Valentina Trespalacios of Bogota was dating an American man named John Nelson Poulos (35) and is the main suspect in her murder.
You can see Valentina’s instagram here.
We will start with some background – we haven’t been able to find too much on Valentina yet but we do know that John was formerly married to Ashley Poulos and they had lived in Texas. The couple had three children. You can see John and Ashley with their son in this photo:
John’s oldest son Jackson, was only four years old when doctors diagnosed him with stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma in his GI tract and abdomen. The cancer is very rare, with only about 350 cases a year in the United States.
In 2017, the child underwent a 13-hour operation in which the surgeon removed more than 150 tumors that were detected in his pelvis, sigmoid colon, appendix, spleen and gallbladder.
At some point, Ashley filed a restraining order against John due to violence. The couple divorced in 2021.
According to the NY Post, John met Valentina on a dating app around a year ago. Some other reports say that he had been dating Valentina for around 8 months and had planned to marry her. I have seen another report that says he first met Valentina in September 2022. He was apparently planning to start a new life in Colombia.
On Saturday January 21, John and Valentina were seen on CCTV together. Valentina worked as DJ and the two were seen getting out of a cab. Valentina could be seen holding John’s hand as they walked toward a DJ booth for her gig at Nexxus nightclub.
Valentina worked and finished her set at around 5am. She was then seen leaving the office of the nightclub’s owner while John was in the bathroom.
They got another cab to John’s apartment. He had apparently only moved into it days earlier, on the Friday.
What happened after the couple got back to the apartment is largely unknown. We do know that John was seen on Sunday January 22, putting a suitcase into his VW Voyager.
He drove to the south side of Bogotá, where he tossed the suitcase inside a dumpster next to a park, and drove towards the airport.
His plan to evade police seemed to be purchasing multiple airplane tickets with cash – one from Panamá City to São Paulo, Brazil, and a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, where he would connect to a plane to Montenegro, where there is no extradition treaty with Colombia.
On Sunday afternoon, a person who searching a dumpster for recyclables found the suitcase that John had dumped. Valentina’s body was inside, with her head sticking out the top.
An autopsy was carried out for Valentina and her cause of death was determined to be “mechanical asphyxia,” or “strangulation.”
Police moved quickly thankfully, and Panamanian immigration agents and the Interpol arrested him Tuesday night at Tocumen International Airport. This was right before he was about to board his flight to Istanbul.
When John was arrested, he told authorities that he had fled to Panamá because the Medellín Cartel wanted to kill him.
He told authorities that the cartel was also behind Valentina’s’ murder.
The arrest warrant for John states that he is the ‘alleged perpetrator of causing the violent death of Valentina Trespalacios Hidalgo, who was found in a blue travel suitcase inside a garbage container in the town of Fontibón.’
John is facing four counts – aggravated femicide, concealment, alteration and destruction of evidence.
In John’s mugshot, you can see he has a large scratch on his face:
Veronica Jimiez, a friend of Valentina’s spoke to the media about John’s jealous nature. He was apparently mad that Valentina refused his demands to go public with their relationship on her social media accounts. She told him that her social network was only to promote her DJ work.
Valentina’s mother Laura Hidalgo spoke to the media and said that John was jealous and possessive.
She also said he had hired a PI to follow her around.
‘He was the one who hurt my daughter and he doesn’t deserve to be around like if nothing happened. I want justice done. ‘It is not fair that a foreigner comes to excite a Colombian girl and ends up like this. I hope this case does not go unpunished. He was the last person to see her alive and he didn’t have to hurt her.’
John appeared in court on January 26. The hearing lasted for five hours. The proceedings were interrupted on several occasions because the court appointed interpreter was having issues properly translating since John is not fluent in Spanish.
John declined a public defender and said that his parents had obtained an attorney for him.
‘They denied me a lawyer in Panama, when I got to the airport I asked to speak to the US Embassy, which took a long time,’ he said during the hearing. ‘Only an hour before the hearing my defense attorney arrived, which is not what a normal person would want in my situation.’
He also complained to the judge that he didn’t feel safe in the Bogotá jail because of the case’s notoriety and demanded additional security.
He appeared in court again on Friday January 27 and we learned some more about what possibly happened on the night of the murder.
Daniel Gómez, the lead prosecutor appointed by the Office of the Attorney General, disclosed that John killed Valentina after he forced her to have sex and then repeatedly struck her body with his fists. He then wrapped his hands around her neck until he strangled her to death.
‘There was a cycle of psychological violence that preceded the crime, which was represented in all the activity of jealousy and control over Valentina’s social life,’ Gómez. ‘You took her life as the result of a jealousy process.’
Daniel also spoke about how John had hired a PI to follow Valentina.
He said it was a ‘behavior that must be understood as violent, given that it affected the physical, moral and psychological integrity of the victim, since it exploited her status as a woman.’
It was also explained that if John decided to go to trial, he could be sentenced 500 to 600 months should he be found guilty of murder. He could face up to 48 months in prison for concealment, alteration or destruction of evidence.
However, the prosecution left open an offer that would reduce the sentence to 375 months if he accepted a guilty plea for femicide as well as a reduction of 24 months for the other charge.
The judge would have to accept the terms of the agreement and John wouldn’t be allowed to back out of it if he agreed.
On January 30, an article by The City Paper Bogota spoke about obstacles that have already arisen in the legal process for this case.
The official translator that we mentioned earlier was forced to resign over her deficient use of the English language. John claims that his due process is not being facilitated by Colombia’s legal system.
John’s original defence lawyer resigned from the case at this time as a result of constant death threats. He has now been assigned to Juan Manuel Falla. The change of defence has been addressed by the Judge:
“The fact that Poulos has not been able to find a trustworthy defense attorney for whatever reasons, either financial, or because he did not find a bilingual lawyer – an implausible situation – the State has guaranteed his technical defense through the public defender’s office,” emphasized the judge.
On February 1, some more info about the case was released by the City Paper Bogota.
We learned that the apartment John and Valentina had been staying at was actually an Air BNB. John had arrived in Bogota from Atlanta, just 72 hours before the murder. He caught a cab to the Air BNB and he asked the driver to help him get ‘tusi’” – a synthetic drug known as “pink cocaine.”
We already know that Valentina and John were at the apartment together and went to the nightclub together, arriving home early morning Sunday January 22.
On that day, at 9:12 am, John left the apartment with two black bags believed to belong to Valentina. At 9:51 am, he then entered the apartment with a shopping cart, in which he placed a blue suitcase, partly covered in a grey blanket. The grey blanket is believed to have covered Valentina’s face, given that the entire body did not fit into the suitcase.
Before the suitcase was dumped, it was wrapped in two strands of 3M black duct tape. “It is clear that the disposal of the body was planned, given the long distance from the crime scene, to where the body was identified,” highlighted the investigator. John is believed to have thrown the Valentina’s phone into a grassy field near the airport. The Louis Vuitton-encased cellphone was found by a man searching for his missing car documents. The man handed the phone over to authorities after he matched the opening screen profile of Valentina with photos he had seen in the media.
When John was arrested,a used roll of black industrial tape by the same manufacturer was found in his luggage, as well as a boarding pass to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, three USB memory sticks and iPad.
John had rented the VW when he arrived in the country and the rental agreement was for a period of three days. “The suspect only had the intention of staying in Colombia three days,” remarked Miguel Del Río, attorney for Valentina’s family. “The length of his stay in Colombia is contrary to what the victim was led to believe, as well as her family, and friend María Silvana Núñez.
Maria also told the court that Valentina was in love with another man. She said she was “very much in love with another man,” but her relationship with John “seemed normal.” Santiago Luna, a cryptocurrency “investor” regularly chatted with Valentina via WhatApp, and sent a last message to her on Saturday. Maria says that John was known on webcam pages as “The Man of the Magic.”
In other key evidence, the Attorney General Office confirmed John “sent Valentina money on a weekly basis, and on one occasion, he found out that she had gone to Aruba. Valentina then asked John to transfer US$1000 via MoneyGram to the account of her friend Maria.
This is a developing story and the blog will be updated.