If Truman Capote were reading The New York Times in August of 2000, the events that unfolded in this nightmare-come-true might have had him dusting off the keys of his Smith Corona typewriter for one last story. It’s a story of drugs, greed, lies, murder, and a phone call that brought a West Hollywood family to their knees.
The last 48 hours of Nick Markowitz’s life are a cartel of ill-fitting puzzle pieces. There are testimonies, police reports, court transcripts, and personal accounts. To say that there might be some holes in the story of what really happened is probably an understatement. There is, at the very least, a framework of events that gave prosecutors enough evidence to arrest and convict the people who were responsible for the death of an innocent 15-year-old boy.
On August 6, 2000, Nick was walking on the street after a verbal run-in with his parents the night before. He was attempting to delay what he knew would be a confrontation about the drugs his parents had found. He wouldn’t have had any idea what was about to go down when the white van came charging around the corner and the posse of four men attacked him, beating him and dragging him into the van. He would never see his family again.
It all began because of a $1,200 drug debt that Ben Markowitz, Nick’s older brother, owed to a mid-level drug dealer by the name of Jesse James Hollywood. Jesse can be described as a bully. It was widely rumored that Jesse’s father, Jack, was his drug supplier and that Jesse had several drug couriers who sold for him. He was 20 years old and living very comfortably in a house he paid cash for.
Jesse James Hollywood decided that it was time for Ben Markowitz to pay his debt. He sequestered a group of friends and decided to retaliate. As they were driving through the neighborhood on that fateful Sunday in August, they didn’t find Ben. Instead, they found his little brother, Nick. Jesse impetuously decided that they would kidnap Nick and hold him until the debt was paid. What Jesse and his co-conspirators failed to recognize in that split second decision was that in California, kidnapping is a felony punishable by life in prison.
Over the next 48 hours, the group kept a close eye on Nick Markowitz, fed him Valium, marijuana, and alcohol, and took him to various house parties. During the trial, witnesses stated to the grand jury that Nick seemed fine and that he didn’t seem to want to leave. His captors even jokingly referred to him as “stolen boy.”
Shortly after they kidnapped Nick, Jesse Hollywood decided to contact his attorney. He apparently realized the error of his impulsivity. His attorney explained that indeed, If convicted, he was looking at a life sentence. Jesse Hollywood’s attorney contacted Jack Hollywood out of concern for his client and notified the father about the events that might be unfolding. Jack immediately tracked down his son and advised him to hand over Nick Markowitz. Jesse did not comply.
On August 8th, two days after he had gone missing, the Markowitz family filed a missing persons report. That same day, Hollywood’s posse was escorting Nick to the Lemon Tree Inn in Santa Barbara, California for what would be Nick’s final party. Nick was told he would be going home the next morning.
After two days of drugs, drinking, and girls constantly coming and going, Nick seemed to almost settle in to the atmosphere and trust his keepers. Jesse James Hollywood had exited the scene early on and left his right hand man, Jesse Rugge, in charge of the hostage. In Nick’s mind, Jesse Rugge had become a friend. Jesse Rugge felt the same way. He also believed that Nick was going home.
Later that night, past midnight and well into August 9th, a new face knocked on the door of the hotel room at the Lemon Tree Inn. Nick wouldn’t know who he was or why he was there but the posse knew immediately what his mission was, as soon as they saw him in the doorway.
Ryan Hoyt was the epitome of errand boy. It was no secret that Jesse James Hollywood used Hoyt as his “employee” since Hoyt owed Hollywood money for drugs, a common theme amongst the group. What was different about Hoyt was that he was willing to go to any length to please Jesse.
After making an arrangement with Jesse, Hoyt drove to the Lemon Tree Inn and picked up Nick and three others. Hoyt drove to the Los Padres National Forest and stopped at the Lizard’s Mouth campsite. As the group ascended the trail, one of the men hit Nick’s head with a shovel. Hoyt then fired nine bullets from a semi-automatic Tec-9 into Nick’s chest and abdomen: He died instantly. The boys moved his body and the gun into the shallow grave they had dug and covered it with dirt and leaves. According to police interviews, Jesse Rugge got physically ill but Ryan Hoyt just stared in awe at what he had done.
Four days later, hikers would follow the odor coming from the shallow grave to find Nick’s body.
On August 16th, 2000, four suspects were arrested for the murder of Nick Markowitz. Jesse James Hollywood was not among that group. He had disappeared. It took authorities five years to find him and when they did, he was living in Brazil. He had changed his identity and was receiving money every month from his father, who had been telling police all along that he had no idea where his son could be. As soon as the FBI extradited him to the US, Jesse was formally charged and found guilty. His father was also charged for manufacturing GHB (the date-rape drug) but the charges were eventually dropped.
The Markowitz family will never be whole again. Susan and Jeff, parents of Nick Markowitz, are forever haunted by the choices they made and didn’t make. The death of their son has been immeasurably difficult.
Ben, Nick’s brother, is the person who is mentioned the least. Ben chose not to attend Nick’s memorial service out of respect for Susan. He was arrested just after the murder for previous unrelated charges and spent several months in jail. He did express guilt for his brother’s death and felt that Jesse Hollywood had committed the act out of anger and impulse.
My most sincere thank you to Mrs. Susan Markowitz who allowed me to use the photographs of her beloved Nick. Blessings to you and your family.
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