ALBION – On June 21, 2011, just days after her 36th birthday, Erin Ruth Justin left her room at the Pine Haven Motel on Bluffton Road to visit a friend.
She was never seen alive again.
About a month later, her water-logged body was found floating in rural Bartley Lake in Noble County, about 32 miles from the motel room she shared with her fiance, who had reported her missing.
The daughter of a Michigan judge, Justin worked as a stripper and had a minor criminal history. There were reports at the time of her disappearance she had struggled with drug addiction.
She had been scheduled to appear in Allen County Superior Court’s misdemeanor division for a probation violation on a conversion charge July 18, 2011.
An autopsy was inconclusive as to how she died and whether her death was an accident or a homicide.
According to documents, there were enough drugs in her system to have killed her. And when she went into the water, the anchor tied to her leg could have caused her to drown.
For more than two years, there was nothing else. Not a peep in public.
But detectives with the Noble County Sheriff’s Department and the Indiana State Police continued to chase down every lead and tip that came in.
This week, according to Noble County Prosecutor Steve Clouse, they got the right tip.
On Wednesday morning, Clouse announced the arrest of a pair of Fort Wayne men in connection with the case.
It is very satisfying, he said of the charges in the case.
According to court documents, 35-year-old Andres Gonzalez Jr., of the 400 block of Wiebke Street, is now charged with murder, as well as removing a body from the scene of a violent and suspicious death.
His younger brother, Victor Manuel Gonzalez, 32, of the 6500 block of St. Joe Road, is also charged with removing a body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death. He is also charged with assisting a criminal.
Both men appeared in Noble County courts Wednesday afternoon for their initial hearings.
The break in the case came when a relative of Victor Gonzalez’s wife told police that she had information.
Court documents filed Wednesday detailed the last moments of Justin’s life and described how her body ended up in the remote lake.
According to court documents, Victor Gonzalez told his wife that on June 19, 2011, he was asked by his older brother to help dispose of a woman’s body. As news reports about the recovery of Justin’s body came in a month later, they confirmed the story Victor Gonzalez told his wife.
When he was interviewed by detectives, Victor Gonzalez said he helped Andres Gonzalez put Justin’s body in the trunk. He said when he arrived at his brother’s garage, a woman’s body was attached to a concrete block and covered in cardboard and plastic. It was starting to smell and was cold to the touch. The two men drove the car to Port Mitchell Lake, in Noble County, where they had fished before.
They put the body in a boat and went to the adjoining Bartley Lake and dumped the body in the lake, according to court documents.
On Saturday, investigators interviewed Andres Gonzalez after searching the garage where he used to live, in the 3800 block of Holton Avenue.
He told investigators that in 2011 he was on his way home from work, about 10 p.m., when he saw a woman walking along Bluffton Road. He picked her up and took her to his garage.
Andres Gonzalez admitted to physically attacking the woman, and when she became unresponsive, he believed she was dead. He said he then called his brother, according to court documents.
After he was shown a picture of Justin, Andres Gonzalez identified her as the woman he attacked in his garage, court records said.
The observations from the autopsy were consistent with his statements that she had been physically attacked, according to court documents.
Even though Justin’s death occurred in Allen County, according to court documents, Clouse said that, after discussions with Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, the case will be prosecuted in Noble County.
Indiana law allows the prosecution of murder cases to be handled in the locations where either the injury or death occurred or where the body was discovered, Clouse said.