My sister's name is Elisabeth Anne Tortolini and she was 19 years old when she was murdered by strangulation by a man that was
"having a bad day." Her cheeks were rosy like an Irish Rose. She had long, wavy hair and bright blue eyes that seemed to dance. Her skin was olive-colored and she lit up a room when she entered it. She was a daughter and a sister and an aunt.
Her memorial service was larger than Dale Evan's (country singer). She had many admirers and friends. She seemed to make them where ever she went. She loved singing and acting in theater shows in high school. She hummed and sang all the time, no matter what, day or night. She loved animals - cats in particular. She kept every card and letter that she ever received. She had a fiancé named Sam and they planned to get married in the future. She was daddy's little girl.
She loved to read books and ponder thoughts. She wrote many, many things and kept a journal for all of her life. Four days before she was murdered, she began a new journal and in the journal she wrote out ways to endure suffering.
She never wanted to grow up. She loved Disney and even worked for Disneyland for a little while. She hated to leave high school as she loved being a happy, free teenager. She had gone to New York and sang at Carnegie Hall with a group from school and that was the most fantastic trip. She loved going to the beach and getting tan and flirting with the beach boys. She was human and had her weaknesses along with her strengths. She cried for people, she listened to people, she made them laugh, and she understood her family and friends.
~ Love, Sarah
I remember a day long ago when my Elisabeth was a wee little lass and she traveled with me to a ranch to purchase some honey from a rancher while we lived in the San Joaquin Valley. The rancher carried the honey to my car and when his eyes fell on my Elisabeth, his expression took on an endearing, adoring look. He broke into a tender smile and stated, "My, look here, you have yourself a little Irish Rose." I then, too, looked and saw what he saw, a cherubic face surrounded by soft curls with bright eyes and rosy cheeks and a tiny mouth shaped like a little rose bud. And we gazed magically at her image and drank in her being.
I then thanked the man for the honey and drove home. The memory of that day has remained with me and I then referred to my darlin' as my Irish Rose. Her cheeks were rosy every day of her life, even when she was ill. Sam, Elisabeth's
fiancÚ, had the unfortunate task of identifying Elisabeth on April 5, 2001. When I joined Sam in Texas on April 6, I asked him how she looked and this was his reply, "She looked like Elisabeth. Her hair was still wet and even has some leaves in it still and some abrasions on her face, but what struck me the deepest was her rosy cheeks were gone." This broke my heart further still, and I knew she no longer lived in her body. She took her rosy cheeks with her when she left.
When you enter Heaven, you will see her, and if you have a trace of doubt it is really her, look for her rosy cheeks, and you will smile and say, "There she is - Jamie's Irish Rose."
To Elisabeth Anne Tortolini, my deepest ache, my enduring joy, my stellar best - All my hopes to each of you.
~ Jamie, Elisabeth's Mom
Newspaper Accounts of Elisabeth's Murder
Former Apple Valley Student Murdered
FORT WORTH, Texas - A 24-year-old man murdered a 19-year-old former Apple Valley resident, stuffed her body in a golf travel bag, and dumped her beside a creek here, a police official said Friday.
Elisabeth Tortolini, a 1999 graduate of Apple Valley High School, was working as a clerk at Plus Suites in Fort Worth, Texas, when she made a delivery to a man's room Wednesday evening, Fort Worth Police Department Homicide Sgt. Skeeter Anderson said.
The man, 24-year-old Maurice Gauthier of New Mexico, had asked Tortolini to go out with him in the past, but she had refused, the sergeant said.
After making the delivery, Tortolini did not return to her post.
When Tortolini's boyfriend came to pick her up, he saw Gauthier leaving the motel with a large golf travel bag and decided to follow him, but he had to turn around when he nearly ran out of gas, Anderson said.
Police went to the motel early Thursday morning and Gauthier gave them permission to search his pickup truck. Police found the golf bag with Tortolini's bloody clothes inside it, Anderson said.
Gauthier later admitted to the crime and led investigators to a creek where he had dumped Tortolini's body, the sergeant said.
Gauthier was arrested for murder and booked into the Fort Worth Police Department jail.
Tortolini moved to Fort Worth about six months ago from Apple Valley.
Testimony under way in hotel murder trial
August 7, 2002
FORT WORTH - Sam Davis knew in his gut that something was wrong.
His girlfriend, Elisabeth Tortolini, wasn't waiting in the foyer as usual when he arrived to pick her up from her job at a Fort Worth hotel. She didn't answer the hotel-issued phone she always carried. And he still couldn't find her after a floor-by-floor search.
Davis suspected that Maurice Gauthier, the motel guest he saw struggling that night to carry a large duffel bag from his room to a pickup, had something to do with Tortolini's disappearance.
Several hours later, prosecutors contend, Davis' instincts were confirmed.
Davis was among six prosecution witnesses who testified Tuesday in state District Judge Everett Young's courtroom during the opening day of Gauthier's murder trial. The 25-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., man is accused of smothering Tortolini, a night clerk at the StudioPlus hotel, on the night of April 4, 2001, and then dumping her body in a creek bed near Benbrook Lake.
If convicted, Gauthier could face up to life in prison.
During opening statements, prosecutor Mike Parrish, who is trying the case with Leticia Martinez, told jurors that they will hear Gauthier's confession, police testimony that he led authorities to the body, and DNA evidence proving that Tortolini's body was in his black duffel bag.
"Her name was Elisabeth Tortolini," Parrish said. "She was 19 years old. She had a mane of flaming red hair and a smile that would light up the room."
Defense attorney Larry Moore reserved his right to make an opening statement until later in the trial. During his cross-examination of witnesses, however, Moore's questions focused on whether Gauthier had been drinking that night and whether police followed proper procedure when they entered Gauthier's hotel room, searched his truck and questioned him.
For much of the morning, Davis was on the witness stand, giving jurors his account of what happened that evening. He said that he and a friend, Aubrey Parsons, arrived at the hotel to pick Tortolini up and got worried when they couldn't find her.
Davis said he immediately became suspicious of Gauthier, who had asked Tortolini out before. After he saw Gauthier taking the large bag to his pickup, he asked him whether he had seen Tortolini, but Gauthier said no.
Davis testified that he memorized the man's license plate number and called 911, then he and Parsons got back into their car and followed Gauthier until they ran out of gas.
The pair returned to the hotel to wait on police who, prosecutors said, arrived more than 40 minutes after Davis' 911 call. Davis testified that he told police that he suspected foul play and that Gauthier was involved.
A hotel manager later accompanied police to Room 119 - Gauthier's room - to see if Tortolini was there. She was not.
When Gauthier returned to the hotel a short time later, Davis and Parsons pointed him out to police. Two officers testified that Gauthier voluntarily allowed them to search his pickup - and the bag Davis had told them about.
Inside the bag, they found Tortolini's name tag, wire-rim glasses, clothes, blood and body fluids. In Gauthier's pants pocket, an officer testified, they found three pairs of latex gloves.
Gauthier later gave homicide detectives a tape-recorded statement saying he suffocated Tortolini with a towel after he called her, asking her to bring him coffee.
According to court testimony, a surveillance camera showed Tortolini leaving the front desk, apparently headed to Gauthier's room. The next image on the tape is of Davis arriving five minutes later to pick her up.
Trial in hotel clerk's death winds down
August 7, 2002
FORT WORTH - Jurors are expected Thursday to begin deliberating the fate of an Albuquerque, N.M., man accused of smothering a 19-year-old woman inside a hotel room, stuffing her body in a large duffel bag and then dumping her in a creek bed.
If convicted, 25-year-old Maurice Gauthier, who was in Fort Worth revamping printing presses for the `Star-Telegram at the time of the woman's death, could face up to life in prison.
Prosecutors Mike Parrish and Leticia Martinez rested their case Wednesday afternoon after calling six more witnesses in their effort to prove that Gauthier killed Elisabeth Tortolini, a night clerk at the hotel where he had been staying on April 4, 2001.
Tortolini, who had moved from Apple Valley, Calif., to Fort Worth two years earlier with dreams of attending flight attendant school, had been working at the hotel less than two months.
At the conclusion of the state's case, defense attorney Larry Moore waived his right to give an opening statement and rested his case without presenting any evidence. Moore cross-examined almost every prosecution witness, however, focusing his questions on whether Gauthier had been drinking that night and whether police followed proper procedures in their investigation.
Throughout the two-day trial in state District Judge Everett Young's court, Gauthier, who gave police a tape-recorded confession and then led them to Tortolini's body, has kept his head bowed, seldom looking up from the defense table.
While jurors heard emotional testimony on Monday from Tortolini's mother, Jamie Tortolini, and her boyfriend, Sam Davis, the prosecutors' case on Wednesday focused on the scientific side of criminal investigations.
In addition to testimony from a Tarrant County medical examiner, jurors heard from three crime scene officers. The officers talked about the evidence they found in Gauthier's bag and truck, including a bloody towel, Tortolini's clothes, wire rim glasses and her hotel name tag.
The final witness of the day was Karla Carmichael, a senior forensic scientist, who testified that DNA samples obtained from blood on the towel and blood in the bag matched Tortolini's DNA.
Closing arguments are expected to begin at 9:30 a.m. with jurors deliberating Gauthier's guilt or innocence immediately afterward.
Killer of clerk draws life term
August 9, 2002
FORT WORTH - A 25-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., man was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for smothering a woman, stuffing her in a duffel bag and dumping her body in a creek bed.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated about an hour and a half in assessing Maurice Adam Gauthier's punishment. Earlier in the day, they took less than an hour to convict him of murder in the April 4, 2001, slaying of 19-year-old Elisabeth Tortolini, the night clerk at the hotel where he had been staying.
He will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
Gauthier, standing next to his attorney Larry Moore, showed no emotion when state District Judge Everett Young read the sentence. Tortolini's family mouthed "Thank you" many times to the jurors, who also assessed the maximum fine, $10,000.
After the trial, Tortolini's parents, Fred and Jamie Tortolini of Apple Valley, Calif., expressed gratitude to police, prosecutors and jurors.
"Those people on the jury - we know this was very hard on them," Fred Tortolini said.
His wife added: "We thought of the potential jurors all year. We were concerned that our horror would become theirs."
Gauthier's family declined to comment.
The punishment range for first-degree murder is five years to life in prison, but because Gauthier had no prior convictions, he was also eligible for probation.
Prosecutors Mike Parrish and Leticia Martinez asked jurors for the life sentence; Moore asked for leniency.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Parrish called Fred Tortolini to the witness stand and asked him one question: How has the death of your daughter affected you and your family?
In a brief statement, Fred Tortolini told jurors that it has strained his relationship with his wife and that their two other children have had a difficult time dealing with it.
"It has absolutely ripped the heart out of my family," Fred Tortolini said.
Prosecutors posed the same question to Jamie Tortolini.
"That's the hardest question anyone has ever asked me," Jamie Tortolini said, before describing the night she and her husband received the phone call that their daughter was missing.
"We sat in the dark in our living room all night long, praying that she was still alive and that he had just kidnapped her," she said, crying.
Jamie Tortolini called her daughter a "mother's dream" who used to come home smelling like cotton candy after her first job at Disneyland. She described her as tender and sweet and told jurors about the last time she saw her daughter - in a casket.
"She was so perfect, so beautiful and I thought I had to touch her one last time. I ran my fingers in her hair ..."
At that point, Moore objected to the narrative, ending her testimony. Tortolini quietly walked back to her seat as jurors passed around a box of tissue.
Prosecutors then rested their case.
Presenting his side, Moore called three correctional officers at the Tarrant County Jail who testified that Gauthier was a model inmate, always polite and respectable. One said he often talked about religion and his family. Another said Gauthier was one of the "best inmates I've ever supervised."
Jurors also heard testimony from a childhood friend of Gauthier's from Clearwater, Fla., and a neighbor from Albuquerque, both of whom flew in to testify on his behalf. They described him as a nice, friendly person who went out of his way to help others.
The panel also heard from Gauthier's pastor, brother and father, who asked jurors for mercy, saying he could still be a productive member of society.
"I love him very much," said his father, Maurice J. Gauthier. "If I could take his place over there, I would do it."