Jennifer Cave was on track to putting her life back in order. Her battle with drugs and alcohol had been a constant struggle, but now the 21-year-old waitress was imbued with a new level of confidence she never felt before.
The law firm that she interviewed with on August 16, 2005, was so impressed that they offered her a full-time position, starting the next morning.
Unfortunately Cave wouldn’t show up for her first day of work, or any other day, because little did anyone know at the time she was laying in a bloody bathtub murdered and partially dismembered.
Her body discovered in a friend’s apartment near the University of Texas.
Jennifer’s head lay in a plastic bag by the tub, along with both her hands.
Who would commit such a depraved act of violence and murder?
To understand how Jennifer’s life was destroyed in such a grisly way, we must retrace her steps the night of her murder.
A Long Night
When Jennifer Cave walked out of the local law firm newly employed, she was ecstatic. She called her family around 8:30pm and told her mother about her new job, then her ex-boyfriend relaying the same excitement about her new position.
Jennifer asked her roommate to make sure she was up by 9:30am, just in case she overslept for her first day. Finally, she called her friend, Michael Rodriguez. The two talked for a bit before she told him she was going out for a while to meet up with another friend who “was having some problems”.
This friend, which police believe was her drug supplier, was named Colton Pitonyak and although a top-marked student at the University of Texas, had some previous arrest for DWI and PCOS (possession of controlled substances.)
Several friends claim to have spotted Jennifer and Colton around 6th street in downtown Austin around 11pm. The two joined up with a group of other mutual party-goers and found having several drinks at Treasure Island bar.
Next the group went to Cheers Shot Bar, where Jennifer and Colton were seen splitting away from the group and walking east on 6th Street. Detectives believe Colton had just received a confirmation to meet his cocaine dealer so the two could do drugs together.
Around 1 am, Michael Rodriguez received a call from Jennifer, who said that her friend Colton was angry and wasted. Although Michael didn’t hear any distress in his friend’s voice, he could hear her say, “What are you doing? That is not my car! Oh my God, he is pissing on that car.”
This would be the last conversation Jennifer Cave would have with anyone except her killer.
An Unlikely Killer
Detectives know that Colton Pitonyak killed Jennifer Cave, plus he admitted to the murder, however, it was still hard to process the motive of the killing.
Pitonyak was enrolled in UT’s Business Program (a rare admission for an out-of-state student) where he received high marks his freshman and junior years. Colton came from an upper middle class family, was a National Merit Scholar, and maintained a spotless highschool record. Colton even had business experience since his father built his own successful business.It is easy to see that Pitonyak was a shoo-in for a successful stay at UT’s elite business program.
However, there was one part of Colton’s life that even he couldn’t control, and that was the constant temptation of drugs and alcohol. His addiction to these substances had been escalating, finally hitting its zenith in the summer of 2005. The only real blemishes on his record were the DWI and PCOS previously mentioned.
Cause of Death
After Jennifer’s body was found, investigators began mapping out the crime scene, hoping to shed some light on how the murder actually happened.
The official cause of death was determined to be a single gunshot from a .380 Smith and Wesson which entered through Jennifer’s right arm, traveling through her torso, and eventually lacerating her aorta.
Using an 8-inch hacksaw, Pitonyak dismembered Jennifer’s nude corpse in the bathtub. He successfully removed the head and both hands before stopping.
Considering that both killer and victim were on mind-altering drugs would be the only proper explanation to what detectives discovered next.
Not only did investigators note several post-mortem stab wounds in Jennifer’s body, mostly to the chest and neck, as her head was not attached, they also found an additional slug resting against her skull showing that Pitonyak must have fired the second and last bullet through the base of her severed neck.
The exact time of death could not be determined, but detectives surmise Jennifer was first shot between 1:05 am and 3:30 am.
Stopped at Burger King
The morning after the murder, CCTV captured Pitonyak entering a local hardware store, where receipts show that he purchase an 8-inch hacksaw, safety mask, ammonia, and other cleaning products.
Bank records also show that on the way home to dismember his victim, Pitonyak stopped at Burger King for a breakfast combo.
Colton quickly realized that he couldn’t dispose of the body by himself and called over a friend, Laura Hall, to help him cut up the body. It is not known if Hall helped with this gruesome task, but later the two fled across the Mexico border, leaving Jennifer’s partially dismembered corpse to decompose in his apartment.
From college bars to prison bars
Colton Pitonyak and his new accomplice, Laura Hall, were quickly arrested by Mexican police officers and extradited back to face his crimes.
Laura Hall was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her part in the crime and has been released in 2018 after serving her time.
Colton will remain in prison for most of his life after receiving 55 years.