Episode 115: James Montoya

May 6, 2024

When a young man goes missing after a night at the bar, investigators hunt a killer while a family seeks justice. What happened to James Montoya?

Episode Media
James “Jay” Montoya (Denver7)
James and his mother Corinna (Denver7)
Jay’s locations April 1-2, 2023 (Google Maps)
Area in Saguache County where Jay’s body was found (Google Maps)
Jesus Angel Arvizo (L) and Amber Jean Dominguez (R) (Denver PD)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case that I came across while researching last week’s episode. Unsurprisingly, it’s a case that deserves way more attention than the media has given it, and if it gets the proper attention, a family can get justice. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

On the evening of April 1, 2023, 26-year-old James Montoya – who went by Jay – told his girlfriend Lorena that he was going out to the local bar. Jay was extremely extroverted and loved spending his Saturday nights playing pool and striking up conversations with strangers. Jay loved people, and people loved Jay. He was funny and charismatic, and he made friends easily.

On this particular night, Jay dressed in light blue slacks and brown wingtip oxfords, throwing on a dark blue sports coat to complete the look. He called for an Uber to take him to the Hangar 101 Bar & Grill in downtown Lakewood, Colorado. He left his truck at the apartment and told Lorena he would be back in a few hours.

But when Lorena awoke the next morning, Jay wasn’t there. When she looked outside, she saw his truck still parked where he had left it the night before. Lorena immediately began calling and texting Jay’s phone, but she didn’t get a response. This worried her. If Jay’s plans had changed, he would have let her know. Plus, it wasn’t like him to just flat-out ignore her calls and texts.

Lorena texted Jay’s youngest sister Jaali, asking her to try calling Jay. But Jaali got the same result – no answer. By now, the whole family was involved, with everyone trying to get in touch with Jay. But there was no response.

Someone had the foresight to check Jay’s Snapchat just in case he had posted something. And sure enough, he had. At 2:30am, Jay had posted a picture of a car in front of a house. The location data showed that the picture had been taken near the intersection of Alameda Avenue and Federal Boulevard, about 5 miles northeast of the Hangar 101 bar.

The family has never given exact details about what happened next, but someone in the family must be quite a sleuth, because they managed to track down the landlord of the property shown in the Snapchat image. Jay’s father Eddie later told reporters that as the landlord looked up the phone number of the person who lived in the house, Eddie had sneakily looked over his shoulder and snapped a picture of the contact information for one Jesus Arvizo.

When Eddie called the phone number later that morning, he was a bit surprised when someone actually answered. Jesus Arvizo said that he had met Jay at the bar and they had played a few rounds of pool. Jesus told Eddie that Jay was a cool guy. They had left the bar together and Jesus had dropped Jay off at the club. That was the last time he’d seen him.

But something didn’t feel right. Although Jesus tried to act casual, it was clear he was avoiding their questions. Jay’s mother Corinna told Denver7, “We just knew something in our heart – we knew he was lying. We knew this was not normal for our son to disappear like this.”

Eddie and Corinna contacted the Denver Police Department and reported Jay missing. Investigators took the case seriously from the start, pulling surveillance video from the bar in an effort to establish a timeline. As expected, Jay arrived at Hangar 101 on the night of April 1st. When the bar closed at 2am, Jay was seen leaving the bar in the company of a Hispanic man wearing a black shirt and pants with a red Boston Red Sox baseball cap. Jay got into the man’s car and rode off. Not long after, Jay posted to Snapchat from Jesus Arvizo’s house.

Unfortunately, other than the video footage and a single Snapchat image, investigators didn’t have much to go on. Jay was a grown man; it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he had disappeared on purpose, maybe to escape his life for a few days.

But Jay’s family knew that if it was within his power, Jay would come home. He would never let them wonder like this. Besides, Jay’s life was going so well. He had a girlfriend he loved – he and Lorena had been together for a year and were planning a life together. He had a job he was good at, working 40 hours a week in construction and saving up money for the future. He was close to his family, the second of four siblings who loved each other dearly. And recently, Jay was on the verge of making a lifelong dream come true: he had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was scheduled to leave the next month. Eddie told Denver7, “He was on top of the world with his goals. We were proud of him, everyone was proud of him.”

As days turned into weeks, it became even more clear that Jay hadn’t just walked away from his life. There had been no activity on his cell phone or on any of his credit cards or bank accounts. Without his truck, Jay had no means of transportation. There was no sign of him at any bus stations or train depots.

Lorena told 9News that she was sure Jay hadn’t left of his own volition. “He would never choose to walk away from his life here. He is the best person there could be.”

Corinna told Denver7 that not knowing where her son was was nearly unbearable. “It’s heart wrenching. It’s a pain that we’ve never experienced before. It’s hard not to let your mind go somewhere that it doesn’t need to go.”

Although Jay’s family trusted that investigators were doing the best they could, they couldn’t just sit around and wait. Family and friends searched the city, gathering along the banks of the South Platte River that ran along the east side of Denver, hoping to find anything at all. Corinna told CBS Colorado, “Our hearts are ripped apart. We are just doing everything we can.”

The family also started a GoFundMe page so they could offer a reward for information. By mid-May, they had raised $10,000. Corinna told Denver7, “$2,000 might not get anybody to pick up the phone or to do anything, but hopefully $10,000 will [pique] somebody’s interest and speak out.”

In the same interview, Corinna told Denver7 that investigators had found Jay’s phone on the side of the road in neighboring Weld County, northeast from where Jay had last been seen. They were hoping to be able to gain more information through forensic analysis. And it seems as though they did, because at the end of May, the Denver Police Department’s homicide unit was brought in to help with the case. Investigators now had cause to believe that this was more than just a missing persons case.

As Denver detectives worked on Jay’s case, authorities 200 miles south were working on their own investigation. On July 26th, a search team out looking for 55-year-old Edna Quintana – whose case I covered last week – stumbled upon skeletal remains in the desert foothills of Saguache County. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation released photographs of two items found with the remains: a small metal cross and a man’s dress shoe, a brown wingtip oxford.

Media exposure and communication between departments eventually led to the identification of the remains: they belonged to 26-year-old James “Jay” Montoya.

In an emotional interview with Denver7, Corinna shared the family’s response to the news that Jay had been found. “He went out for the night to enjoy himself, to play pool, and he never came back, and there was no reason for this, none at all. We were hoping for a different resolution, and that hope’s gone right now, but we’re thankful that we have some closure… It’s not the closure that we wanted, but we’re thankful he was found.”

Corinna and Eddie also mentioned that investigators were still hard at work looking for whoever was responsible for Jay’s death and they felt sure that an arrest would come soon. Corinna said, “They did hear us and are working tirelessly to bring the suspect or suspects to justice.”

Eddie added that the family was waiting for a phone call to come at any moment. “It’s the timing — standing still and trusting in God and the authorities and detective work and letting people do their job. Being patient. It’s quite the test, but it’s a process and we’ll get there.”

Finally, in October of 2023, the Denver Police Department announced that they were searching for a suspect in the murder of James Montoya: 33-year-old Jesus Arvizo, the last person to be seen with Jay.

They also announced that they had another suspect in custody. Thirty-year-old Amber Jean Dominguez had been arrested and charged with accessory to first degree murder after the fact.

During a press conference on October 3rd, Commander Matt Clark of the Denver Police Department Major Crimes Division told reporters that they believed Jay had met Jesus Arvizo at Hangar 101 on the evening of April 1, 2023. After the bar closed at 2am, Jesus had offered Jay a ride, taking him to his house where Jay posted the picture to Snapchat at 2:30am.

At some point in the early morning hours of April 2nd, Jay got back in the car with Jesus and Amber Dominguez and drove to downtown Denver. Somewhere near Bannock Street, Jesus and Jay got into an argument that quickly escalated, ending with Jesus shooting Jay. Jesus and Amber then drove three hours south to Saguache County, dumping Jay’s body in an open area north of the Saguache Municipal Airport near County Road 46AA. The spot was so remote that had search teams not already been out looking for Edna Quintana, Jay likely would never have been found.

Commander Clark told reporters that although Jesus Arvizo had connections in Saguache County, they believed he was currently in hiding in the southern part of the state, likely near the town of Alamosa. The Denver District Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Jesus Arvizo on charges of first degree murder. Commander Clark urged anyone with information about his whereabouts to come forward.

At the press conference, Jay’s family spoke out as well, reminding reporters and the public that the journey was far from over. Jay’s older brother Judon said, “I am begging for any help. His laughter, his joy, his heart, his courage, his passion were so strong from when we were young kids. Everyone would know who James was. The fact that he was taken from us at such an early time, an unexpected time, it’s just heartbreaking, and we want justice to be given for our brother.”

Corinna asked Jesus Arvizo to turn himself in, to end their family’s suffering. “As you can imagine, this is the worst nightmare a family can experience. We know he’s hiding. He’s a dangerous person, and our family is in pain, and we would like some final resolution in this case.”

As of this recording, authorities are still searching for Jesus Angel Arvizo, who has been charged with first degree murder in the death of James “Jay” Montoya. He may be in the area of Alamosa, Colorado. If you have any information about the whereabouts of Jesus Arvizo, please contact Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867. There is a reward of up to $2,000 for information, and your tip can be anonymous.