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Griffith announces charges in Austgen killing

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:02AM



GRIFFITH — The ex-wife of Ralph Perez Martinez was watching a news report on the Mary Austgen murder Monday night when she noticed the resemblance between Martinez and photos of the suspect. Adding to her suspicions, Martinez also was a former tenant of Austgen’s business park in Griffith, court records state.

At first, Martinez was evasive, claiming that “That’s not me” and “Lots of people with money get killed.”

But when he heard about the $10,000 reward put up by the ATF and private parties, he uttered these unforgettable words: “Is that all I’m worth?”

Police announced that Martinez had been charged in the late-March kidnapping and murder of the 76-year-old St. John woman at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

Martinez, 57, of the 12200 block of Lawndale Street in Alsip, Ill., faces murder, robbery and criminal confinement charges. Martinez was arrested Tuesday night when Griffith and Alsip police served a search warrant. Police said Martinez worked as a mechanic at Austgen Industrial Park, located at 801 E. Main St., until he was evicted about a year or two ago.

In the early morning hours of March 29, Austgen was found dead of a gunshot wound to the abdomen in her 2011 Yukon Denali, which was parked at the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. Griffith and Gary police said she was attacked and kidnapped at gunpoint from her Griffith business around 5:40 p.m. the previous evening.

According to security cameras, a man in sunglasses and a Harley Davidson cap had entered the business at 2:42 p.m., but no employees saw him until he confronted Austgen in a stairwell with a silver semi-automatic handgun around 5:07 p.m. He escorted her back up the stairs and they went into Austgen’s office for about 20 minutes before leaving.

The probable cause affiavit states that the camera stills were shown to employees, who recognized his face and checked records to discover his name was Ralph Martinez. Police checked Martinez’s cell phone records on March 28, and he was present at both Austgen Electric and Majestic Star Casino.

After police announced a $10,000 reward on Monday, Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance said police received a tip from Martinez’s ex-wife on Tuesday morning.

She told investigators that she saw a ring that resembled one of the two stolen from Austgen in her house. She put it in her daughter’s jewelry box, but later it was gone. Police have not recovered the rings and are seeking the public’s assistance in finding them. Police said Austgen was robbed of about $3,000 in cash. Martinez’s ex-wife found the bag he was carrying in the security videos and the silver handgun as well.

Martinez was captured on security cameras being picked up by someone in a black four-door BMW at the Majestic Star around 6:45 p.m. on March 28. Police said they have spoken to the driver, who was cooperative and that person is no longer a suspect.

Mance was reticent about ascribing a motive in the killing, saying that Martinez has not yet given a statement. He thanked the public for responding with tips, as well as law enforcement from Gary Police, the FBI, ATF, and the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force.



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