The gruesome murder of Nicole Perry: South Texas Crime Stories

‘He started taping up her hands and then he grabbed a machete’

The 2020 murder of Nicole "Niki" Perry was violent and gruesome, an arrest affidavit would reveal the truly shocking details.

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**Some details in this story are graphic and may not be suitable for all ages. Reader discretion is advised.**

Body discovered in trash bags at illegal dumping site

It was a normal November afternoon when Bexar County Public Works employee Oscar Flores was asked to go pick up trash that was off South WW White Rd.

The area was a known illegal dumping site.

When Flores and his coworker arrived they noticed several bags.

While a couple of the bags were easy to pick up, two bags, in particular, were not. One of them ripped open.

“I noticed hair, long thin hair. Which usually I would think is a dead animal but the hair looked too human to be an animal,” Flores said about the horrifying discovery.

Flores said he also noticed a silver necklace sticking out, he immediately called his supervisors who called the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

Inside were pieces of cloth and napkins with blood on them, kitty litter, and a pair of shoes. Niki was written on the side of the shoes.

Inside the bigger bags were two blue bins that held the body of 31-year-old Nicole Perry, also known as Niki.

Nicole Perry (KSAT)

It would be a few weeks before anybody knew what actually happened to Niki.

New details would come out when a man named Rafael Castillo was arrested in early December almost a month later.

The arrest affidavit revealed disturbing details.

Crime committed with machete, ax

Niki had been brutally attacked and murdered inside a known drug house in the 300 block of West Harlan Avenue on the South Side, investigators discovered.

Two witnesses had told police that Rafael had attacked Niki, cutting her hands off with a machete and striking her in the head with an ax.

Rafael Castillo is charged with murder in connection with the slaying of Nicole Perry. (KSAT)

Afterward, he made her boyfriend and another woman clean up the crime scene.

It would be almost two years later that the full story of what happened to Niki was revealed when Rafael Castillo headed to trial.

Gruesome details emerge at trial

Rafael Castillo, 26, has been charged with murder, according to BCSO. Image: Bexar County Jail. (KSAT)

“Rafael Castillo cut off her hands and buried an ax in her head because he did not think she showed him appropriate respect,” prosecutor Jennifer McDaniel said in her opening statements during the trial.

The trial itself lasted a week.

Castillo was charged with first-degree murder but was not facing the death penalty.

He was out on bond the entire time but was subject to a strict house arrest.

One of the key witnesses in the case was Randall Fulghum, Niki’s long-time boyfriend.

Here is his account of what happened that night.

“He warned about the stuff that she was saying,” Fulghum said.

“Was she frustrating?” McDaniel asked.

“Yes,” Fulghum said.

“Was she being rude?” McDaniel asked.

“Yes,” Fulghum said.

“Was she being violent?” McDaniel asked.

“No,” Fulghum said.

“He was telling her that she needed to shut up and just be still for a while, otherwise she wouldn’t like the results,” Fulghum said. “He grabbed some tape and started taping her hands up. I was frozen. At first, I thought it was a scare tactic. He gets a machete.”

Jury deliberates fate of man accused of killing woman with machete, ax

“He goes over to Niki and he’s looking down at her and he’s speaking but I couldn’t tell what he was saying. I wasn’t really paying attention to him talking, I was watching Niki. At some point, I think he’s going to put the machete back down after picking it up,” Fulghum said. “He raised it and as soon as he raised it I already knew what he was going to do and I turned my head and I heard it hit. It’s a sound I will never forget. She was on the couch at first but ended up on the floor.”

“She wasn’t saying a word but she was on her side and she kept moving around lifting her head, Fulghum said. “She kept trying to look around. The only thing I can think of she was trying to look for me. He went and grabbed a black ax. He swung it and buried it in her skull. He carried on as it never happened.”

Afterward, Castillo made Fulghum and Vanessa Vargas clean up. During that process, Fulghum said they forgot about Perry’s hands.

“I had forgotten to put them with the body. So I had nowhere else to put them so I wrapped them in plastic and put them in a crockpot,” Fulghum said.

A man named Steven Cleveland was called to dispose of the body. He was the one to first tip off the police about the murder.

The Verdict

The jury deliberated for a little over an hour and decided Castillo was guilty.

Then the punishment phase of the trial began.

It was revealed in court that Castillo had ties to the Mexican Mafia.

His family and friends came to Castillo’s defense, they told the jury that he was a good person who had never done anything like this before.

With that, the jury sentenced Castillo to 70 years in prison.

It took a jury about an hour to sentence a man to 70 years in prison for a brutal attack on a woman in November of 2020.

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About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast South Texas Crime Stories.

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.