The Tragic 1999 Murder Of Cordell Richards

On February 2, 1999, 31-year-old Cordell Richards was reported missing by his family. During a subsequent search of his Florida apartment, authorities found 17-year-old Ronald Bell, 16-year-old Kristel Maestas, and 15-year-old Renee Lincks inside. As reported by Guanabee, the teens said they had permission to stay in Richards' home. However, they had not seen the man in several days. The teens said it was not uncommon for Richards to be gone for a while, as he worked a lot of hours.

Just over one month later, on March 4, 1999, a 12-year-old boy was playing in the woods in Fort Walton, Florida, when he made a macabre discovery — a badly decomposing body tied to one of the trees. The boy contacted authorities, who rushed to the scene. FindLaw reports authorities concluded that the remains, which were secured to the tree with a chain and a rope, were partially skeletonized and had also been burned. An autopsy, which was conducted by Dr. Michael Berkland, revealed that the male victim suffered blunt force trauma to the head, which caused several cranial fractures. Berkland also noted the victim had injuries to his wrist, arm, ribs, sternum, and shoulder blade. According to FindLaw, he also found a deep "chop injury to the left neck."

Berkland concluded the victim's manner of death was homicidal violence, which included blunt force trauma and the neck injury. The pattern of burn marks on the body suggested Richards was set on fire after he was killed.

He had a teen roommate

The victim was eventually identified as Cordell Richards via his fingerprints. As reported by Guanabee, Richards lived in Florida his entire life, with the exception of the time he served in the United States Air Force. In the months prior to his murder, Richards placed and ad in a local newspaper seeking a roommate. Sixteen-year-old Kristel Maestas (pictured), who was reportedly "kicked out" of her home by her parents, answered Richards' ad and subsequently moved into a spare room in his apartment.

Within weeks, Maestas began complaining that Richards' unusual behavior was making her uncomfortable. According to FindLaw, Richards would frequently enter her bedroom wearing nothing but a pair of bikini underwear. On at least one occasion, Maestas said he propositioned her for sex. When she declined, Richards reportedly pushed her into the wall several times, leaving bruises on her back. On another occasion, Maestas' friend Renee Lincks, who was 15 years old, spent the night at the apartment. That evening, Richards reportedly propositioned both of the teens for sex.

As both girls were uncomfortable spending the night in the apartment, they called a friend for a ride. FindLaw reports they ultimately spent the night with 17-year-old Ronald Bell — who was Maestras' boyfriend. When Bell took the girls back to Richards' apartment, he gave them a baseball bat in case they felt threatened again. Maestras said when she and Lincks returned to the apartment, Richards continued making comments that made them feel uncomfortable.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He was tortured

Krystel Maestras said she eventually called Ronald Bell, who went to the apartment to confront Cordell Richards. As reported by FindLaw, the men initially had a verbal altercation. However, things eventually turned violent. The men began pushing each other until Bell placed Richards in a chokehold. As a result, Richards lost consciousness and fell to the floor. Kristel Maestas then began striking Richards with a baseball bat. At the same time, Bell told Renee Lincks (pictured) to get some rope out of his car.

FindLaw reports that the teens wrapped Richards in a blanket and secured it with the rope. They then placed the man in Bell's car and drove him to a remote wooded area. After removing Richards from the car, Maestras said Bell told her and Lincks to take turns striking the man with the bat. When he did not believe the girls were hitting him hard enough, Bell told them to hit him harder. The teens eventually took Richards to a more remote area in the woods, where they chained him to the tree. Although the autopsy suggested Richards was burned after he was killed, Maestas said he was "still alive and groaning" when Bell doused him in lighter fluid and set him on fire (via FindLaw).

The teens fled the scene with Richards burning on the tree. Although they assumed he was dead, Bell and Linck said he was screaming for help when they returned to the scene later that day.

It took hours for Cordell Richards to die

When they realized Cordell Richards was still alive, FindLaw reports that Ronald Bell (pictured) attempted to break the man's neck. As he was unsuccessful, he drove to a store, where he purchased duct tape and a meat cleaver. While Kristel Maestas waited in the car, Renee Lincks and Bell went back to the tree, where Bell proceeded to cut Richards' neck with the cleaver. One week later, Bell and Maestas returned to the woods and confirmed Richards was dead. Bell then doused his corpse in gasoline and set him on fire again.

Shortly after finding Richards' body, authorities learned Lincks told her mother she had witnessed a murder. However, upon further questioning, Guanbee reports Lincks and her mother denied having that conversation. Authorities also received tips from several witnesses, who reported seeing three teens at the scene of the murder on the day it occurred. During questioning, Bell and Maestas initially denied any involvement. However, Maestas' parents eventually encouraged her to confess.

In exchange for testifying against Maestas, Daily Mail reports that Lincks was offered a plea agreement, in which she would plead no contest to false imprisonment and manslaughter. Although she was sentenced to a maximum of 15 years, Lincks was released after serving 12 years.

Ronald Bell and Kristel Maestas will spend the rest of their lives in prison

Northwest Florida Daily News reports that Ronald Bell was convicted of murder and subsequently sentenced to death. However, his sentence was later reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, as it was determined that the judge did not take Bell's age into consideration when imposing the sentence. Kristel Maestas was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In April 2019, Daily Mail reports Bell and Maestras both appeared before a judge to appeal their sentences. Although the Supreme Court concluded a life sentence without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional when imposed on minors, the judge that Bell and Maestras appeared before denied their appeals and upheld both of their sentences.

In an interview with Daily Mail, Cordell Richards' daughter, Rei, said, "It feels good that justice has been done." However, she said knowing Bell and Maestras will spend the rest of their lives in prison will not bring her father back.