene, and resulted to his positive identification.

Salvador said that Mendoza firmly denied his involvement in the crime “but his actions and gestures show otherwise.”

“We cannot exhaust anything from Mendoza yet so we remain reliant on the in-depth investigation we are conducting and the statements of our witnesses,” he said.

A case of murder was filed before the Office the Provincial Prosecutor with Docketed No. III – 12 – INQ – 181 – 01531 dated September 7, 2018 against the two suspects, while Mendoza is also facing a criminal case for acts of lasciviousness wherein he was accused by another victim of grabbing and squeezing her breast.

Meanwhile, Salvador said that they are still waiting the court’s issuance of a warrant of arrest to implement the manhunt operation against Salandanan before they can completely close the case and give justice to Bertulfo.


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