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The Truth Behind Alpha Dog: Nick Markowitz Remembered

Nick Markowitz in 9th Grade

Nick Markowitz in 9th Grade

No Greater Evil

If Truman Capote were reading The New York Times in August of 2000, the events that unfolded in this nightmare-come-true might have had him dusting off the keys of his Smith Corona typewriter for one last story. It's a story of drugs, greed, lies, murder, and a phone call that brought a West Hollywood family to their knees.

The last 48 hours of Nick Markowitz's life are a cartel of ill-fitting puzzle pieces. There are testimonies, police reports, court transcripts, and personal accounts. To say that there might be some holes in the story of what really happened is probably an understatement. There is, at the very least, a framework of events that gave prosecutors enough evidence to arrest and convict the people who were responsible for the death of an innocent 15-year-old boy.

Nick Markowitz's Last Days

On August 6, 2000, Nick was walking on the street after a verbal run-in with his parents the night before. He was attempting to delay what he knew would be a confrontation about the drugs his parents had found. He wouldn't have had any idea what was about to go down when the white van came charging around the corner and the posse of four men attacked him, beating him and dragging him into the van. He would never see his family again.

It all began because of a $1,200 drug debt that Ben Markowitz, Nick's older brother, owed to a mid-level drug dealer by the name of Jesse James Hollywood. Jesse can be described as a bully. It was widely rumored that Jesse's father, Jack, was his drug supplier and that Jesse had several drug couriers who sold for him. He was 20 years old and living very comfortably in a house he paid cash for.

Jesse James Hollywood decided that it was time for Ben Markowitz to pay his debt. He sequestered a group of friends and decided to retaliate. As they were driving through the neighborhood on that fateful Sunday in August, they didn't find Ben. Instead, they found his little brother, Nick. Jesse impetuously decided that they would kidnap Nick and hold him until the debt was paid. What Jesse and his co-conspirators failed to recognize in that split second decision was that in California, kidnapping is a felony punishable by life in prison.

Jesse James Hollywood, convicted July 8, 2009 for kidnapping and murder, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Jesse James Hollywood, convicted July 8, 2009 for kidnapping and murder, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Over the next 48 hours, the group kept a close eye on Nick Markowitz, fed him Valium, marijuana, and alcohol, and took him to various house parties. During the trial, witnesses stated to the grand jury that Nick seemed fine and that he didn't seem to want to leave. His captors even jokingly referred to him as "stolen boy."

Shortly after they kidnapped Nick, Jesse Hollywood decided to contact his attorney. He apparently realized the error of his impulsivity. His attorney explained that indeed, If convicted, he was looking at a life sentence. Jesse Hollywood's attorney contacted Jack Hollywood out of concern for his client and notified the father about the events that might be unfolding. Jack immediately tracked down his son and advised him to hand over Nick Markowitz. Jesse did not comply.

On August 8th, two days after he had gone missing, the Markowitz family filed a missing persons report. That same day, Hollywood's posse was escorting Nick to the Lemon Tree Inn in Santa Barbara, California for what would be Nick's final party. Nick was told he would be going home the next morning.

After two days of drugs, drinking, and girls constantly coming and going, Nick seemed to almost settle in to the atmosphere and trust his keepers. Jesse James Hollywood had exited the scene early on and left his right hand man, Jesse Rugge, in charge of the hostage. In Nick's mind, Jesse Rugge had become a friend. Jesse Rugge felt the same way. He also believed that Nick was going home.

Tec-9 (illegal to own): This type of gun was used to kill Nick Markowitz

Tec-9 (illegal to own): This type of gun was used to kill Nick Markowitz

Ryan Hoyt killed Nick Markowitz over a $1,200 debt owed to Jesse James Hollywood.

Ryan Hoyt killed Nick Markowitz over a $1,200 debt owed to Jesse James Hollywood.

Death Knocked at the Door

Later that night, past midnight and well into August 9th, a new face knocked on the door of the hotel room at the Lemon Tree Inn. Nick wouldn't know who he was or why he was there but the posse knew immediately what his mission was, as soon as they saw him in the doorway.

Ryan Hoyt was the epitome of errand boy. It was no secret that Jesse James Hollywood used Hoyt as his "employee" since Hoyt owed Hollywood money for drugs, a common theme amongst the group. What was different about Hoyt was that he was willing to go to any length to please Jesse.

After making an arrangement with Jesse, Hoyt drove to the Lemon Tree Inn and picked up Nick and three others. Hoyt drove to the Los Padres National Forest and stopped at the Lizard's Mouth campsite. As the group ascended the trail, one of the men hit Nick's head with a shovel. Hoyt then fired nine bullets from a semi-automatic Tec-9 into Nick's chest and abdomen: He died instantly. The boys moved his body and the gun into the shallow grave they had dug and covered it with dirt and leaves. According to police interviews, Jesse Rugge got physically ill but Ryan Hoyt just stared in awe at what he had done.

Four days later, hikers would follow the odor coming from the shallow grave to find Nick's body.

On August 16th, 2000, four suspects were arrested for the murder of Nick Markowitz. Jesse James Hollywood was not among that group. He had disappeared. It took authorities five years to find him and when they did, he was living in Brazil. He had changed his identity and was receiving money every month from his father, who had been telling police all along that he had no idea where his son could be. As soon as the FBI extradited him to the US, Jesse was formally charged and found guilty. His father was also charged for manufacturing GHB (the date-rape drug) but the charges were eventually dropped.

The Posse Is Caught

NameAge at the time of murderChargeSentence

Ryan Hoyt


1st degree murder


Jesse Rugge


aiding in kidnapping and execution of victim

life with parole

William Skidmore


kidnapping and robbery

9 years plea: Released 2009

Graham Pressley


kidnapping and 2nd degree murder

7 years: Released 2007

Jesse James Hollywood


kidnapping and 1st degree murder

life without parole

Life after Death

The Markowitz family will never be whole again. Susan and Jeff, parents of Nick Markowitz, are forever haunted by the choices they made and didn't make. The death of their son has been immeasurably difficult.

Ben, Nick's brother, is the person who is mentioned the least. Ben chose not to attend Nick's memorial service out of respect for Susan. He was arrested just after the murder for previous unrelated charges and spent several months in jail. He did express guilt for his brother's death and felt that Jesse Hollywood had committed the act out of anger and impulse.

My most sincere thank you to Mrs. Susan Markowitz who allowed me to use the photographs of her beloved Nick. Blessings to you and your family.

©copyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2014


Christian on October 25, 2018:

I can’t even watch the movie anymore knowing what happened and how they friended this kid and killed him for no reason whatsoever. I have three kids and can’t even imagine what they went through and the fact that this POS is doing life and is married getting congical visits with his wife is sickening and unbelievable. God bless the Markowitz family.

Lisa on September 20, 2018:

Its very sad i cried for sometime watching the movie. Justin timberlake is very good actor in it. I want to send my condolences to Nick family and friends

Jeffrey Jones on August 01, 2017:

This whole story is so sad, another life lost because of the war on drugs that seems to be a lost cause. It s sad how much of our youth is being destroyed because of drug prohibition.

Holly Chadwick on July 26, 2017:

I've watched the movie, not realizing that it was a true story... sad, so sorry for the family.. RIP Nick

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on January 12, 2017:

BiancaColton, hello and thank you for reading and commenting. His mom as an amazing person and has done a lot to preserve Nick's memory. This is the first time I've met one of his peers and I appreciate you taking the time to visit and leave your personal experience. I love to have input. This story and this family are forever in my heart. Thanks again, -K

Gold Rose on November 21, 2016:

My heart hurts. So sad what happened. Peace be with all who were involved!

BiancaColton on September 01, 2016:

I remember this boy. We attended the same school and were in drama class together. I remember when news broke out of his body being found. Still saddens me to this day the horrific, senseless way he died. He was just a kid. I hope time has managed to mend this family's relationships with one another and can only pray that his parents have found at least a small amount of peace. I know the death of a child, or any loved one for that matter, is something you never completely recover from. Very sad, very tragic situation.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on August 21, 2016:

We Are The World, Thank you for reading and for commenting. I appreciate the heartfelt words that you share on behalf of Nick and his family as they have been through a nightmare that no one could possibly fathom. It's impossible to sort all of the twisted thinking and the wretched mistakes but hindsight is always 20/20. Thanks again for your kind words. -K

We Are The World on August 20, 2016:

I remembered this story and how it unfolded so long ago. I hope Nike can rest in peace, and i wish his mothter can find peace. Everyone in that family has gone through so much. No one could ever deserve such a terrible death by people they trusted. One thing that baffled me is that all the witnesses never called the police from the scene of the kidnapping, the homes,and parties everyone knew and they just let it slide by all because he wasn't making a fuss? I will never understand what all these people were thinking on the last 2 nights of Nicks death. And how are people affiliated to the murder of poor Nick Markowitz walking the streets? Rest in Peace Nick Markowitz you are remembered even in 2016 and are living on through us.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 17, 2016:

Carlo, Thank you for reading and for commenting. I'm not sure I agree with you about the defendants being released because of their race. I have worked in the justice system and the sentencing guidelines don't change based on race - I promise you. If they did, there would be a lot more appeals happening. I think this story is a lot more than sad. I'm not sure you can relate the current "climate" to what happened then because it's not the same. Nevertheless, I do appreciate your input and I always like to hear what readers have to say so thank you for writing. -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 17, 2016:

grand old lady, Thank you for reading and for commenting. This story is very dear to me. I love this family and I'm sort of married to this chain of events. I can definitely understand what you mean when you compare it to a mafia style murder. It's unfortunate that Nick was so innocent and so trusting. He was the diamond in this story. Thank you for your input. -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 17, 2016:

Jean4kids, Thank you for reading and commenting. If you read the comment before yours you will see that Nick's brother, Ben is doing well. He is coping - as best he can with this horror. I don't know how people compartmentalize something like this to move on but I know that Susan is living one day at a time. I think that the people who are involved and have been released will be forever tainted by this. They may be more free now than they were when they were in jail but they will have to live with what they did and they will have to report as felons for the rest of their lives. Is that fair? I don't know but I do know that a person's conscience will eventually beat them down. Thank you again for your input. -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 17, 2016:

Nebstar, Thank you for reading and for commenting. I'm so happy that I finally have someone who is related to the case that can speak with some authority here. I think that Ben is also a victim in this story but he was tragically forgotten because of the horrible way his brother died. I don't mean to invalidate what the family is going through but I can relate to the guilt that Ben must experience given the facts of this story. He will never be free from this either. I appreciate you letting everyone know how he is because it matters. I'm truly happy that he was able to turn his life around and find a piece of happiness. Thank you again, -K

Carlo on July 15, 2016:

An awful happening. I remember this when it happened and stumbled back into the vortex of the story via Alpha Dog. I am shocked that All the conspirators except Hollywood and the triggerman are now out of jail and on the streets. Given the current climate, I can't help but think that had these people been anything other than white, they'd all be in jail for life. This reeks of whites privilege. Ignorance of laws, and "not meaning to" kidnap and kill Nick, are not valid reasons for the lenience they received. Bottom line is, no matter it may have seemed Nick was being cared for, he was a prisoner who ended up dead - as a direct result of a group of people's actions (and inactions). Sad is an understatement.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 10, 2016:

This article really takes you into the lion's den of drugs, drug pushing, payback time, etc. Didn't realize it was so like a mafia. How sad that Nick was killed for something he didn't do. The video was very heart-wrenching and I feel for the mother and all the others who love Nick. Thank you for this story.

Jean4kids on July 07, 2016:

I just read everything about this tragic story and I can not get my mind off Nick.. I have 4 kids and can't even imagine the pain that this family will have to endure for the rest of there lives. Susan tried to kill her self a few times, do these idiots even care, I can't believe they were released from jail!!! Why??? This is so not fair, Nick is gone, his family has to this with this pain, they have to get up everyday knowing these losers are on the street!!! OMG I could not do it, how is nicks brother Ben? Has he been able to move on? Does he blame himself? Did he get clean? I want to know how they are all doing?

Nebstar on June 20, 2016:

I was surprised to stumble across this story after so long. I've known and been close friends with Ben Markowitz for almost 25 years now. I never knew Nick and probably only went to his dad and Susan's a couple of times. He lived mainly with his mom in Thousand Oaks when we were teenagers or on his own. Ben is a good guy that made some dumb mistakes from not having a lot of positive influences and unfortunately Nick's life was taken tragically too soon. He really struggled after Nick's death and continued down a bad path. What's different from his story than most is that Ben made a positive change in his life. I am happy to say that probably the best thing that ever happened to him was the birth of his first child, a daughter. Overnight, he straightened up, got a real job and worked hard and has seen success both professionally and personally. I haven't talked to him in a few years as our lives have gone down separate paths, however our wives communicate occasionally on social media. I know he struggles with Nick's death on a regular basis and the only good I can think of is while one son was lost, another was saved.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on June 03, 2016:

Carol, Thank you for reading and commenting. You are absolutely right. Any one of those boys could have been my seventeen year-old son's bro and it would have shocked me like it did the rest of the world when it happened. I always tell my boys that life changes in a moment. Make wise choices because you can NEVER rewind. Thanks again, -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on June 03, 2016:

I don't like.....Why thank you very much. That is a lovely thing to say. Best, -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on June 03, 2016:

Ralford, Thank you for reading and for the comment. I'm not sure that I can agree with you because I believe this was a reckless act of nonsense that went wrong on so many levels. I don't believe these children thought this through at all or that they were any sort of masterminds however I respect your opinion and appreciate you sharing it. Thanks again, -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on June 03, 2016:

Bob b, Thank you for reading and commenting. It's a terrible tragedy. Nick's mother wrote a book. You should check it out because it's definitely worth reading. Thanks again. -K

Bob B on May 31, 2016:

Thank u for a more detailed story. Cleared up a bunch of loose ends. Sad story, they were all far to young to be getting into that kind of mayhem.

Carol Morris on May 26, 2016:

What a sad story. The thing that surprised me, I know it may seem silly, is that in the pictures of these boys they look like regular, nice boys, not drug addicts and murderers.

I don't like comment sections on May 26, 2016:

Your replies to people are very courteous and thoughtful. I don't usually comment but it is a nice change to see manners on a chat board. The rest of the internet could learn a couple lessons from you.

Ralford on March 19, 2016:

The main motive for this crime was to avoid jail time. If the 4 of them thought they were already facing life in prison why not try to do something extreme to avoid it. maybe the state of California should lessen the punishment for kidnapping to avoid more murders. Call me crazy but more children would actually get to return home rather than thrown in a ditch.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on March 16, 2016:

Sean, Thanks for your comment. I think that a lot of people feel the way you do and unfortunately because the system is set up on a rubric - literally, he has served his time. He will be serving time for the rest of his life if you think about it though, no matter where he goes, people will know who he is and associate him to this tragedy. Thanks again for your input. -K

Sean on February 18, 2016:

Jesse Rugge is now free. That kind of disturbs me. I searched online to see if he is still in Santa Barbara and there is nothing coming up. Hoyt and Hollywood are the only ones still in jail.

I followed this story from the beginning in 2000 when I was still in HS and Nicks same age. I recently revisited it and I couldnt get it out of my mind for a few days, such a sad tragedy. It bothers me that there is this underworld in all parts of the country, even somewhere as affluent as Santa Barbara where I grew up. These kids are very common its just that most of them know what is too far.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on January 26, 2016:

greeneyes127, Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm not sure I agree about knowing the consequences since Mr. Hollywood did contact his attorney who informed him that he would receive a life sentence however I think they believed they were invincible. Thanks again for reading. Best, Kristi

Inspectoress from Colorado Springs, Colorado on January 25, 2016:

This was such an unnecessary tragedy. With a BA of Arts I have a minor in social and criminal justice. With all the research I have done on serial killers and killers in general, these murderous kids never knew the consequences of their actions until it was done. What is the best punishment? An eye for an eye, death, or life without parole. I guess I was taught early on to think about the consequences of my actions before the situation can not be retracted. Thanks for your story.

Inspector-ess greeneyes127

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on November 27, 2015:

movonup, Thanks for reading and for commenting. I appreciate the note of correction as I would never want to have a mistake. Sincerely, K

movonup on November 26, 2015:

Part of your retelling of the story is incorrect. The Markowitz family, and the other major players were all from the West Hills area or the Woodland Hills area of the San Fernando Valley. West Hollywood is no where near this area.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on October 30, 2015:

Jidah, Thank you for reading and commenting. Keep in mind that the movie, while very close to the actual events, is still somewhat fictional. Additionally, at any time, Jesse Rugge could have escorted Nick to a bus stop or even taken him home but he didn't. While it does seem that Jesse did experience actual guilt, the fact still stands that there is a family who grieves the loss of a boy and there is a group of people who are responsible. The amount of time Jesse received is based on many factors. I thank you again for your comments and agree that this story is terribly sad. -K

Jidah on October 29, 2015:

I just watched the movie and its so sad but i swear the guy that justin timerlake played i felt that he shouldnt have got all that time he wanted to let that boy go so many times and the night that he was killed he tried to get him too go he tried to help him but that other man hit him in his head its crazy cause i dont feel like jesse should have when to jail for so long cause that boy was his friend

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on October 19, 2015:

Tahoedirt, I'm not a New-Yorker but I am a human being and the truth is, it's a story that could have happened anywhere. Capote did write In Cold Blood which happened in Kansas so I'm thinking it's more about the story and the humanity. Thank you for commenting. -K

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on October 19, 2015:

jasonfromboston, Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, it's a horrible story and I feel for the family as well. I cannot imagine waking up to this reality every day. Thanks again -K

Tahoedirt on October 09, 2015:

Only a New Yorker would think this story obviously belongs with Capote and in the Times- So abnoxiously assuming. This is a California story.

jason from boston on October 02, 2015:

I just watched the movie and read what really happened these scumbags will burm in hell for what they have done i cannont immagine what this damn teenager (15 years old!!) Had gone through while they murdered him in cold blood i feel so sorry for the family and friends it is such a tragedy i am soo disgusted there are alot of losers in this world it seems like a bad dream im truly sorryyy

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on August 21, 2014:

Che Rogers, Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate you taking the time for discussion. Kids are more likely to have an attitude of almost reckless proportion and it's directly related to the child's socialization or lack thereof. Unfortunately it's becoming an industry standard that kids are charging like wild animals. It's the zoo analogy we saddled onto them when they were toddlers - so now what? That's a great topic. :) Thanks again for your input. Best, -K

Che Rogers from Los Angeles, CA on August 19, 2014:

I remember watching the movie and finding out it was based on a true story. It's so sad to see these kids acting out what they see in gangsta movies. They think life has to be about violence and mischief to be "cool". Our society is being brainwashed into thinking good is bad and bad is good and it's the children who are the most influenced. Great article by the way.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 03, 2014:

d, Thanks for the comment and condolences as this memoir is a very sad story for everyone involved. Best to you, -K

d on July 01, 2014:

Wow, things like this happen all the time. But when you single just one of these incidents out and look at how much damage is done to the families of victims, it's unbearable. R.I.P NICK...

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on June 23, 2014:

fgsfhgdfh, thank you for reading and commenting. The proximity seems so close to you it's unsettling. Bad things happen all over - just hopefully not that close to my area code. Thanks again for your input. -K

fgsfhgdfh on June 23, 2014:

I Live in ventura, california, its insane that all these events happened within 30 minutes of my city.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on January 29, 2014:

Sarah Evans, thank you for reading. This story makes me sad too as it's a desperate, senseless act. The family suffered a terrible loss and still suffers today. Thanks again for your input.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on January 29, 2014:

Brad shepherd, thank you for taking the time to read. It's a terrible story with an unfortunate ending. I can't imagine losing a child, especially in this manner. Thanks again for your input.

Sarah Evans on January 28, 2014:

I cry every time I hear of the story it shocks me how u can u that to someone a young boy at 15 i didn't know anything I pray for the family and hope nothing like this happens ever

Brad shepherd on January 28, 2014:

Sad sad story .. I pray for the family and can't even start to understand how they can go on with that kind of loss and tragedy..

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on November 18, 2013:

mia mcneill, Thank you for taking the time to read and to comment. It's a very sad story for all of the people involved. This story is especially close to my heart and has changed my life. It makes you look at the world differently. I've certainly raised my children differently because of this tragic story. Thanks again for your input. -K

mia mcneill on November 18, 2013:

i saw the movie and found out it was based on a true story.. I can't get it out my mind my heart is sadden by this tragedy what is the world coming to.. people are so evil. he didn't deserve that.. I wish he would have just left all the chances he had to.. my prayers are still with his family.. its been 13 yrs but that's a pain you hold on to for a lifetime..

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on October 12, 2013:

Jeffro, Thank you for reading and for your comment. It was a travesty of events that took place during those hours. Nick Markowitz was taken too soon and his family will feel the devastation forever. Thanks again. -K

Jeffro on October 12, 2013:

That is so sad can't believe that this happened.wish i had the power to turn back time and rescue him from them idiots and deliver him to his parents. Crazy world we live in.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on September 16, 2013:

Heather Says, it is a very sad story with horrific details. Thank you for taking time to read and respond. -K

Heather from Arizona on September 12, 2013:

I never heard of this story prior to reading your hub. That poor family. This was very well-researched and well-written. I'm still in awe of how quickly the events escalated. Thanks for sharing.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 31, 2012:

Conservative Lady, thank you for the comment. It is an extremely sad story, especially for Susan (mother) who has attempted suicide several times since her son's tragic death. I hope that it helps teach kids to make better choices. Thank you for reading. -K

Sheila from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State on July 31, 2012:

What a sad tragedy on so many levels. This poor family has so much to overcome. I am so glad they got the bad guys (kids) and justice will be served. Thank you for sharing this sad tale.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 31, 2012:

Distant Mind, thank you for the great comment. You are exactly right. A family was shattered because of the bad choices of a group of spoiled kids. Thanks for sharing your opinion. -K

Distant Mind on July 31, 2012:

A very sad story of stupid kids doing stupid things with dire consequences.

Kristi Sharp (author) from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on July 30, 2012:

billybuc, thank you for reading. I'm particularly fond of this story - probably because of the "youth gone wrong" and the landslide of bad decisions that ensues. Great to have your input. -K

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 30, 2012:

Fascinating story and one I was not aware of. Thanks for the in-depth look at an American tragedy.

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