48 Hours Mystery: In Too Deep

A UT Student is Accused of Being Involved in a Gruesome Crime; Was She an Accomplice or a Lost Soul in Over her Head?

Jennifer Cave grew up in Corpus Christi, in a family of five girls. She had spent time in Austin as a student, but was about to start work at a law firm.

"At about 3 o'clock, the law firm called me," says her mother, Sharon Sedwick. "And they said, 'Jennifer has gone to work for us.' And I'm like, 'Oh yes, I know.' I said, 'She's so excited.' I said, 'Thank you so much for giving her this opportunity.' And it kind of got quiet. And he said, 'Well, there's a problem,' and he said, 'We're concerned." He said, 'Jennifer didn't come to work today.' And I said, 'What?'"

Sharon says she knew something was wrong. "That's just not who Jennifer was. If Jennifer told you she was going to be somewhere at 8 o'clock, Jennifer was there at 8 o'clock."

Sharon began frantically calling around to find her daughter and discovered Jennifer had been out with Colton. When she finally got Colton on the phone, he told her nothing.

"Colton's going, 'No man, I don't know. I haven't seen her. I don't know what you're talking about.' And I'm like, 'Were you with Jennifer?' 'Oh man, no, I wasn't with her. Well, yeah, I saw her for a few minutes, but no I wasn't with her,' and he hung up."

Jennifer's stepfather, Jim Sedwick, also spoke with Colton.

"Hey dude, I'm eating pizza, don't bother me any more. Quit calling me,'" Jim remembers Colton saying.

Sharon and Jim decided to head to Austin hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

"I remember that night - when we were trying to figure out what we were gonna do and getting some clothes packed. We stood right here in [the] hallway. And I looked at Jim and said, 'This is gonna be really bad, isn't it?' And he said, 'Yeah, I'm afraid it could be.'"

The next day, Aug. 18, 2005, Sharon and Jim Sedwick hit the highway and raced four hours from Corpus Christi to Austin, and straight to Colton Pitonyak's apartment. He was the last person to be seen with their daughter, Jennifer Cave.

It was early evening by the time they arrived. They found Jennifer's car nearby.

Sharon says, "We start knocking on the door and we knock on the windows and we walk around the apartment seeing if there was a back door."

"We're really getting scared that something bad has happened inside that apartment," says Jim.

At around 8 p.m., Jim calls 911, but when the cops arrive, they wouldn't break in without a search warrant. So after they left, Jim muscled his way in through a window.

Jim says the place was completely dark. "All I had was a flashlight. I just started crawling through the window trying to push the drapes out of my way. And I was yelling, I said, 'Please don't hurt me. I'm here to help you. I'm not here to hurt anybody. This is Jim.'"

He says the place looks like a wreck, as if there had been a struggle. Jim tells Sharon to wait on the porch to protect her from what he feared he might find inside.

"So I kept going down this hallway, and then there was another door on my left which was closed. And I opened that door. It had the light in there. It appeared to be a bathtub, and I was seeing something. So I flipped the light switch on… and there she was," he remembers.

Jim had found Jennifer… or what was left of her.

After calling 911, police raced back to the apartment and began the search for Colton. They quickly found out something they didn't expect. Colton was not your typical clean-cut business student. He had a serious problem with drugs, especially cocaine. He was also a small-time dealer.

"He held himself out as a gangster," prosecutor Bill Bishop says. "I mean he had all the 'Scarface' posters."

Colton also had a collection of gangster movies. "'Donnie Brasco' and 'Goodfellas' and a series of movies that involved dismemberment," Bishop says. "I know one of them involves dismemberment with a machete."

Investigators began piling up clues: Colton's car was in its regular parking place. Inside, was the gun they believed to have been used to kill Jennifer Cave. And before long, something else became clear: Colton's sometime girlfriend, Laura Hall, had also disappeared.

Loren and Carol Hall desperately tried to reach their daughter

"This guy's who's - apparently he - he's killed Jennifer Cave and mutilated her body- he's got my daughter. He's got my daughter," Loren Hall recalls thinking at the time.

Finally, they got through to Laura's cell phone. Laura told them she had crossed the border into Mexico with Colton.

"She told me, 'Dad, Colton's killed someone and they found a body.' I heard this rustling, like someone's grabbing the phone from you. And that's when I said, 'Man, you need to turn yourself in,' and he goes, 'Your daughter had nothing to do with this. You need to get her out of here.' I thought, 'Yeah, I'm very aware of that. You need to get her out of there.' She looks just like Jennifer Cave. Who's gonna be next?" Loren says.

Laura's parents say they feared Colton was going to kill their daughter.

"We thought we'd never see her again," says Carol.

"Colton flipped out," Laura explains. "He wanted to get out of town. He ended up saying, 'Take me to Mexico,'" Incredulously, she adds, "So, I did."

Laura says she was afraid for her life, and that's why she drove him to Mexico. "I was trying to stay alive."