Francheska Martinez disappeared in June 2000. Six weeks later, her twin sister, Mishelia, also vanished. Did the girls run away, or did something far more sinister occur?
The Disappearance of Francheska Martinez
The Martinez sisters resided on 17th Avenue in Paterson, New Jersey, with their mother, Wanda Gissat, and stepfather, Hipolito Corniel. Francheska and Misheila Martinez were seventh graders at School 24.
On June 9, 2000, Francheska allegedly ran away from home, one day before the girls’ 13th birthday.
Misheila last saw her sister at 17th Avenue and East 22nd Street around 10:30 a.m. through the kitchen window of their home. Francheska told her she was going to the store.
Around 1:30 p.m., Francheska called home and talked to Misheila. She said she was with friends at Patterson Great Falls National Historic Park on the Passaic River, about two and a half miles west of their home. She asked Misheila not to tell anyone where she was and hung up the phone.
Francheska told a friend she wanted to go to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan, New York on Sunday, June 11, 2000, and reportedly asked her mother if she could go.
Francheska’s friends later told police they never saw her that day. However, a boy in the neighborhood reported seeing her with an unknown male in a Honda car on Summer Street. He waved and hollered at her, but Francheska ducked down in the seat.
Friends also told police Francheska was seeing a 22-year-old man behind her mother’s back. His identity is not known.
The girls’ father, José Martinez arrived from Puerto Rico after hearing Francheska had vanished. He said at the time that he felt “destroyed” by Francheska’s disappearance and pleaded for his daughter to return home.
The family contacted the National Missing and Exploited Center in Virginia and Child Find of America in New York.
Francheska did not appear to have any family problems and performed well in school. However, family members said Francheska had a run-in with a young man outside a pharmacy on Market Street before she vanished. He allegedly told her, “Don’t worry, you’ll see what’s going to happen to you.”
A few days after her disappearance, someone found Francheska’s clothes in a white plastic supermarket bag in the driveway outside her home.
The bag contained blue denim shorts, a pink floral tube top, and white cotton underwear, all in good condition. Francheska’s shoes were not in the bag.
“When I saw the clothes, I thought my daughter was dead. But it’s strange because there wasn’t a note,” Wanda Gissat told The Record in June 2000.
Despite the discovery of Francheska’s clothes, police never suspected foul play, saying the case is none other than a missing person case.
The Twin Disappears
On July 22, 2000, over a month after Francheska disappeared, her twin sister, Misheila Martinez, vanished without a trace, too.
Misheila left a note for her mother, Wanda. In the message, she scolded her mother for not loving their stepfather and accused Wanda of having an affair, something Wanda has denied. The note went on to say that she and Francheska were unhappy at home.
There are few details available in Misheila’s case. When she disappeared, the local press did not cover it, presumably because authorities called her a runaway.
In September 2000, police arrested the girls’ stepfather, Hipolito Corniel, 32, and charged him with killing a Paterson teenager named Nelly Mercado.
Nelly, 18, was a sex worker and mother of a two-year-old girl. She had lived at several places in the years before her death, often spending nights on the street.
After an argument on September 8, 2000, Corniel strangled the teen and left her naked body on the porch.
According to a January 24, 2001 article in The Herald-News, “Corniel returned home from a local bar around 11:00 p.m. when he invited Nelly back to his basement room apartment located in a boarding house at 815 Madison Avenue.”
Later that night, Corniel tried to restrain Nelly after hitting him and making derogatory comments about him.
Witnesses reported hearing screams coming from Corniel’s apartment around 4:00 a.m.
After he strangled her, Corniel carried Nelly’s body up the stairs to the porch and left her there like a piece of garbage. His neighbors found her body around 6:00 a.m.
Corniel then fled to Lawrence, Massachusetts, about 28 miles north of Boston, but returned to Paterson on September 12th. Police arrested him at his home around 9:00 p.m.
A grand jury indicted Hipolito Corniel on January 23, 2001. He initially pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. However, in April 2001, under a plea agreement, Corniel pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. A judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison. He was released on September 9, 2017.
There are a few theories in the Martinez girls’ disappearances, but only one holds the most weight with law enforcement officials.
Francheska ran away first, followed by Misheila weeks later.
Police believe the girls did not meet with foul play; each twin ran away from home, and the two met up together afterward. There is no evidence that a crime took place in the girls’ case.
The problem with this theory is the note Misheila allegedly left her mother about Wanda having an affair. Wanda denied having a fling with anyone, and by most accounts, the girls were happy at home. If this is true, the note made zero sense and is a mystery in itself.
The second theory involves the girls’ stepfather, Hipolito Corniel. Some believe he killed Francheska first and later Misheila.
The girls’ brother believes Corniel impregnated one of them, but there is no evidence to support this. However, he has previously stated that the relationship between Francheska and Corniel was not a normal one.
According to the brother, Corniel often took Francheska on shopping trips, and each time, she came home with a large number of clothes and gifts.
Considering he killed Nelly Mercado a few short months after the girls vanished makes him a good suspect. However, police believe both girls ran away.
If you have any information regarding Francheska and Misheila Martinez’s disappearances, please call the Paterson Police Department at 973–321–1111.
- New Jersey Department of Corrections
- The Charley Project
- The Herald-News
- Unvision 41 New York
Originally published at https://truecrimediva.com on August 6, 2019.