Murder of Nicholas Markowitz

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Nicholas Markowitz
Nicholas Markowitz portrait.JPG
Born Nicholas Samuel Markowitz
(1984-09-19)September 19, 1984
West Hills, California, U.S.
Died August 9, 2000(2000-08-09) (aged 15)
Nationality American
Home town West Hills, California, U.S.
Religion Judaism[1]
Parent(s) Jeff Markowitz
Susan Markowitz

Nicholas Samuel "Nick" Markowitz (September 19, 1984 – August 9, 2000) was an American teenager who was kidnapped and murdered at the age of 15 after a feud over drug money between his half-brother Benjamin Markowitz and Jesse James Hollywood. Nicholas Markowitz lived in the West Hills, Los Angeles, California area with his mother Susan and father Jeff.

Kidnapping and murder[edit]

Nicholas Markowitz, with sister Leah and brother Benjamin "Ben" Markowitz, at his Bar Mitzvah in 1997.

The feud between Benjamin Markowitz, Nicholas's older half-brother, and Jesse James Hollywood, a mid-level drug dealer, began over the alleged $1,200 debt owed to Hollywood by Markowitz.[2] On August 6, 2000, Hollywood, Jesse Rugge, and William Skidmore decided to confront Benjamin. On their way to see him, however, they saw Nicholas Markowitz walking on the side of the road, having run away from home. Hollywood and his gang decided to abduct Nicholas in broad daylight in order to hold him for ransom in lieu of Benjamin Markowitz's debt. They chased, assaulted, and abducted Nicholas, then escaped in a van.

When Hollywood and his gang informed Nicholas of why they were holding him, he allegedly panicked at first. However, after Hollywood offered Nicholas drugs and alcohol, he felt that he was a part of the group. Hollywood and his gang then picked up Brian Affronti (another one of Hollywood's friends) then they drove their van up to Santa Barbara, California and traveled to various house parties. Reports indicate that many witnesses — parents and teens alike — saw the group together but did not realize anything was wrong. Although up to 32 witnesses knew he had been kidnapped (even calling him "Stolen Boy") they did not notify the police, as Nicholas appeared to be safe and having fun.

Nicholas and Rugge then traveled to the Lemon Tree Inn in Santa Barbara, California. While at the Inn, the gang held another party in the pool area of the Inn where Nicholas befriended a 19-year-old girl. After the party, members of Jesse's gang allowed Nicholas to believe that he would soon be freed. Instead, Hollywood called Ryan Hoyt, a crew-member of Jesse's gang who owed him $200,[3] to "take care of" Nicholas, giving him a TEC-9 semi-automatic firearm. The decision was made to commit the murder in the Santa Ynez Mountains, close to West Camino Cielo Road, north of Goleta, California.

Hoyt and Jesse Rugge bound Nicholas' hands behind his back and covered his mouth with duct tape. Hoyt then hit Nicholas in the back of the head with a shovel, knocking him into a shallow grave. Hoyt shot Nicholas nine times with Hollywood's semi-automatic pistol and the members of the gang then tried to hide the gun by placing it between the legs of Nicholas' body and covering the body with dirt and branches. However, the grave was too shallow and close to the popular Lizard's Mouth Trail, and Nicholas' body was found on August 12, 2000. Ryan Hoyt, Jesse Rugge, William Skidmore, and Graham Pressley were all arrested following numerous leads to the sheriff's office following the death of Nicholas Markowitz.

Legal outcome[edit]

There have been several court cases involving criminal trials with the kidnappers and a civil lawsuit.[4] The criminal trials include:

  • Jesse Rugge, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was charged with aiding in the kidnap and execution of Nicholas Markowitz. He was convicted on the charge of kidnapping in 2002 and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Parole was denied in 2006.[6] As of July 2, 2013, Jesse Rugge has been granted parole. On October 24, 2013, Jesse Rugge was released from prison and is now on parole, after serving 11 years in prison on the charge he was convicted of, aggravated kidnapping.
  • William Skidmore, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was charged with kidnapping and robbery. In September 2002, he was sentenced to 9 years in a state prison as part of a plea bargain.[7] Skidmore was released in April 2009.[8]
  • Graham Pressley, aged 17 at the time of the murder. He was tried twice. In July 2002 he was acquitted of kidnapping and the jury hung, eight to four in favor of not guilty, on the murder charge. In October 2002, he was retried and convicted of second-degree murder. Pressley helped dig the shallow grave for Nicholas. Pressley was incarcerated at a California Youth Authority facility until shortly before his 25th birthday in 2007.[9] He has since been released.[10]
  • Jesse James Hollywood, aged 20 at the time of the murder, was not present at the scene of the crime but was found guilty of having ordered the job. He immediately skipped town, but was arrested five years later in Saquarema, Brazil, with his pregnant girlfriend Marcia Reis.[11] In 2009, he was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[12]
  • In addition to the criminal cases, the Markowitz family won a $11.2 million civil lawsuit in 2003 against the kidnappers and killers, as well as secondary people including the family friend whose van was used in the kidnapping and the owners of several homes where Nicholas was held against his will.[13]

Alpha Dog feature film[edit]

Main article: Alpha Dog

The feature film Alpha Dog, based on the events leading to the murder of Nicholas Markowitz and directed by Nick Cassavetes, was released in 2006.[2] Markowitz is portrayed as "Zack Mazursky" in the film and played by Anton Yelchin.


  1. ^ Susan Markowitz (2010, pp. 55, 56, 57)
  2. ^ a b "The real story behind 'Alpha Dog'". MSNBC. 2005. 
  3. ^ "Jesse James Hollywood, drug dealer orders murder and flees". Crime Library. p. 6. 
  4. ^ Guccione, Jean (August 10, 2001). "Family of Slain Boy Files Suit Against 32 People". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  5. ^ Wilson, Tracy (November 21, 2001). "Jury Returns With Death Verdict for Killer of West Hills". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  6. ^ Guccione, Jean (September 25, 2002). "22-Year-Old Is Sentenced to Life in Teen's Kidnap-Slaying". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01. 
  7. ^ Fox, Sue (November 11, 2001). "Kidnap Victim Could Have Fled, Witnesses Testify; Trial: Nicholas Markowitz stayed with captors because he thought he would be taken home, they say". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  8. ^ "Hollywood's Day in Court". The Santa Barbara Independent. May 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  9. ^ Guccione, Jean (February 12, 2003). "Teen in Slaying Case Gets CYA; At ex-sheriff's urging, judge rejects adult prison for Goleta defendant convicted for his role in the death of a West Hills boy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  10. ^ "Hollywood's Day in Court". The Santa Barbara Independent. 
  11. ^ "Fugitive in 2000 Slaying of Teen Found; Jesse James Hollywood, 25, reportedly is captured in Brazil". Los Angeles Times. March 10, 2005. 
  12. ^ "Jesse James Hollywood gets life sentence in Santa Barbara murder". Los Angeles Times. July 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  13. ^ Guccione, Jean (August 2, 2003). "Fugitive Ordered to Pay Parents of Slain Boy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 


  • Jenna Glatzer, Susan Markowitz (2010). My stolen son; The Nick Markowitz story. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 978-0-425-23634-5. 

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