Pedro Cruz had been drinking in his Uptown apartment for hours with his downstairs neighbor this week before he strangled her, carried her body down three flights of stairs, and set her ablaze inside the building’s garage, Cook County prosecutors said Saturday.
Then, he allegedly told police, he went back upstairs and fell asleep.
Cruz, 25, was charged Saturday with first-degree murder in the death of Maria Santiago, 54 and held without bail.
Santiago’s body was discovered after her sister, who lived with her, woke around 8 a.m. Thursday to the sound of Santiago’s Pomeranian barking in the stairway of the three-flat building in the 5000 block of N. Clark Street, according to a friend of the family.
Peering out the kitchen window, the sister saw smoke rising from the garage. She went to investigate, finding Santiago beneath a blanket and a burning bag of charcoal briquettes, said Windy Pitre, a friend of Santiago’s since childhood.
“She was a wonderful, caring person,” Pitre said of Santiago. “She would not hurt anyone.”
The Cook County medical examiner’s office determined that Santiago died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries, including five broken ribs and a ruptured spleen, and strangulation, court records state.
Pitre said Cruz, a Mexican national who worked as a dishwasher, had sold Santiago a television set earlier on Wednesday. Santiago, who worked as a housekeeper at DePaul University and spent much of her time caring for both an elderly mother and a mentaly disabled older sister, seldom socialized with Cruz.
But the two wound up drinking together that night with a mutual male friend inside Cruz’s apartment, Pitre said.
When the friend prepared to leave at about 3 a.m., he asked Santiago to leave with him, Pitre said.
Declining, Santiago reportedly responded: ‘He’s my neighbor. I live right downstairs. What’s he going to do to me?’”
Funeral services were set for Thursday at Caribe Funeral Home in Humboldt Park.