The Devil's Harvest: A Ruthless Killer, a Terrorized Community, and the Search for Justice in California's Central Valley
“if you killed the right people, people who were poor, non-white, and who didn’t have anyone to speak up for them, you could literally get away with murder. Well, almost get away with murder.”
Jose Manuel Martínez was born and raised in California and blended in easily among the farm laborers of California’s San Joaquin Valley where he lived a modest and unassuming life. But in stark contrast to the adoring and dedicated family man he appeared to be, there was an evil flipside that allowed him to pursue a frightening line of work as a hitman and enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel—a wicked profession that he carried out with such precision and technique that he went undetected for decades and claimed the lives of dozens of victims.
Martinez tracked one victim to one of the wealthiest corners of America, a horse ranch in Santa Barbara, and shot him dead, setting off a decades-long manhunt. He shot another man, a farmer right in front of his young wife as they drove to work in the fields. The widow would wait decades for justice. Those were murders for hire. Others he killed for vengeance.
The Devil’s Harvest by Jessica Garrison is a captivating true crime story of unbelievable terror that shockingly spanned nearly four decades in California’s central coast and valley. Garrison is an investigative editor for Buzzfeed News and spent more than a decade as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. This is her debut nonfiction work.
Garrison asked Martinez why he had murdered so many people and how he had gotten away with it for so long? How he could “kill without remorse” and sometimes “even relish” it, while at the same time be so kind and generous with his own family. Martinez “paused for a moment, and then he laughed ruefully. It’s a long story.”
In June 2013, Martinez was arrested for the murder of Jose Ruiz and eventually confessed to killing three dozen people in a murderous crime spree that crisscrossed numerous states between 1980 and 2011. In California, he pleaded guilty to nine counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison and received similar sentences in other states. Most of his crimes were related for Mexican drug cartels, but he also killed out of revenge and pure anger. He claimed that all of his victims deserved to die because many of them had abused women or children.
So how did Jose Martinez manage to evade law enforcement for so long? According to Garrison, he was a sly, savvy character who knew how to circumvent a systemically prejudiced and often narrow-minded criminal justice system: If you killed the right people, people who were poor, non-white, and who didn’t have anyone to speak up for them, you could literally get away with murder. Well, almost get away with murder.
The Devil’s Harvest is a must read for any true-crime aficionado and is a story that desperately needed to be told. It is well-researched and detailed—a riveting in-depth narrative that explores the complexities and failures of the criminal justice system. Jose Martinez murdered without consequence for decades. He left a trail of death and devastation within the migrant farm communities of California’s central valley, a community that was left reeling and pleading for justice that went unanswered for way too long.
“Year after year, Martinez operated with impunity. In Tulare County, where he lived for decades, officials suspected him of murder after murder and yet never charged him. Next door Kern County, where he also lived for a time and committed several murders, has one of the highest murder rates in California and one of the lowest murder-solve rates in the nation.”
Garrison’s years of investigative reporting adds credibility to the narrative and thoroughly details how law enforcement was able to track down and eventually capture Martinez, but she also controversially scrutinizes the failures that allowed the Mexican drug cartels and a psychopathic madman to roam free for decades: shockingly killing without most people ever hearing about it.