Prosecutors say suspect in Tacoma man's death desperate for money

Margaret Effelberg is accused of killing Santiago Cortes, missing since Oct. 4, and stealing his debit cards

Staff writerNovember 13, 2013 

Margaret Effelberg was desperate for money when she hatched a plot to kill a Tacoma man who went missing in early October, Pierce County prosecutors said Tuesday.

Effelberg, 38, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder, second-degree trafficking in stolen property and second-degree possessing stolen property in the death of Santiago Cortes, 59. Effelberg, who reportedly helped Cortes manage his bills and court papers, was ordered jailed in lieu of $500,000.

Arianna Pierrottet of Lakewood also was arraigned in connection with the case. She was ordered held in lieu of $150,000 bail. Prosecutors have charged her with possession of stolen property, identity theft and trafficking in stolen property.

Cortes’ employer reported him missing Oct. 4 after Cortes failed to show up for work three days in a row. Police have yet to find his body, but Effelberg allegedly told Pierrottet he is “close by,” prosecutors said.

A search of Effelberg’s Tacoma home turned up a saw, deodorized garbage bags, Lysol wipes and scented candles, items police say she bought with Cortes’ stolen debit cards.

“Detectives have learned that at the time of Santiago’s disappearance, Margaret was desperate for money, had a gambling problem and was facing an eviction,” according to charging papers.

Effelberg allegedly told her boyfriend she killed Cortes because he disrespected her. She also admitted what she’d done to a neighbor couple, court records show.

Investigators began looking at Effelberg after learning she was the last person to speak to Cortes on the phone.

Pierrottet told police she was not involved in the slaying but admitted helping Effelberg get access to his bank account, use stolen debit cards and sell his truck.

The woman retrieved Cortes’ truck from a Pierce County Park & Ride and parked it at Pierrottet’s house until they could sell it, court records show. Sheriff’s deputies later found the truck at the new owner’s home.

Pierrottet also said Effelberg told her about Cortes’ death and showed her a blood-covered Bluetooth headset that Effelberg said he was wearing when she hit him, court records show. Effelberg then began speaking about how “they” killed Cortes.

“Margaret also told Arianna that she was surprised that he has not been found yet and that he is close by,” according to charging papers.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@ thenewstribune.com

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