In February 2000, the friendship soured as a result of Ben owing Hollywood $1200. The disagreement over the $1,200 occurred after Ben bought $2,000 worth of fake pills from Hollywood but was only able to sell $600 worth.
Ben tried explaining to Hollywood that he couldn’t pay him because no one would buy the product, but Hollywood was less than sympathetic. Ben was able to borrow $200 from his father to lower his debt, but Hollywood wanted all of the money.
Fed up, Ben telephoned Hollywood and said that he was not going to pay him the remaining money he owed and threatened “to beat the shit out of” him. Months went by, and Ben and Hollywood continued their sparring with Ben breaking the windows of Hollywood’s house. Between August 4 and 6, 2000, Hollywood confided in his friend, Julia Blackford, that he hated Ben.
The Kidnapping of Nicholas Markowitz
On August 6, 2000, Hollywood, William Skidmore, and Jesse Rugge were traveling in a white van in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley. They planned to vandalize Ben’s house, and then head to a party in Santa Barbara. Rugge was driving, and Hollywood and Skidmore were passengers. As they were driving, they saw Nick Markowitz, Ben’s 15-year-old brother walking down the street. Nick had gotten in trouble with his parents for possessing marijuana and snuck out of his house the night before. This wasn’t the first time Nick had run away from home.
Hollywood ordered Rugge to stop the van and all the young men got out of the vehicle. Next, Hollywood pinned Nick up against a tree and said, `Where’s your brother? Where’s your brother?'” Skidmore punched Nick in the stomach. Pauline Ann Mahoney, who was heading home from church with her children, drove by as Nick was being attacked. She saw the three men beating and punching him, as Nick sat slouched on the ground. Then she saw the men throw Nick in the van. Pauline got the license plate number and called 911, but due to police errors, it took them over a month to identify the vehicle.
With Nick in the van, Rugge continued driving to Santa Barbara with Skidmore and Hollywood. Jesse James Hollywood took Nick’s wallet and pager from him. Along the way, they stopped to pick up their friend Brian Affronti. In the van, Hollywood told Nick “Your brother is going to pay me my money right now,” and, “If you run I’ll break your teeth.” Hollywood asked Nick again where his brother was but Nick said he didn’t know.
The van arrived at a townhome in Santa Barbara. Nick was taken to a bedroom. His wrists and ankles were bound together with duct tape. He “had a look of worry on his face.” Hollywood told Nick that “as soon as they found his brother he would be taken home” and “Oh, dude, don’t worry about it. Just tell your parents you were gone for a couple of days, you know.”
A short time later, Hollywood and Skidmore left the party, leaving Rugge to watch over Nick. Because Nick was in a panic, Rugge removed the duct tape and took him out of the bedroom. Together they began smoking bongs, drinking Tanqueray, and playing video games with the other members of the party. A resident of the townhome, Richard Hoeflinger, spoke to Nick in the living room. Nick told him “that he was going to help them find his brother so . . . they could work something out as far as his brother’s debt.” Other witnesses at the party reported the same thing.
At about 10:00 p.m., Rugge and Nick left the townhome and went to Rugge’s house in Santa Barbara. Rugge told his father that Nick was a friend from Los Angeles there to visit and brought him to his room.
Nicholas Markowitz’s Second Day of Captivity
The next day, August 7th, 17-year-old Graham Pressley went to Rugge’s house. Natasha Adams-Young, also 17, went there too. They all hung out together, smoked weed in the living room, played video games and ate food. Nick privately told Pressley he had been kidnapped and beaten. Concerned, Pressley told Natasha.
Next, Natasha, Pressley, Rugge, and Nick left Rugge’s house and drove to Natasha’s house. There Natasha put some antibiotics on Nick’s wounds. At around 3:00 p.m., Rugge left Natasha’s house, leaving Pressley and Natasha alone with Nick. Pressley said to him: “You could go. We’re not going to keep you here.” Natasha said, “You could leave at any time. Why don’t you go.” Nick replied, “If I can do this for my brother, if I can stick this out for my brother, then I will.”
Later that same day, Natasha drove Pressley and Nick back to Rugge’s house. When they arrived, Rugge and Hollywood were there, along with Jesse James Hollywood’s girlfriend.
Nicholas Markowitz’s Third Day Held Captive
The following day, Hollywood met with Stephen Hogg, a criminal defense attorney who was a friend of Hollywood’s family. Hollywood told Hogg “that some friends of his had . . . `snatched’ the brother of this fellow that had been harassing him and vandalizing his property.” Stephen Hogg asked Hollywood where the victim was located, but Hollywood did not answer the question. Hogg suggested that they contact law enforcement, but Hollywood refused. Attorney Hogg warned Hollywood “If your friends hurt this guy, or if your friends ask money for him, they can get life.'” It was then that Hollywood decided that Nick must die.
On the same day that Hollywood met with Hogg, Natasha and her friend Kelly Carpenter drove to Rugge’s house. Rugge, Pressley, and Nick were there. Kelly was aware of Nick’s situation. She spoke to Nick and expressed concern. Nick Markowtiz told her that he wasn’t worried about it and that this would all be a story that he’d tell his grand kids. In front of Kelly, Rugge assured Nick that he would be fine. He said “I’m going to take you home. I’ll put you on a Greyhound. I’m going to get you home.” Nick trusted Rugge.
Natasha and Pressley walked to a park near Rugge’s house. Pressley told Natasha that Rugge had said that Hollywood had offered him $2,000 to kill Nick. Pressley assured Natasha that Rugge wasn’t going to do it.
Rugge’s parents were due to return home from work in the late afternoon. Rugge suggested that the group rent a hotel room where they could party after his parents came home. Rugge reserved a room at the Lemon Tree Inn. Pressley’s mother drove the group to the hotel. At the hotel, Rugge, the teen girls, Nick and Pressley all smoke weed, cigarettes, and drank rum and cokes. Kelly asked Nick why he didn’t just leave the hotel. Nick said “I’ve taken self-defense and stuff, it’s not like I couldn’t do anything right now, I just don’t want to. I don’t see a reason to, I’m going home, why would I complicate it?” Together they swam in the hotel pool until 11:00 pm, when Kelly and Natasha had to go home. Rugge and Pressley remained at the Lemon Tree Inn with Nick.
Later that night, Ryan Hoyt entered the hotel room. Hoyt, a close friend of Hollywood who was on his baseball team, was carrying a duffel bag with an Intratec TEC-9, given to him by Hollywood, inside it. Hoyt owed money to Hollywood for drugs and was told by Jesse James Hollywood, that if he killed Nick Markowitz, he would erase his debt.
Hoyt and Pressley drove to Lizard’s Mouth, a popular hiking area in the hills. They walked up a trail to the crest of a hill, where Pressley dug a ditch seven feet long and two feet wide. They then drove back to the Lemon Tree Inn.
Upon arriving at the hotel, Hoyt and Pressley picked up Rugge and Nick. The four of them drove to Lizard’s Mouth, and Rugge assured Nick that they were taking him home that night. They started walking along the same trail that Pressley and Hoyt had taken earlier that night. After about 20 paces, Pressley refused to go any farther because he knew that Rugge and Hoyt were going to kill Nick. Rugge, Hoyt, and Nick continued along the trail without Pressley. Unbeknownst to Nick, he was walking to his grave. Rugge duct taped Nick’s hands behind his back and placed the tape over his eyes and mouth. Then Hoyt, hit him in the back of the head with a shovel, knocking him into the grave. From the bottom of the trail, Pressley heard a rapid session of gunfire. After another 20 minutes, Rugge and Hoyt returned to the spot where Pressley was waiting, without Nick.
Rugge, Hoyt, and Pressley drove back to the Lemon Tree Inn. During the drive, Hoyt said to Pressley, “You weren’t here, you didn’t see anything, if you ever say anything I’ll kill you.” A few days later, Rugge told Pressley, “Hollywood had me do the kid.”
On August 12, 2000, hikers at Lizard’s Mouth found Nick’s body, which was partially buried in a shallow grave. Nick was lying on his back with his hands bound behind his back and a piece of duct tape around his head. The cause of death was nine gunshot wounds. An Intratec TEC-9 type firearm was underneath Nick’s body. When Natasha saw the murder on the news, she called police.Within days, Skidmore, Pressely, Rugge and Hoyt were arrested.
However, Jesse James Hollywood was able to flee the country with the help of his father. First, he went to Canada and then from there moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He lived under the alias, Michael Costa Giroux and learned Portuguese to fit in. Hollywood earned a living by hanging up posters for nightclubs and he also received a monthly allowance of $1200 from his father. At the age of 20, Jesse James Hollywood was the youngest man to ever be on the FBI’s most wanted. While in Brazil, he began dating a local girl with whom he eventually got pregnant. He falsely believed that the United States would not be able to extradite him if he fathered a Brazilian child, based on an old Brazilian law. However, that law had been repealed, and since Hollywood had entered the country on a fake passport, he could be deported at any time.
While Hollywood managed to allude justice, his accomplices weren’t so lucky. William Skidmore pleaded guilty to kidnapping and robbery. In September 2002, he was sentenced to 9 years in state prison as part of a plea bargain, and only served six years before being released at the age of 29.
Graham Pressley, who was 17 at the time of the murder, was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to a California Youth Facility where he was released when he was 25.
Jesse Rugge was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with a chance of parole in seven years. He was released on October 24, 2013.
Ryan Hoyt was charged with first-degree murder, and on November 21, 2001, he was convicted of the charge and sentenced to death. He remains on San Quentin’s death row today.
Jesse James Hollywood’s profile was featured on shows such as “Dateline” and “America’s Most Wanted.” Eventually, in April of 2005, after four and half years on the run, Hollywood was captured by Brazilian officials.
Jesse James Hollywood’s trial didn’t start until 2009, four years after his capture. The jury returned a verdict of guilty for the murder and kidnapping of Nicholas Markowitz and sentenced Hollywood to life in prison without parole. In 2014, he married a woman in prison named Melinda.