In Too Deep

A College Girl Gets Caught Up In A Gruesome Murder Case

This story was first broadcast on Jan. 22, 2008.

In the summer of 2005, a young woman named Laura Hall found herself caught up in a gruesome murder case; the body of another woman was in her boyfriend's bathtub, and some time after the killing, the body was horribly mutilated.

As correspondent Maureen Maher reports, police did not focus on Laura as a suspect in the killing, but wondered if she was somehow involved in what happened after the murder.

Was Laura an innocent victim herself - a "good girl" - or someone much more frightening?

It was just after dawn on August 17, 2005, that Laura arrived at her boyfriend's apartment.

Laura says her boyfriend, Colton Pitonyak, let her inside the apartment. She says Colton answered the door kind of "paranoid" and "fearful" and that she saw another woman's purse and keys on the table.

"And I'm kind of like sitting up, 'Colton, where, where, where are, who's hiding… what the deal, what's going on?' I'm kind of starting to freak out. A little bit. And he says 'Come here, come here,'" she recalls.

Colton led Laura to his bathroom. He had begged her to come over, telling her he needed to talk. But it wasn't so much what Colton wanted to say to Laura; it was what he wanted to show her.

"It looked like there was a woman's body in there and I said 'That's a mannequin.' I mean that's how much I did not believe or wanna believe," she says.

At first Colton told Laura that men with guns had broken in and that there had been a fight. But then he changed his story and said he didn't remember what had happened.

Laura says it was obvious Colton had been drinking and that he began to threaten her with a knife. "I remember him goading me out of the bathroom with a knife that had blood on it up to the hilt," she says, "I was like, man, 'Oh my God, you know what happened?'"

But then, surprisingly, Laura says Colton just let her go. Terrified, Laura says she went home, locked the door, and told no one what she had seen.

Asked if it never occurred to her to call police, family or friends, Laura says, "It didn't seem like a good move. I mean, look, he had tried to kill me. I didn't know what was gonna happen if I called the police, ok? There was nothing I could have done to save her life at that point."

The woman in the bathtub was 21-year-old Jennifer Cave, another pretty girl who hung out with Colton. Jennifer lived in Austin and just that week had begun a new job at a law firm.

Her parents lived in Corpus Christi. Her mother Sharon remembers getting a call from her daughter's law firm. "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 began frantically calling around to find her. "I started calling the numbers on the cell phone bill. That's when I got Colton's phone number," she recalls.

Sharon called Colton, and at first he denied seeing Jennifer.

Sharon knew very little about Colton. Jennifer had told her he was cute, and smart, a business student at the University of Texas. But Colton also had a serious problem with drugs, especially cocaine.

"And I'm like, 'Jennifer, please, just don't, just stay away from that,'" Sharon says. "And she's like, 'Mom, he's my friend and he needs my help.' And I'd be like, 'Jennifer, please stay away from that.'"

But Sharon knew it was in her daughter's nature to try and help. "Part of Jennifer's nature, and part of the pleasing and part of the loving people, is she had a real problem with stray dogs, and I'm not talking the four-legged kind," she says.

Jennifer had her own history with drugs. In recent months though, she had started to pull her life together. She appeared to be on a new path, with new friends and a promising new job at a law firm. But on that hot August night in Austin's party district, Colton reached out to Jennifer one more time.

"Colton called her, he said, 'You know, I really need a friend. Would you please help me. I just want to see you for a little bit. I'll take you to dinner to celebrate your new job,'" Sharon says. "And Jennifer would fall for that line every time, 'I need a friend.'"

The two ended up partying with friends, and around midnight took off by themselves. It was the last time anyone saw Jennifer alive.

It was the next day that Sharon got the call that Jennifer never showed up for work. Hours had now passed since anyone had seen or spoken to her daughter and Sharon was panicked.

When Jennifer's stepfather Jim got home from work, Sharon told him Jennifer was missing.

Jim tried to reach Colton, but he didn't pick up. "It went to voice mail and I said, 'Colton, this is Jim. We're looking for Jennifer. We know you were the last person she was seen with. If you have any idea where she is, you need to call me,'" he remembers.

Eventually, Colton called back. "On her phone. 'Hey dude, I'm eating pizza, don't bother me any more. Quit calling me,'" Jim remembers.