Man charged with two counts of first-degree murder in Thunderbird double homicide of Sabrena Martin and Ruben Morales

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: William Lance Marengo, 28, of Safford, has been charged with murder in the first degree in the shooting deaths of Sabrena Marie Martin and Ruben Nicholas Morales. 

Couple reportedly murdered for cash and heroin

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – After months of investigation by the Graham County Sheriff’s Office, on Tuesday, the Graham County Attorney’s Office officially charged William Lance Marengo, 28, with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Sabrena Marie Martin, 22, of Safford, and Ruben Nicholas Morales, 36, of Salt Lake City, Utah. The couple had been reported missing since Jan. 18 and were later found in a shallow grave in Thunderbird Mobile Estates on Aug. 24.

On Tuesday, Marengo was charged with two counts of murder in the first degree, two counts of aggravated assault, kidnapping, armed robbery, tampering with evidence, and unlawful burying of a body. He was served with a warrant for his arrest Wednesday while in the jail and his bond was set at $5 million.

Marengo has been in the custody of the Graham County Adult Detention Facility since Aug. 21, when he was arrested on a warrant for failure to appear in court on a drug-related charge. Safford officers were investigating a shoplifting at Walmart when they encountered Marengo and arrested him on his outstanding warrant. Marengo was an investigative lead into the disappearance of Martin and Morales at that time but had relocated with his girlfriend, Keyonna Wilson, to Tucson around the same time Martin and Morales were reported missing.

During his initial interrogation, Marengo said he was present when Martin and Morales were murdered and that Mexican drug cartel members did it to “make an example” because Morales had not paid a drug debt. 

Two days later, on Aug. 23, investigators interviewed Wilson, who advised that the victims had lived with her and Marengo in Thunderbird Mobile Estates at 7080 S. U.S. Highway 191 when they went missing. She detailed the day the victims were killed and said she was in her bedroom on the other side of the residence when Marengo went to the bedroom where Martin and Morales were and shot them. She said she heard the gunshots and when she went to investigate Marengo told her he had shot them. She said at that point she was scared for her own life and her family and began to clean up the scene at the behest of Marengo. She also described the weapon used as being a revolver and that Marengo took it with them when they went to Tucson. 

Ruben “Nick” Morales, left, and Sabrena Martin were found murdered and buried in a shallow grave.

According to Wilson’s statements, Marengo killed the couple to take roughly an ounce of heroin from Morales and “a large amount of cash.” She said they initially placed the bodies in the back of their car and were driving around with them for two days before they buried them in a makeshift cellar that was behind the residence they were renting in Thunderbird Mobile Estates. Wilson showed investigators where they could find the bodies and where to find additional evidence the couple had dropped off near the Gila River by the San Jose Diversion Dam, including a missing piece of carpet from the residence that had been stained with blood. 

The bodies were exhumed the morning of Aug. 24 and an autopsy by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner later conclusively reported the cause of death for both victims to be via gunshot.  

Wilson also advised that they had purchased a carpet cleaner from Walmart to clean up the blood but after attempting to do so for a couple of days Marengo gave up and cut out the carpet. This was the section of carpet that was noted as being missing from the original investigation into the missing persons. They later returned the carpet cleaner. 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: William Lance Marengo

Wilson said during the entire time she was with Marengo after the murders she was afraid for her life and that he threatened her with a machete when they were homeless in Tucson. She said she finally gathered enough courage and ran away from him in Tucson and her family picked her up and took her back to the Gila Valley. She said she was coming forward now because Marengo was in custody and couldn’t hurt her or her family. 

After the bodies were located, investigators re-interviewed Marengo, who eventually admitted to shooting Martin and Morales but said he did so at the behest of Wilson to take their heroin and money, according to his recorded statements to investigators. He also said he also used his machete during the murder as well.  

Marengo said he used some of the heroin he took from Morales and sold some as well. He reported that he only recovered a half-ounce of heroin from Morales and $100 in cash, according to his recorded statements to police.  

He detailed how the homicides occurred and said he eventually sold the murder weapon, a .22-caliber revolver, in Tucson for $80, according to his recorded interviews with investigators. 

No charges have yet to be filed against Wilson for her role and she is reportedly cooperating with authorities.