Family grieves for slain Murray Hill immigrant

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Elizabeth and Geisi Figueroa knew something was wrong with their cousin Miguel Martinez a week before they found his decomposing body July 14 behind the Douglaston diner where he worked.

The two young women knew as early as July 9, when Martinez, 20, failed to return from his shift at the Seville Diner on Northern Boulevard to the Murray Hill apartment he shared with his family.

“He was quiet, shy — he didn’t go out,” Geisi Figueroa said of their cousin, who had lived with the Figueroas for about six weeks. “We knew when he didn’t come home from work.”

Elizabeth Figueroa painted a dark picture of the following week during which she said she and her mother haunted the 109th Precinct in Flushing to get help looking for their missing relative only to be repeatedly brushed off by police, they claimed.

“They told us to go to the hospitals, to go to the prisons” to look for him, she said. “They didn’t pay any attention to us.”

Neither the 109th Precinct in Flushing nor detectives at the 111th Precinct in Bayside could be reached for comment as of presstime late Tuesday.

The Figueroas found Martinez’s body in a garbage can in a wooded area behind the Seville Diner at 231-10 Northern Blvd. in Douglaston July 14 after the family received an anonymous phone call telling them that his bookbag was there.

He had been slashed in the throat, according to the medical examiner’s report.

Newsday reported July 19 Jesus Martinez, the victim’s uncle, was the primary suspect in the murder. The Figueroas said Jesus Martinez had fled to El Salvador, where the family originated, and has had contact with family members there, including Miguel Martinez’s mother.

“She lost her son — she’s not feeling too good right now,” Elizabeth Figueroa said. She also said Miguel Martinez’s grandmother became so ill upon hearing the news of her grandson’s murder that she had to go to a hospital in El Salvador.

Martinez and his uncle got along well, the Figueroas said, until three months ago when another relative moved to the area from El Salvador.

From that point on, the Figueroas said, the relationship between Martinez and his uncle became rocky and culminated in the uncle’s accusation that Martinez had robbed the diner where they both worked. Eventually Martinez moved out of the uncle’s home, the Figueroas said, and moved in with their family.

“He didn’t take that money,” Elizabeth Figueroa said. “The police never did an investigation, they didn’t make a report, they never took any fingerprints. They should have checked everything out.”

It was not clear why the police supposedly singled out Martinez since the police officers involved were not available to discuss the circumstances.

Elizabeth Figueroa said Miguel Martinez used money he had been saving to send to his family in El Salvador to pay what the police claimed was stolen because they were pressuring him and told him he could go to jail. Figueroa accused the police of targeting Miguel Martinez because he did not speak English.

Geisi Figueroa said Miguel was so upset about the accusations that he had stolen the roughly $1,100 that he sat around the family’s Murray Hill apartment crying the day before he disappeared.

“It wasn’t him,” Geisi Figueroa said.

Sitting in the neatly kept family apartment Tuesday morning, Elizabeth and Geisi Figueroa said they had managed to scrape enough money together to send their cousin’s body to El Salvador for burial this week.

While the owner of the Seville Diner has refused to discuss the incident publicly, the Figueroas said he has been kind to their family since Miguel’s disappearance and helped fund the effort to send his body home to El Salvador.

The family held a funeral service in Queens last weekend, they said, and sent the body to be buried in the family cemetery in El Salvador Tuesday.

The Figueroas said Miguel Martinez had been working diligently since his arrival in the United States more than a year ago to send money home to his family in El Salvador.

“He was working to send his sister to school,” Elizabeth Figueroa said. “He wanted her to be something he’d never been.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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