HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J.-Off a muddy, deeply rutted dirt lane surrounded by woods that leads to a hay field, a farmer making his early morning rounds Sunday discovered a body that may be the remains of a Hudson County tourist kidnapped from an Atlantic City casino garage more than a week ago.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said the likely remains of Martin Caballero, 47, a grocery store manager from North Bergen, were found around 6:30 a.m.
Housel would not elaborate on why he was unable to say for sure whether the body was Caballero's, but indicated the victim could not yet be positively identified because investigators will need the aid of "scientific data" contained in a military data base - not available until Tuesday because of the holiday weekend - to make the ID. The victim had at one time served in some branch of the Armed Forces, he said.
Calls Sunday to Caballero family members were not returned.
Housel indicated that evidence found at the scene, however, made him "highly confident" that the remains are Caballero's. He would not say whether the abduction appeared to be a random act, or if the victim had been specifically targeted.
Caballero vanished May 21 shortly after he had arrived in Atlantic City around 10:30 p.m. with two carloads of family members to celebrate his daughter's 22d birthday. He had just dropped his wife and daughter off at Trump's Taj Mahal Casino and had gone to park his car in the garage when police say he was approached by two people.
With the aid of surveillance video from the garage, investigators knew that after parking, Caballero had been approached by a woman and a man and that he then pulled out of the parking facility in his late model, white Lincoln, followed by a silver Toyota.
The victim's ATM card had been subsequently used to withdraw $300 from a bank and purchase fire-starting apparatus and $5 worth of gas in a container. Caballero's vehicle was found engulfed in flames in secluded spot in Gloucester Township, some 50 miles from where he had apparently been abducted within several hours of his disappearance.
"Good old-fashion police work" and the help of the U.S. Marshal's Service led investigators to two suspects staying at the Golden Key Motel in Egg Harbor Township on Friday morning, Housel said. Arrested were Craig Brian Arno, 44, of Atlantic City, a career criminal who had been released from prison two months ago and Jessica Kisby, 24, of Egg Harbor Township, the mother of a five-year-old who had just been released from jail March 3.
Both are charged with first-degree counts of kidnapping and carjacking and are each jailed on $400,000 cash bail.
Housel saidSunday that charges have not yet been upgraded against the pair, who he described as having "a relationship."
Kisby is a 2004 graduate of Egg Harbor Township High School who, two years ago, pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge. Published reports indicate that she had been arrested in that incident for driving a man from an Egg Harbor Township motel who had brandished a gun that discharged during a struggle. She had served her sentence in the county justice facility, according to court records.
Neighbors in Kisby's middle-class neighborhood in the Scullville section of Egg Harbor Township where she lived with her mother, Mary Kisby, said they were surprised by the recent reports involving the young woman whom they said kept to herself and was sometimes seen visiting with her child's father at the home. No one in the area had seen Arno until news reports about Kisby's involvement in the kidnapping surfaced.
Arno's extensive criminal history dates to 1981 - when he was 16 - and was drag racing at speeds of up to 80 mph along City Avenue near 77th Street in Philadelphia's Overbrook Park section when he slammed head on into a vehicle driven by a young nurse. Karen McNaughton of Media was declared dead on arrival at Lankenau Hospital where she had been headed for work.
A charge of murder against Arno was reduced to manslaughter in 1982, and he received a sentence of five years probation during which he could not drive or own a vehicle. He was arrested again three years later when he was caught weaving in traffic on City Avenue.
Over the next 20 years, Arno was in and out of trouble, spending several years in federal prison on bank fraud, counterfeiting and other charges. He was last released from prison on March 29 after serving a two-year sentence for credit card fraud. A judge had made treatment for mental illness a condition of Arno's release and ordered him to refrain from gambling, and to attend Gambler's Anonymous. He was also told to register on the Atlantic City casino's self-exclusion list, although his name does not appear in the database.
In announcing the arrests of Arno and Kisby on Friday, Housel had expressed hope that Caballero would still be found alive and had enlisted the aid of the public to help find him, releasing a timeline of when witnesses may have seen the white Lincoln and the silver Toyota driving in tandem on Atlantic County roadways.
Investigators knew that the Lincoln had traveled west out of the gambling resort on the Atlantic City Expressway and had left the toll road at Exit 12, near the Hamilton Mall in the Mays Landing-Hamilton Township area. The car returned to the toll road about 45 minutes later, according to investigators.
The spot where the body presumed to be Caballero was found is within three miles of the exit.
"I had been so hopeful we would find him alive," Housel said Sunday. "But that doesn't appear to be the case."
"My heart goes out to the family," said Housel who indicated that he had informed the family about the latest discovery. The family apparently had conducted its own search, passing out leaflets seeking information from street corners in Atlantic City.
On a remote patch of farmland off Leipzig Avenue in Hamilton Township owned by the Liepe family since 1863, the body was discovered just after the sun came up. The startling find led Ted Liepe, 54, who has farmed the property his entire life, to call police.
"This spot is so dark at night, there is nothing around here. Nobody would have seen anything," said Andy Liepe, 18, whose uncle made the discovery, as he observed the spot where the body had apparently matted the tall grass. A tiny red flag had been placed where the body had been, and plastic gloves - the type worn by forensics investigators - were strewed about.
Arnold Liepe, 78, the family's patriarch who pointed out the spot said he was in disbelief about what had been discovered by his relative.
"This is a peaceful area, been a farm for 150 years," Arnold Liepe said. "It's just horrible what they did to that man . . . horrible."
At his home Sunday, Ted Liepe's brother, Dale, said his brother was too tired and shaken to speak with reporters.
Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer James Osborne contributed to this article.