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Are criminals made, not born?
Martin Martinez is accused of killing his girlfriend's child last fall. Now authorities suspect he killed five others in Modesto in mid July. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Modesto, murder, national news.

Sadly again.

Six months ago I wrote of a mass murder that took place Jan. 1 in Modesto. A father killed his two grown children and wife before taking his own life. In that column, "We need to work harder to prevent mass murders," I noted that I was relaxing in a hot tub a block away from where Stephen Mingham, 57, was killing his family in a senseless crime fueled by financial problems and tension from caring for a disabled daughter and a son who had released from prison.

On Saturday, July 18, another senseless tragedy took place less than two-tenths of a mile from a house I just purchased.

The news shocked our area, and I felt compelled - as did many others - to visit the house on Nob Hill Court. The attractive house with well-manicured lawn was eerily silent. Candles were burning amid a sea of flowers, stuffed animals, cards and posters. Some women openly sobbed. News trucks with their broadcast antennas extended were idling nearby.

The horrors this seemingly tranquil house witnessed two days prior.

The last time it was Stephen Mingham. This time it was Martin Martinez, or at least that's who Modesto Police suspect.

You probably know the story. On Oct. 2, 2014, Christopher Ripley, 2, died from an injuries received days earlier while being cared for by Martinez, who was the boyfriend of Chris' mother, Dr. Amanda Crews, 38. Martinez said the boy was hurt when they were roughhousing. After the boy's death, Amanda and Martin broke up. They tried to make it work, her stepfather reported, but there was trouble. I suspect during the trial we will hear about the hell Crews lived through with the suspect.

Authorities suspected foul play after conflicting statements were made by Martinez but it took nine months to develop the findings of evidence to proceed with arresting Martinez for murder. On Thursday, July 16, authorities were ready to arrest and charge Martinez with the death of Christopher.

Something went horribly wrong two days later. That Saturday, Christopher's mom, Dr. Amanda Crews, 38, her two daughters, Elisabeth, 6, and Rachael, 6 months, and Martinez's mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57, and a visiting niece, were all found brutally murdered. Authorities haven't said how the murders took place but a source has told me that the murderer used a knife.

Martinez, of course, was the only suspect from the start and police initiated a manhunt. Martinez was found early the next morning in San Jose leaving a movie theater with his father. He has only been charged thus far with the death of the boy, not the five on Nob Hill.

But give it time.

If he did it - and it appears that he did - the rest of us are left trying to figure out how a man could have killed his own mother, his ex-girlfriend, their daughter and two other children. We're equally puzzled how he then drove to the Bay Area and went out with dad to be entertained at a movie.

On July 23 Martinez was moved to the Public Safety Center in Ceres where he sits behind bars on $5 million bail. (Which coincidentally was the day before Robert and Michael Bever allegedly stabbed to death their parents and three siblings in Tulsa, Okla.)

What makes a person - no, make that an animal - commit such heinous acts? Prescription medications? Mental illness? Anger? An evil heart? To be sure, there are no clear-cut answers for what happens in the human brain.
Surely we can agree that people - typically men - get frustrated, fed up, feeling like they don't matter, depressed, feeling hopeless and some can become so futile and dark in their soul that they do things that shock society.

Ninety percent of all violent offenders are male - and are 80 percent of the victims. There is something about being male that makes the difference and we could theorize all day about those reasons. We should be concentrating on ways to stem future crimes committed by men.
Sociologists Randolph Roth and criminologist James Alan Fox suggest that most mass killers have violent episodes after feeling they were denied something thought to be rightfully theirs - such as a job, a promotion at work, a relationship or access to house. They suggest that perhaps white men, more than any race, tend to act out more if they are denied their "right" to things; a sense of entitlement if you will.

Consider that:

• On May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe exploded a bomb at Bath Consolidated School District in Tecumseh, Mich., then exploded dynamite in a pickup filled with metal shrapnel to kill 45 and injure 58. He had an ill wife, was behind on mortgage payments and was planning revenge against the community after he was defeated for re-election to the Bath Township Clerk.

• Aurora theater gunman James Holmes had failed a Ph.D. program;

• Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had washed out of Ranger school;

• Patrick Purdy, 24, had a hatred for Asian immigrants and said they took jobs from native-born Americans before he shot up Cleveland School in Stockton on Jan. 17, 1989;

• Dylann Roof, a hate-filled racist who also hated Christians, killed nine in a black church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17. He was raised in an abusive household.

• 22-year-old Elliot Oliver Rodger, who killed six persons (three by knife) and injuring 13 by gunfire near the campus of UC Santa Barbara, expressed a desire to kill women who rebuffed his sexual advances and killing sexually active men for having more bedroom fun. He, too, expressed contempt for racial minorities.

Because we live in a free society, we cannot prevent all men from committing acts of violence. But there may be more we can do to prevent another senseless episode of violence, whether it takes place in our city, our schools or our businesses - or our homes. We need to think a little better about how we are going to protect ourselves.

While some say guns are to blame, I believe that that not enough law-abiding citizens have guns to protect themselves. If only Amanda Crews had been within reach of a loaded handgun, in her own home, she would have had a fighting chance to kill the man who would destroy them all.

The media should stop sensationalizing acts of violence and quit giving the crazy gunmen their momentary fame. Moreover, they need to stop blaming guns and excusing the perpetrator's actions for whatever reason. Women should be more selective about creating babies with abusive men. Parents should be more involved with their children's lives and seeing what they are up to and whether or not they have access to guns. Maybe in our busy world we need to get more involved in the lives of those we know or love to find out about and diffuse explosive situations. Maybe parents need to bolster their children's social time and limit video playing and social media in favor of face-to-face social time. (The point: Concentrating too much on technology and one's self harms the ability to understand others' emotions.)

The Nob Hill Court case begs more answers.

How can we speed up the system that takes far too long to develop cases against men accused of killing infants? Since it took nine months for authorities to determine there was enough evidence to arrest and charge Martinez with murder, it appears our system is flawed somewhere.

How was Martinez able to gain access to the house and systematically kill the two adults and three children?

Did neighbors hear anything? If so, why didn't they report anything to police? (Police were called by a relative who suspected something was wrong when Amanda failed to answer her phone about a date at the Fair).

Was Martinez tipped off that authorities were ready to arrest him and he snapped? If so, how did he find out? Did he find out from the adult victims?

Was Martinez as creepy as one lady suggested to me? She informed me that he would come into her workplace, not far from Nob Hill Court, to harass and stalk some of the girls at work, inviting them to smoke pot with him. That he tried to pick up one of the girls as she walked down the street.

A sign which hung on Andrew Kehoe's fence back in 1927 read: "Criminals are made, not born."

The mass murderer may have had a point.

All parents need to ask themselves if they are creating criminals. They also need to ask themselves if they are contributing to tragedy by allowing weapons to fall into their hands the way Nancy Lanza did before the Sandy Hook School massacre was committed by her son, Adam Peter Lanza.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at