In her short career as an up-and-coming on-air reporter, 22-year-old Jennifer Servo had covered murders before, but she never got to cover what would become one of the most baffling unsolved murders in Texas — her own.
Servo was found bludgeoned and strangled in her apartment in Abilene, Texas, in 2002. It was a murder with all the details that would have intrigued a reporter like Servo: good-looking ex-lovers … betrayal … sex … mystery … and, of course, a beautiful victim with big dreams. Her mother says Servo wanted to be the next Katie Couric.
"She said she was going to someday fly us, in her private jet, to New York City," said Sherry Abel. "And, a big black limousine would come pick us up and take her to her penthouse apartment."
Getting to that penthouse was going to take a while. Servo's audition tape landed her a job in the tiny media market of Abilene, Texas. Her starting salary: $7.50 an hour.
Servo wasn't going to Abilene alone. She had recently met Ralph Sepulveda, a former Army ranger, tall, dark and handsome, and from Servo's family's point of view, maybe a little bit too dangerous.
"He was a lot older than her," said Servo's sister Christa. "He was 34, and she was only 22. And he was a little more rough-looking. He had tattoos all over his arms."
But Servo had recently ended her first long-term relationship and Sepulveda represented something different from her old boyfriend. "Ralph was more the bad boy, wild child, charming guy," said her best friend Dara Riordan. "He captured her heart."
The two had only known each other for a few weeks when they impulsively decided Sepulveda would give up his life in Montana to come with her to Abilene, despite her family's objections.
In Abeline, Servo's career got off to a fast start. "You could see early on that Jennifer had the tools it was going to take to move on to bigger and better things," said Downing Bolls, anchor of KRBC News.
But her relationship with Sepulveda was heading downhill. According to her family, Servo discovered that he had a fiancee when they met, whom he had promptly broken up with. They say she also found out he had a child whom he never saw.
"That was really upsetting to her," her sister Christa said. "That was pretty much a deal-breaker for her."
And Jennifer Loren, her colleague and friend at KRBC, said Servo told her something disquieting. "She did say that he had wanted to choke her while they were having sex, and she did not like that at all."
So three weeks after Sepulveda gave up his old life and his fiancee and moved 1,600 miles across the country to be with Servo, her family says she kicked him out.
Riordan said that Sepulveda was upset, but not angry. "I know that he came back over to her apartment and try to rekindle it and get a second chance out of her about a week after the initial breakup. But she said, 'I just can't do it.' And he said 'OK,' and that was it."
Sepulveda moved to another apartment complex in Abilene and found a job, and as far as anyone knew, seemed to be moving on.