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Knell murder investigation winding down?

Alleged murder accomplice indicted

By G. Romero Wendorf

It looks like the investigation into the murder of 96-year-old WWII vet Martin Knell may be winding down if the recent state indictment of Angel Mario Garza, alleged accomplice to the victim’s alleged murderess, Melissa Patterson, is any indication.

Both were arrested Aug. 26, 2015 and charged with the Jan. 28, 2015 murder after Knell’s caretaker contacted Texas Rangers and told them she had a murder tale to tell. The Rangers contacted the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department, after which a full-fedged criminal investigation was launched.

Patterson’s been out of the county lockup on a half-a-million-dollar bail since Sept. 2 while Garza has been cooling his heels at the county jail, unable to post the million-dollar bond set against him. Biggest difference between the two, said JP “Bobby” Contreras who set their respective bonds: Patterson’s not considered a fight risk. Garza is. He’s a Mexican national with family connections south of the border, and he’s a convicted drug felon. Whereas, Patterson’s family is all here, she’s a U.S. citizen, and has never been in trouble with the law. Money troubles, tax liens, business failures, yes. Murder, no.

Knell’s caretaker, the woman who first went to the Texas Rangers because her conscience would allegedly give her no rest, and Garza, have both fingered Patterson as the mastermind behind the murder. According to the caretaker’s statement, Garza killed Knell inside his home in north McAllen while Patterson was inside the residence with him.

Shortly after the caretaker came forward with her allegations, Knell’s body was exhumed, and the death ruled a homicide by suffocation, according to the county’s medical examiner.

Meanwhile, Melissa Patterson has maintained her innocence, as has her criminal defense attorney, Ricardo Salinas.

The Advance News Journal published in-depth stories about the Knell murder in its Sept. 2 and Sept. 16 issues. Both issues are archived online at www.anjournal.com.

Asked by this newspaper approximately a month ago who was ultimately in charge of the Knell murder investigation, Hidalgo County Sheriff “Eddie” Guerra said his department had jurisdiction over the case; the Texas Rangers had taken the initial call from the caretaker and taken her statement before calling his offce, which then took the lead, working beside the lead Ranger investigator. Meanwhile, Guerra said that the Rangers were investigating another case that may also be tied to the Knell homicide.

If Melissa Patterson follows the fate of her accuser and alleged accomplice, Angel Mario Garza, and is indicted by a county grand jury, and the case goes to trial as would be expected – her attorney, “Ric” Salinas, says there are already holes in the criminal complaint against her – the trial promises to be very high profle, considering that her maiden name is Palacios, and her family has been a PSJA political dynasty of sorts in Hidalgo County for the past 40+ years.

Contesting the Will

Meanwhile, on the civil litigation side of things, the victim’s son, Mark Knell Jr., and his attorney, Danny Gurwitz, from Atlas & Hall, are still pursuing Patterson’s alleged right to his father’s estate, estimated at close to a million dollars.

The process by which McAllen-based attorney Mark Talbot executed a new Will and Testament for 96-year-old Marty Knell, which signed over most of Knell’s estate to Patterson 37 days before the nonagenarian’s murder, lacked due diligence, the civil suit against Patterson claims. Meaning, the victim’s new Will and Testament should be struck down as null and void.

During the new Will and Testament phase, Patterson was also granted Power of Attorney over Knell’s legal and banking affairs, after which she locked the victim’s son, Mark, out of his dad’s banking accounts, into which he had never dipped a finger, according to court flings. She also allegedly had the locks to his house changed so his son couldn’t gain entrance.

In fact, in the younger Knell’s court flings against Patterson -- Affrmative Claim for Relief Against Monica Melissa Patterson -- he claims that on Oct. 22, 2014, while attending his parents’ 74th wedding anniversary at the Comfort House – the hospice where Patterson served as chief administrator -- the alleged murderess told him that his father had just dropped off $150,000 in cash to her.

Say what?

The next day, Mark Knell’s mother suddenly died. And the $150k in cash has never been recovered, according to court flings.

Asked if the sheriff’s office is now going to have to go back and review all the past Will and Testaments fled anew during the approximate one-and-a-half years that Melissa Patterson worked at the Comfort House, looking for suspicious activity, Sheriff “Eddie” Guerra said, “This has opened up a whole Pandora’s Box.”

Garza indicted

As soon as Marty Knell’s female caretaker (Patterson had allegedly hired her) contacted the Texas Rangers in February of 2015, claiming that the 96-year-old WWII vet for whom she had cared had been murdered in cold-blooded fashion, Angel Mario Garza was under the gun, so to speak. According to the criminal complaint against him, it took no time whatsoever for him to spill the beans and finger Patterson as the mastermind behind Knell’s murder, claiming she promised to pay him for the murder, and that’s why he decided to turn to homicide. He was already doing other part-time work for her at the Comfort House.

So they drove up to Marty Knell’s brick home the morning of Jan. 28, 2015, and Patterson asked the caretaker to step outside, according to the criminal complaint. Garza waited in the car. A short time later, Patterson stepped outside the home and waved for Garza to enter. “Do what you have to do,” she allegedly told Garza as he donned plastic gloves. She then waited outside with the caretaker for a short time before going back inside the home. Allegedly things weren’t moving along quickly enough. The caretaker said she heard sounds of a struggle. Then, silence. A short time later, Patterson and Garza emerged from the home, according to the criminal complaint.

So why did it take a month for the caretaker to tell the truth? If indeed Patterson and Garza were killers?

Because, she said, according to the criminal complaint against Melissa Patterson, the Comfort House administrator was her boss and had allegedly threatened her with bodily harm if she said a word to anybody about what she had just seen – the alleged murder of Knell. She was big and intimidating, said the caretaker. Someone you didn’t want to tangle with.

With her conscience allegedly in full blossom, the caretaker told the Rangers that after Knell was dead, Patterson left the scene with Garza, but not before instructing her to wait 30 minutes and then call 911 and tell them the old man had passed on. The JP arrived on the scene, Homer Jasso, noted Knell’s age, his declining physical health, the fact that a caretaker was there when he passed away, and wrote it all down as a natural death.

If only the caretaker had carefully followed Melissa Patterson’s alleged directions – don’t say a word about what you saw – the only thing that would be going on now is the civil action against Patterson, fled by Knell’s son, Mark, this past April.

An alleged murder story, certainly, wouldn’t be on the front page above the fold, and Angel Mario Garza wouldn’t be cooling his heels in the county jail, having recently been indicted by a county grand jury of the 139th state District Court on a capital murder charge. He’d probably still be doing odd jobs at the Comfort House.

According to the indictment, Garza knowingly and intentionally caused the death of Martin Knell by using a plastic bag to smother him to death. The reason: Melissa Patterson had promised him money. The date of the indictment reads Nov. 17, 2015.

During Patterson’s bail-reduction hearing in late August, however, her attorney, “Ric” Salinas, reminded the general public, no matter what people are posting on social media, his client remains innocent until proven guilty, and he thinks he’s already found some holes in the criminal complaint against her.

“Things aren’t always what they appear to be,” he said.

Meanwhile, the question remains: when will the Melissa Patterson case be presented to a county grand jury?

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