The discovery last year of two deceased men inside a charred vehicle in an orchard on the outskirts of Denair has now resulted in the arrest of a fifth man on murder charges.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department arrested Bernardo Rangel, 43, of Atwater on Tuesday on suspicion of murder, conspiracy, kidnapping, false imprisonment and marijuana possession with intent to sell.
Rangel joins Monico J. Pena, Salvador Silva, Gerardo Alvarez Silva, and Heliodoro Silva Arreola are also defendants in the death of Reyes Garcia Barona, 29, of Atwater and Rodolfo Barona, 32 of Sacramento. The other four defendants were arrested within a week of the bodies being discovered.
The two victims were found Oct. 20, 2014 in a charred four-door sedan in an orchard off East Monte Vista Avenue, just east of Bledsoe Road and near the Merced and Stanislaus county lines.
Investigators found two crime scenes at the orchard. In addition to the remains, investigators found weapons and “a substantial amount of evidence” in the orchard just outside of Denair, said sheriff spokesman Sgt. Delray Shelton.
The two victims were reported missing by relatives a few days prior to their bodies being discovered.
Investigators have stated the kidnapping and murders appear to have been over a drug debt.
The cause of death for either victim has not been released. Sheriff’s department officials did have to wait for pathology results for official identification.
During the course of the arrests, investigators found numerous firearms, approximately 150 pounds of marijuana and $4,000 in cash.
All the suspects have entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them, except Rangel, who has yet to have an arraignment. All are being held in custody at the Merced County Jail.