Libia Martinez approached the church secretary at Our Lady of Fatima in North Bergen, N.J., shortly before the Spanish-language Mass last Sunday and handed her a note.
"My husband disappeared," Martinez explained. On the paper, the deeply devout woman beseeched her fellow parishioners at the Roman Catholic church to pray for her spouse, Martin Caballero, missing since May 21 from the parking lot of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City.
Miles away, in Atlantic County, police believed they already had located Caballero. His body was unrecognizable, allegedly the work of Craig Arno, 44, and Jessica Kisby, 24, an unlikely pair of troubled lovers whose first date occurred in what is their latest home: the Atlantic County Jail.
According to law enforcement sources and jail records, the Jersey Shore's sordid Bonnie and Clyde fell in love on Feb. 5, when both were processed for admission to the Mays Landing facility on unrelated charges - Kisby on a probation violation and Arno for theft.
On Thursday afternoon, with Caballero's body newly identified by DNA records from his New Jersey Army National Guard service, the pair were served with murder warrants at the same jail, where they were being held on charges of kidnapping and carjacking their alleged victim.
"Romance springs eternal," a high-ranking county law enforcement official said sadly last week.
Reunited after their release from prison - Kisby on March 3; Arno, still on federal probation, on March 29 - the couple cut a swath of depravity through Atlantic and Camden Counties two weeks ago, according to charges.
Their spree began outside the Taj parking garage about 10 p.m. May 21. The couple were in a Toyota registered to Arno's grandmother, authorities say.
They spotted Caballero in his 2009 Lincoln MKS sedan after he dropped his family off at the casino-hotel. Caballero's wife and other relatives were in Atlantic City to celebrate the 22d birthday of the couple's daughter, Jessica.
Video surveillance caught Arno and Kisby entering the garage on Caballero's tail and approaching him inside, officials say. Another camera is said to show the Lincoln leaving, followed by the Toyota.
Over the next several hours, the couple were traced to locations that would never make a local tour guide's itinerary: a gas station in Pleasantville, where Caballero's ATM card was used to purchase fuel in a container; a deserted field in Hamilton Township, where Caballero's body was found; an ATM near a shopping strip, where they allegedly withdrew $300 with Caballero's card; and, finally, the Golden Key Motel on the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township, near where four prostitutes were found dead in 2006.
It was at that $16-a-night motel that the pair were arrested May 28 as news cameras taped the event like a low-rent cop movie. A shirtless Arno was seen seated before the pink building, burned and bandaged. Caballero's car was found about 2 a.m. May 22, aflame in a Gloucester Township parking lot. Officials believe that Arno's injuries were related to the fire.
The pair had sought out the Kmart in Pleasantville, which led to charges of shoplifting bandages and ointment and attacking a security guard.
'Once in a generation'
Arno - a Philly kid with a trail of mental, financial, gambling, and criminal problems - had met with a federal probation officer just days before encountering Caballero.
Kisby, a 2004 graduate of Egg Harbor Township High School who was adopted from her native India as a preschooler, had been living with her 5-year-old daughter at her mother's ranch house in Egg Harbor Township since her jail sentence ended.
Following their May 28 arrest, before Caballero's body was identified, they were sent to the place where their partnership began: the county jail.
The couple had never met the Puerto Rican-born Caballero, 47, a father, stepfather, and Yankees fan, a man described as jovial and hardworking, before they allegedly abducted him, according to Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel.
"He was the . . . best father, best brother, best uncle, best grandfather that anybody could ever hope to have," his stepson William Cruz said Friday. "He set high standards, not only for himself, for whoever was around him."
Housel, seeking to address the possible concerns of other Atlantic City tourists, called the crime "random in nature . . . once in a generation."
Kisby is "a local kid who got wrapped up with the wrong individual," said her attorney, Steven Scheffler.
Arno's public defender, Eric Shenkus, said he would wait to see the evidence. Arno and Kisby have pleaded not guilty to the charges of carjacking and kidnapping. They have not yet been arraigned on the charge of murder.
A troubled history
Gail Arno, 67, of Boca Raton, Fla., was furious last week that her name was mentioned in stories about her son since his arrest. She has tried to clean up his messes - signing his leases, lending him money, starting businesses for him - his whole life.
In 1981, Craig Arno, then 16, was charged with murder after he crashed his car while drag-racing on City Avenue. Killed in the head-on collision was Karen McNaughton, 27, a young nurse on her way to work at Lankenau Hospital.
Arno was sentenced to five years' probation after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide. An investigation after the controversial sentence found that Arno's lawyer, F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, had requested the case go before Judge George Ivins, Fitzpatrick's longtime friend. Gail Arno was employed as a Philadelphia Municipal Court crier.
Craig Arno repeatedly ran afoul of the law and blew through money. He was arrested for fraud, identity theft and eventually was $1 million in debt, according to his own handwritten filing from a jail in Texas. His mother tried to help him by setting him up in a gift-basket business, Awesome Baskets L.L.C., in Margate, which failed.
All along, Arno was supposed to have been watched by parole officers. According to terms of his latest parole - two years' supervised release, which began this year - he was to seek counseling for gambling addiction, place himself on Atlantic City's casino self-exclusion list, and seek treatment for mental-health problems.
Arno - who previously had violated probation - was assigned to a senior probation officer, whom he saw days before the alleged carjacking, according to Christopher Maloney, head of the state's federal probation office.
"He was only under supervision for about seven weeks," Maloney said. "The officer was seeing the person regularly and was enforcing the conditions" of Arno's parole.
Arno's extensive criminal record did not indicate that he would commit violence, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Weiner, who prosecuted him on theft charges. "He was a white-collar criminal," he said. "He committed all kinds of frauds - counterfeiting, bank fraud."
After Arno was arrested in 2006 in Texas after being spotted in a stolen car and fleeing police, Weiner waited before pursuing his violations in the Garden State. "I wanted to make sure Texas got their time in jail for him," he said.
Arno attempted to get out of additional jail time imposed on him for violating his New Jersey parole by asking if his Texas jail time would count, and arguing that his problems were a slipup resulting from economic stress and stopping psychiatric treatment.
"His panic led him to make some terrible decisions," his attorney Lori Koch wrote in 2008.
The judge refused and sentenced Arno to two years followed by two years of supervised release. "It's not like anybody was lenient to the guy," Weiner said of the recently completed jail sentence.
Now he is back in jail on $2 million cash bail.
On the day his family went to the Taj Mahal, Martin Caballero worked until 2:30 p.m. at the Stop & Shop in Jersey City where he was a manager, recalled his stepson Cristian Martinez. He had looked forward to celebrating his daughter's birthday.
"They said they wanted to do something fun," Martinez said. "They thought going to Atlantic City was going to be a great idea."
Caballero went to the casinos about once a month. Nancy Cruz, his stepdaughter, said he sometimes would park his Lincoln away from other cars in the garages there to keep it from getting scratched.
The video from the Taj Mahal shows only minutes passed between the entry of Caballero's car and the Toyota owned by Arno's grandmother. Investigators believe that Caballero was abducted at knifepoint and later stabbed multiple times. They will not say whether his body was set on fire in that blaze that claimed his prized Lincoln.
In North Bergen Township, the prayer vigils for the family have been nearly nonstop. Last Sunday, the day the body was found, Libia Martinez and her family stood inside the doors of Our Lady of Fatima and spoke in Spanish and English to the pastor. The Rev. Peter G. Wehrle assured Martinez, a native of Argentina, of the congregation's continued support.
"We've just got to keep praying that he's going to get to where he's going," Cruz said of his stepfather on Friday. "That's all we have right now - faith."