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Looking back at San Diego's hotel of horrors 40 years later

'True Crime Chronicles,' a weekly podcast from VAULT Studios, looks back at the shocking story of a hotel manager who sold teenage girls into prostitution.

SAN DIEGO — Nearly four decades ago, 16-year-old Josefina Hernandez and her 14-year-old sister walked into the Plainsman Hotel in San Diego. Only one would make it out alive.  

It was 1980 and the sisters had been lured there by a man who promised them a place to stay for the night. They had no idea they were entering a hotel of horror where the manager Eugene "Ricco" Cruz would drug and imprison young girls.

 “The manager Ricco Cruz would purchase this Thorazine off of the people who were staying there and he would use the Thorazine to drug the girls that he used as sex slaves,” said David Gotfredson, an investigative producer with CBS News 8 in San Diego.

For weeks, the two sisters were held as prisoners and repeatedly assaulted.  The younger sister was drugged and sold to other tenants for money. 

“Some of these teenage girls were victims of sex trafficking before the term sex trafficking was even popular or in, you know, modern culture,” Gotfredson said. “Back in those days, they called it sex slavery and forced prostitution.”

Cruz eventually killed Josefina.  Detectives found her body buried in the basement in 1982. They spent two days looking for other victims but no other bodies were found.

VAULT Studios' weekly podcast, "True Crime Chronicles," takes a look back at the hotel of horrors in episode 24. "True Crime Chronicles" also explores the new efforts to uncover the possibility of more victims.

You can download and subscribe to "True Crime Chronicleson any podcast platform, including Google PlaySpotifyStitcher and Apple Podcasts.

Cruz was convicted of second-degree murder, false imprisonment and administering drugs to minors. He was sentenced to 21 years to life and is up for parole in 2025. 

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Now the San Diego Police Department has brought on a new cold-case detective to dig back through the case files and to try and find other victims. Many want the basement of the hotel dug back up, but new owners are unwilling to cooperate at this time.  

“This would be a very different case today. There would be an all-out effort to locate these missing girls to identify them by DNA or hair samples or something left in the hotel,” former Deputy District Attorney Nancy Vauhan said.

“I think it’s important that we remember that there are some girls out there who have essentially been forgotten.”