There were many things that Nicole Montalvo regretted about her marriage to Christopher Otero-Rivera, but she was very thankful for one thing that had come out of their ill-fated match.
Their relationship had given her the most important thing in her life – her eight-year-old son.
By 2018, after suffering years of abuse at the hands of her toxic husband, Nicole had finally escaped from her relationship with Otero-Rivera, now 33.
But in a terrible twist of fate, her beloved son was the one reason that Nicole could never truly be free of the man who had always wanted to control her.
He had started dating other women, but was also fighting Nicole for custody of their son. It came to a head when Otero-Rivera, and his girlfriend at the time, allegedly lured Nicole to a remote area.
According to an affidavit recorded afterwards, Nicole was slapped repeatedly by Otero-Rivera and thrown to the ground. She was badly beaten and gagged, with a rag forced into her mouth. Nicole said that her ex then tried to break her neck before releasing her from his grip and robbing her.
Terrified and bleeding, Nicole claimed that her ex threatened to kill her if she went to the police. Even though she was shaken by the promise of a repercussion, Nicole told the authorities about the attack.
Otero-Rivera was arrested on charges of kidnapping and domestic abuse but later pleaded guilty to lesser charges including battery, and the unlawful possession of a bank card.
After receiving credit for time served, Nicole’s abuser spent just eight months in prison and was released on probation. To keep track of him, he had an electronic tag attached to his ankle.
He wasn’t allowed to contact Nicole except through a parenting app – which allowed them to make arrangements for their son.
Nicole believed it was in the boy’s best interests to see his father. Even though she suspected that her ex was playing dirty in an attempt to take her son from her, she was sticking to the court agreement.
Loved ones said that Nicole had finally broken free from her husband’s control and wanted to move on. She was working at a pizza restaurant, making money to support her son. He was all that mattered to her.
But she confided in friends that she believed that Otero-Rivera, and his dad, Angel Luis Rivera, now 66, were plotting to do all they could to get custody of the little boy.
She believed that they’d tried to hack into her social media account to obtain a naked photo of her in an attempt to discredit her. What she didn’t know, was that they’d also offered people money to plant drugs on her – and worse still.
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On 21 October 2019, Nicole dropped her son off to see Otero-Rivera at his parents’ house in St Cloud, Florida. The next day she was due to pick her child up from school, but she didn’t appear. Instead, his grandfather Rivera picked up the boy, claiming Nicole had asked him to.
Nicole was reported missing.
Rivera told investigators that Nicole had sent him a text asking him and his wife Wanda to look after their grandson for a few days. “I’m really sorry about everything,” it read.
“I should have listened to you. I made a bad mistake. I need you and Wanda to take care of [my son] for a few days until I get things figured out… I am with a friend that is going to help me through this. Tell [my son] Mommy loves him.”
However, Nicole hadn’t told anyone else that she was going away, and officers suspected the text was sent by someone else – but who? More disturbingly, records showed that Nicole’s mobile phone had never left her former father-in-law’s home.
A witness said that they’d seen an excavator digging at the property, but while usually Nicole’s son would join them working on the land, his grandmother had kept him away. It had struck them as unusual.
Four days after she vanished, investigators found Nicole’s body parts buried at Rivera’s house – and at another of the family properties.
Her mutilated corpse had been burned and cut into pieces before being buried in the two locations, covered in two to five feet of dirt using an excavator that Rivera had rented. Otero-Rivera’s ankle monitor placed him at the scene as well.
Investigators believed Nicole had been ambushed, killed and buried at the hands of the father and son – because she was an obstacle to Otero-Rivera gaining custody.
The two men were charged with second-degree murder, abuse of a body and evidence tampering. They both pleaded not guilty
and hired separate legal teams – while they blamed each other for Nicole’s murder.
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At the trial in April this year, the defence said that despite Nicole being found on the family’s property, the evidence was “circumstantial”. They added that if Nicole had been killed at the scene, there would have been more blood.
Otero-Rivera’s lawyer laid the blame firmly with his father.
“He was unquestionably the boss of the Rivera family,” the lawyer claimed. “He controlled things. He manipulated things.”
The prosecution said that Otero-Rivera and his dad were willing to do anything to get Nicole’s son and wanted her to “disappear”. Witnesses testified that they’d been asked to plant drugs on Nicole. While two others told the court they’d been offered money to
A crime scene technician described the gruesome task of searching a trailer that contained some of Nicole’s remains.
“Immediately upon discovering the fleshy material, a foul odour was present,” she told the court. “A very strong odour, and in addition to that, flies began coming to the area.”
The cutting up of the body had been so extreme that a medical examiner couldn’t say how Nicole was killed. She had been “dismembered to a level she had never seen before”, so the death certificate could only list the cause of death as “homicidal violence of unspecified means”.
After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated for just 90 minutes. Both men were both found guilty of all charges.
Nicole’s family gave emotional victim impact statements during sentencing in July and shared how devastating her death had been. Nicole’s sister Christina said the grieving process is “never-ending”.
“When people ask me what happened to Nicole, I always say she passed away from an act of domestic violence,” she said. “It physically pains me to say my sister was murdered by her estranged husband… and his father.”
Nicole’s twin brother, Edward Montalvo, said the family had constantly begged her to leave her husband but when she did, she was “butchered and discarded like she never mattered”. It was deeply upsetting to them that Nicole’s remains were burned, and that several parts were still missing.
The judge agreed that it was a particularly sickening case. “I cannot ignore the brutality of your efforts to cover up that crime – and the
pain that it brought to the family as they desperately searched,” he told Otero-Rivera and his father.
They were both sentenced to life in prison for the murder, with 20 years added to each for the other charges of abuse of a body and evidence tampering.
Nicole’s son is now being raised by his maternal grandparents.
The little boy has lost a mum who died trying to get the best life for him. One day he may learn that the battle to keep him ended in gruesome violence.
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