SALT LAKE CITY — A hidden compartment inside a Salt Lake City apartment, found to contain the remains of a slain South Jordan realtor, complicated an investigation that started with a missing person report but eventually led to the arrest of three people early Saturday morning.
Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking said Manuel Velasquez, 31, was arrested for investigation of murder and other charges while Jessica Miller, 38, and Diana Hernandez, 30, were both arrested on suspicion of obstruction of justice around 6 a.m. Saturday morning at an apartment in South Salt Lake. All three arrests were in connection with the Thursday death of David Stokoe, who was first reported missing Friday.
Police believe Stokoe's death, from a gunshot wound, was the result of an altercation over rent.
Wilking said Stokoe's body was found Friday in a hidden area of an apartment he owned near Windsor Street and Princeton Avenue, hours into the investigation. While investigators had already been in the apartment, and found evidence that someone had suffered a serious injury, Wilking said the area where they discovered Stokoe's remains was difficult to find.
"The victim in this homicide, David, was actually in that apartment," Wilking said. "There was an area that was not obvious when we went into in that apartment and searched it initially. It was a secret place, a crawl space type of area. Once we began processing that scene we discovered that secret passage, or secret door, and then discovered his remains."
Stokoe's Cadillac Escalade was found Saturday in West Valley City, where two people were taken into custody but later determined not have had any role in Stokoe's death. One of the individuals was released and the other arrested for allegedly violating parole, according to Wilking.
Friends told police Stokoe had gone to check on a property he owned in Salt Lake City before he disappeared.
"My understanding is he showed up there for rent or to have a conversation about (the tenants) continuing to rent there and an altercation took place resulting in his death," Wilking said.
Wilking also noted that the three people arrested were suspected drug users but that Stokoe was merely connected to them through the apartment rental.
"The people that we're dealing with are drug users," Wilking said. "Drugs were part of the world that they were involved in.
"Our victim was an innocent person that didn't have anything to do with the drug world, but just happened to be interacting through renting an apartment with people who were involved with the drug world."
Wilking said that while police belive they've apprehended the principal suspects in Stokoe's death, the investigation is ongoing and that there were "still people we need to talk to."
Stokoe's family released a statement Saturday evening expressing their sorrow and asking that he be remembered "the way he deserves to be remembered, as a hero and champion."5 comments on this story
"We know we will see him again someday, and that families are forever. We are choosing to focus on the love we feel from everyone, and the love we feel for Dave, rather than resentment surrounding the circumstances of his death. He's cheering for us, watching over us, and wants us to love life and love each other. We are so grateful for the overwhelming love and support we've received through prayers, service, emails, posts and texts. We feel your prayers and appreciate the outpouring of love and charity from friends, neighbors and strangers."
Stokoe's Utah real estate profile indicates he has been a licensed realtor in the state since 2005. According to the profile, Stokoe is married with four children.
Contributing: Amy Joi O'Donoghue