‘So surreal.’ Family mourns Visalia grandmother, 20, allegedly killed by tenant at home

‘So surreal.’ Family mourns Visalia grandmother, 20, allegedly killed by tenant at home

A 74-year-old woman who subleased a room in her Visalia home may be suffering from one Brutal death at the hands of roommate who lived with him for only a few months.

Family members of Rafaela Espindola remain in mourning after her Feb. 20 death and say they are still trying to understand what led her roommate Michael Major to allegedly kill the grandmother of 20 grandchildren.

According to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, Major, 54, was charged with one count of murder with the use of a deadly weapon, sexual assault by force, assault with a chemical, as well as special charges of hate crime.

“What’s really sad is the last thing he told us about his roommate was that (Major) seemed like a nice guy, and he was trying to help him get back on his feet,” said granddaughter Yenizel Rizzo. “She said she cooked for him and told us she enjoyed her meal.

“My grandmother was a quiet person and kept to herself. But she was also a loving woman and would try to take care of those around her. Then this happened.”

Major faces additional charges from a separate assault when he pleaded guilty Assaulting a restaurant employee with a 10-inch sledgehammer. He also faces hate crime charges from that incident.

Blood was found in the hallway

Police said that after Major was arrested and questioned about the brutal restaurant attack inside Nash’s Steakhouse in Visalia, he asked officers to check a home in the 500 block of North Stevenson Street.

That location is where Major spent the last two to three months with Espindola and a third roommate who is in his 80s, according to the victim’s family.

Rizzo said her family found a lot of blood in the hallway that connects her grandmother’s master bedroom to Major’s subleased room.

A criminal complaint says Espindola was beaten to death with a hammer.

Espindola, who is originally from Mexico and has lived in Visalia for about 40 years, sublet a room outside her home to different people over the years to help cover the rent for the entire house. And he rarely, if ever, had problems before.

But by subleasing to Major, “he rented a room to a man who unbeknownst to him suffered from mental problems and was killed,” according to The family posts on a GoFundMe page that was set up to help with her funeral expenses.

“My grandmother was not the type to run a background check,” Rizzo said. “He didn’t really see people’s past that way. He took for who he was at the time and kept most to himself.”

Hate speech written in papers

Despite having roommates and a small house, Rizzo still hosts family from out of town for many holidays.

“If he came to us, he would make sure he went to the market and he would cook fresh goat for us,” Rizzo recalls. “He also lived next to an orange grove and used to give us oranges all the time.

“Just a very caring person.”

Although the family wasn’t sure how Espindola became involved with Major, Rizzo said her grandmother usually found roommates over the years based on recommendations from acquaintances.

Regarding the whereabouts of the third roommate at the time of Espindola’s death, Rizzo said the family told police the elderly man was not home at the time of the incident.

Rizzo said it was later discovered that the major had notes and journals in his room.

Some had Bible scriptures written on them or references to God, including a note that hung from the ceiling fan in Major’s room that read “Only God can judge me,” according to Rizzo.

Rizzo said some of the papers also contained hate speech.

Perhaps what made Espindola’s death even more upsetting was that she had just battled breast cancer and was recovering from chemotherapy treatment, according to the family.

“He was just trying to get back to his normal life,” Rizzo said. “It was really scary for our family alone. What we’re dealing with now, it’s just so surreal.

“You’re sad. You’re scared. You’re upset.”

Major faces up to life in prison if convicted on all charges.

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