DAY 3

WARNING: This story contains content some readers may find disturbing.

Mathew Cramer, the man accused of killing a local and popular food truck operator and dismembering his body in April 2021, spent a lot of time walking the streets of Fort Wayne. With no vehicle, no money, no job and few friends, he became connected to Shane Nguyen after the 55-year-old pulled alongside of him in his black Honda Odyssey van and offered him a ride.

The ride would eventually lead to Nguyen’s horrific death inside a storage unit at U-Stor on North Coliseum Boulevard and the almost immediate incarceration of Cramer, who is learning disabled, rootless, with almost nowhere to go.

No reason has yet been given for why he lived in J4, the storage unit in Fort Wayne, either when most of his childhood was spent in Goshen and Elkhart.

This week, during his trial, no one has taken a seat in the courtroom to offer support, no one he can look across the rail and mouth the words “I love you,” as so many of the accused do.

Cramer is charged with murder, abuse of a corpse and resisting law enforcement and is facing life without parole. His nine-day trial started Monday. A separate life without parole trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, again in front of Superior Court Judge David Zent.

On Wednesday, the 16 jurors listened and watched a police interview as former homicide detective Donald Lewis carefully took Cramer through the days of April 23 through April 25. April 23 was the day when he and Nguyen went to the storage unit where the older man he knew as “John” expected a sexual encounter. April 25 is when Cramer crashed Nguyen’s van into the backyard fence of a home in the 1500 block of Forest Park Boulevard.

Lewis praised Cramer for being honest and prodded him for more information – how he first tried to kill “John” with a choke hold and when he didn’t die, he dragged him into his storage unit and used blunt force to finish him off.

He’d decided to kill the man during a ride back from Elkhart where Nguyen had allegedly grabbed his leg and his privates and suggested he bring along a niece and nephew to a future sexual encounter, defense attorney Robert Scremin said during opening arguments.

After he reportedly killed Nguyen, Cramer left his body in the storage unit and drove the van to his friend in Goshen, his “big homie” Jacob Carreon-Hamilton. Wednesday in court, Carreon-Hamilton appeared in prison stripes and admitted he first lied to police about knowing what Cramer had done in the storage unit the night it happened.

Friend said accused ‘messed up, made a mistake and killed somebody’

His testimony satisfied a plea deal which required him to testify against Cramer in exchange for a better deal when it comes to his sentencing Nov. 4. He’s been charged with assisting a criminal, abuse of a corpse and resisting law enforcement.

On April 24, Carreon-Hamilton and Cramer recruited a third friend, Cody Clements, Cramer said in his police interview. With money Cramer stole from Nguyen’s shorts pockets, they bought equipment at Lowe’s and Walmart in Goshen to take care of the body –  a machete, hacksaw, tarp, two shovels, gloves and black plastic bags, among other items.

They dropped Clements off at his home in Goshen and headed toward Fort Wayne. They told Carreon-Hamilton’s girlfriend, Monique Rivera, they were going to pick up a baby bed, she testified Wednesday. Carreon Hamilton had told Rivera that Cramer “messed up and made a mistake and killed someone.”

It was the testimony of the dismemberment that was matter-of fact and shocking at the same time. During the police interview, Cramer told Lewis that Nguyen’s head was heavy and it took about two minutes to cut it off, using the machete maybe 10 times. 

When it came to the limbs, it was “left side, put it in the bag; right side put it in the bag, head, put it in the bag,” Cramer said. Carreon-Hamilton held the bags and helped Cramer put the torso into a tote bag they bought. When Lewis pressed him for more details, he got upset and started to break down.

“I don’t remember,” he said. “At this point, I just wanted to get it done.” Later, he worried about trusting Lewis. People acted like they were your “best pal,” Cramer said, but really there was “disrespect.”

Carreon-Hamilton testified that he thought Cramer was joking when he first told him he killed someone. He also testified that he’d been afraid of Cramer in the past and helped him on the dismemberment because of that same fear.

Carreon-Hamilton knew it wasn’t a joke when he lifted up the blanket on Cramer’s bed in the storage unit and saw the victim. They worked by flashlight with Cramer doing the heavy work with the machete. But Carreon-Hamilton also used Cramer’s phone to document the dismemberment and may have spoken about the Bloods to kind of steady Cramer. “It was difficult to do,” Carreon-Hamilton said.

They stuffed the bags and tote bag in the van and went to bury the body parts somewhere. But a Silver Alert had already gone out on Nguyen and Sgt. Cary Young spotted a black van behind the Stoller Building in the 900 block of North Coliseum. Since it was before 5 a.m. Young thought it looked suspicious. With Carreon-Hamilton at the wheel, Young pursued the vehicle until speeds were 80 miles per hour and gave it up. The plate came back to Nguyen.

After Carreon-Hamilton bailed out of the van, he had his girlfriend pick him up and they went back to Goshen. Cramer was left to walk the streets. One police officer caught him walking barefoot on Parnell Avenue and stopped to ask him if he was okay. According to testimony Tuesday, Cramer said he’d been down to the river to soak his feet. He purchased shoes at Target and took a bus back to Goshen.

Thursday, it’s very likely the trial will wrap up.  On the agenda is Dr. Steven Wagner, a forensic doctor, autopsy photos and Carreon-Hamilton’s video of what happened inside the storage unit.