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Who killed Mollie Tibbets? Suspect Cristhian Bahena Rivera says 2 armed, masked men put her body in his car

The prime suspect in Mollie Tibbets' murder, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, said 2 masked men made him drive and follow the jogger before they killed her
UPDATED MAY 27, 2021
Cristhian Bahena Rivera says 2 masked men killed Mollie Tibbets (CBS/Youtube/Poweshiek County Emergency Services)
Cristhian Bahena Rivera says 2 masked men killed Mollie Tibbets (CBS/Youtube/Poweshiek County Emergency Services)

Defense attorneys of the man who is accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts, a jogger in Iowa, made a shocking new claim. He said two armed, masked men held him at knifepoint before they dumped her body in the trunk of his car.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera testified at his murder trial on Wednesday, May 26, revealing a never-before-heard scenario of the 2018 slaying that sent shockwaves across the nation. Rivera testified that two masked men who had a gun and a knife appeared in his living room after he finished taking a shower and ordered him into his car, a black Chevy Malibu. "They were both wearing sweaters and their faces (were) covered," Rivera said through a Spanish interpreter. "One of them was bigger and a little bit fatter. The other one was about my stature." He testified that the larger man had a gun and the other had a knife.


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"They said I should not do anything stupid and everything was going to be OK," testified Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant who said that at age 17, he paid a coyote human trafficker money his family scraped together to smuggle him across the Rio Grande on an inflatable raft packed with people.

On July 18, 2018, Tibbetts disappeared while jogging near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa. After around a month, the police identified 24-year-old Rivera as a suspect in connection with the disappearance, as the surveillance footage showed Rivera's car following Tibbetts on her jog. On August 21, Rivera also led the police to the place where he took Tibbetts's body, which was in a Poweshiek County cornfield. He was charged with first-degree murder.

During the testimony, Rivera also said that two men whispered to each other for a "long while" and then ordered him to go with them to his car. Rivera stated that the man with the gun got in the backseat and the one with the knife sat next to him in the front. He claimed they ordered him to drive into the nearby town of Brooklyn, Iowa. "They told me to drive straight. One of them said to the other one something about someone running," Rivera testified. He said they drove through town and out to rural 385th Avenue, where they "saw a person jogging". He said he now realized that the jogger was Tibbetts. "We just continued driving, and then they asked me to turn around," said Rivera.

He further described the situation, saying that the two assailants crouched down in their seats as if they didn't want to be seen. Rivera claimed he drove past Tibbetts three or four times. He said the last time they drove past her, she was jogging in the opposite direction back into town. "We continued forward, and they asked me to turn and go back," he said. Before they reached Tibbetts, the men ordered him to stop, and the knife-yielding man got out of the car and headed in the direction of Tibbetts, while the other man remained in the back seat and they waited for him for 10-12 minutes.

Rivera claimed that as they waited, he heard the man in the back seat talking to himself. "Come on, Jack," Rivera testified. When the smaller man returned to the car, he asked him to drive forward about 300 meters, or 1,000 feet. He said they stopped again and the smaller man asked him to shut the car off and give him the keys. After Rivera gave him the kets, he heard his trunk open. "I just heard a movement in the car and the trunk close," he said and claimed that this is when Tibbetts' body had been dumped in the vehicle. He further said that the two men threatened to harm his ex-girlfriend, Iris Gamboa, the mother of his 5-year-old daughter. "One of them tells me not to say anything about what happened, that they knew Iris and that they knew my daughter," Rivera said. "That if I said something that they would take care of them."


He added that when he looked in the trunk, he saw Tibbetts' body. "At the beginning, I saw a little bit of movement. Then there was no movement," he testified. "I put her in the cornfield. I picked her up, and then I put her in the cornfield," he testified. Under direct questioning from defense attorney Jennifer Frese, Rivera said that he put leaves over Tibbetts' body not to conceal her but to prevent her from "being exposed to the sun." Rivera testified that he was "scared" to call the cops and feared the two men might harm his family. Rivera also stated that he found his keys and cellphone in the trunk of his car along with Tibbetts' phone, Fitbit and earbuds. He said he left Tibbetts' belongings on the side of a road as he drove home.

Rivera's testimony came a day after the defense called Dalton Jack, Tibbetts' boyfriend who had initially testified for the prosecution. In his testimony, Jack said that he told Tibbetts that he cheated on Tibbetts. When Tibbetts found out about it, she threatened to leave him about a month before her death.

Defense attorneys Frese and Chad Frese have suggested throughout the trial that Jack was involved in the killing, but prosecutors stated that Jack had a solid alibi. Jack testified that at the time when Tibbetts went missing, he was working on a bridge construction project in Dubuque, Iowa, about 140 miles from Brooklyn. Rivera testified that he did not know Jack and that he wasn't referring to him as the one the assailant was talking about.