Things That Matter

Authorities Finally Solved the Case of a 14-Year-Old Puerto Rican Girl Who Was Murdered by Bronx Sidewalk Astronomer

After 23 years, a cold case that stumped authorities has finally been solved. The case was that of a murdered 14-year old Bronx girl, Minerliz Soriano, was found strangled inside a dumpster on February 28, 1999, her sexually assaulted body wrapped in a garbage bag. For years, her family desperately wondered who killed her. And they finally have their answers. 

On Tuesday, 49-year-old Joseph Martinez, who teaches astronomy on the streets of New York and goes by the name of “Jupiter Joe” was arrested on two counts of second-degree murder.

“This beautiful little girl was treated as less than human,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said in a press conference. “It has been 22 years since her life was cruelly taken, but detectives never gave up on finding justice for her and her family, and neither did my ADAs.”

As one can guess, the capture of Soriano’s murderer is a bittersweet event for her family. 

“I feel happy because justice is working, but I feel sad at the same time because it takes too long,” Minerliz’s father, Luis Soriano, told CBS2.

Five years before she died, Minerliz Soriano lived with her father in Puerto Rico before he sent her to live with her mother in the Bronx. The next time he saw his daughter was to identify her body in the morgue. 

At the time of her disappearance, Minerliz was described by her authorities as “bookish” and well-behaved. “There were no leads. We looked in every possible direction. This was every parent’s nightmare. She was a good girl, a good kid,” a source told New York Daily News

Authorities managed to catch Joseph Martinez after so many years thanks to familial DNA testing — the first time this technology has been used in New York City to solve a crime. The DNA they used to identify Martinez as the perpetrator was his deceased father’s. Authorities did not disclose how they obtained Martinez’s DNA as well.

“A DNA sample, which was obtained from a semen stain on the victim’s sweatshirt, was submitted to the New York State convicted offender DNA database for male relatives that matched the specimen, which led to Martinez’s father, who is deceased,” a press release states. “Investigators then obtained a DNA sample from the defendant, which matched the DNA found on the victim’s sweatshirt.”

Despite DNA evidence, Joseph Martinez — who has no criminal history — is denying the allegations. Experts are calling attention to the unusual nature of the case, as Martinez is 49-years-old and, other than this murder, has no criminal history. 

Martinez’s arrest has shocked the Bronx community, who knew him as a harmless man who taught astrology on the streets of New York and often interacted with children. He was somewhat of a local celebrity, even being profiled in various YouTube videos. He even has an entire Facebook page devoted to his work.

“Not some regular guy I know being the identified cold blood murderer of a 13 y.o girl in 1999…DO NOT JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER,” wrote one shocked New Yorker on Twitter.

“I am in complete shock this morning by the news. Jupiter Joe arrested for murder of a 13 year old girl,” wrote another New Yorker on Facebook. “For all of you that didn’t know him, Jupiter Joe was known for his extensive sidewalk astronomy in NYC. We considered him a friend. UNBELIEVABLE!!!”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com