Amber Hess was a 17-year-old high school graduate who had plans of attending Mesa Community College, but her dreams were stolen when she was brutally murdered by Nicolas Castillo and Todd Hoke. Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery examines the case.
Deputies with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to Amber’s home on June 24, 2007, when her parents, Mike and Candy Hess, returned to their residence in Queen Creek, Arizona, from a weekend getaway and found their daughter missing.
There was a large amount of blood in the kitchen and signs of a struggle.
Amber’s vehicle, a 2002 four-door Mitsubishi Lancer, bedding, and a gun were missing, police said.
Police initiated a city-wide search for Amber, but it ended three days later when a badly burned body discovered in a desert off of Hunt Highway was identified as Amber.
Several anonymous tips led to the arrest of two 16-year-old students, Nicolas Castillo and Todd Hoke, at Coolidge High School, who were charged as adults.
The tipster told police that the teens came to their house for supplies to clean up the crime scene.
When investigators searched their homes, they uncovered fingerprints and weapons that linked them to the murder.
Mike and Candy were confused by the arrests.
One of the boys was Amber’s best friend, who “would spend hours in their home playing video games and would call constantly.”
On the day of the murder, Castillo, Hoke, and Amber went to see a movie. When they returned to her home, they beat, strangled, and stabbed her to death.
An autopsy revealed that Amber had been stabbed at least eight times in the neck, back, and chest. One of the wounds severed her aorta, which ultimately ended her life.
After the killing, Castillo and Hoke dumped Amber’s body in a desert and set her on fire.
The teens told officials they murdered Amber because they didn’t like her. However, years later, Castillo told Pinal County police he’s not sure why they did it.
Hoke pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. In 2013, he reportedly committed suicide.
Castillo pled guilty to second-degree murder and abandonment or concealment of a body, and he was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
In 2017, Castillo sought to have his sentence changed. He argued that his original sentence did not take into account his young age at the time of the murder.
Grave Mysteries — Ultimate Betrayal, airs at 9:00 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.