When nursing student Michelle Le disappeared in May, the woman now charged with killing her was embroiled in a stormy, sometimes violent relationship that has dominated much of her adult life and may have engulfed Le.
Defendant Giselle Esteban and Scott Marasigan, the father of Esteban's 5-year-old daughter, were both friends with Le at one time.
In recent months, however, Le may have found herself caught in the middle of the couple's toxic relationship marked by fights, repeated breakups and entanglements with police, court records and Esteban's own words suggest.
Esteban was named as a person of interest just days after the 26-year-old Le went missing from a hospital parking lot. Esteban then called a San Francisco television station to proclaim her innocence while revealing she hated Le, a high school friend, blaming her for wrecking her relationship with Marasigan.
It was the first and last public statement from the 27-year-old Esteban, who is portrayed in court documents as volatile and aggressive, especially in her long, tumultuous relationship with Marasigan, who was awarded full custody of the couple's daughter last September.
Just three days before Le disappeared, Marasigan filed for a temporary restraining order against Esteban, citing what he described as her bizarre and threatening behavior against him and his family. That same day, Esteban broke into his house and went to their daughter's room, Marasigan alleged.
When his mother confronted her and demanded to know what she was doing, Esteban replied, "I'm messing with your son" and ran away, the documents state.
After Le vanished, Marasigan said Esteban twice visited their daughter's school in defiance of the restraining order and once tried to enter her classroom.
"The disregard of the restraining order makes me fearful that Giselle may be increasingly unstable," Marasigan wrote in the documents.
Esteban did not respond to the restraining order filings. Her court-appointed attorney, Andrea Auer, did not immediately return a call for comment on Thursday. Marasigan has declined requests for comment.
Esteban's bouts with depression and other difficult chapters in the relationship were detailed in the couple's 2010 custody dispute. A September 2008 police report described the arrest of Marasigan on suspicion of domestic violence, saying he and Esteban were both bruised and bloodied by the time police arrived. Each told officers the other attacked first.
In the custody case filings, Marasigan described Esteban as suicidal, citing a text message exchange in which she allegedly said, "I want out! I want the pain to stop!" Esteban denied being suicidal and claimed Marasigan often sought to portray her as unstable to excuse his own violent behavior toward her.
"I am not a strong person when it comes to dealing with men like Marasigan," Esteban wrote in one filing in the case.
She also described herself as distant from her family, saying she left home at 14 and moved from San Diego to San Francisco after high school. "The Esteban women share three things," she wrote: "A quick temper, stuborness (sic), and blaming."
Two psychiatric evaluations filed in the dispute said Esteban has a history of depression and describe an incident when she was 20 in which friends called 911 after finding her asleep near an empty bottle of anti-depressants. The evaluations said Esteban denied overdosing. Both evaluations in summer of 2010 found that she was not a danger to herself or others.
Hayward police have not disclosed any motive in the slaying of Le, whose remains were found Saturday after more than three months of searches. But they revealed Le's blood was found on Esteban's shoe. In addition, surveillance video the night Le disappeared shows Esteban in the hospital parking lot; and GPS evidence traced the cell phones of Esteban and Le along a similar path immediately after Le went missing.
Family and volunteers persistently formed search parties to comb rugged rural areas east of San Francisco Bay. When Le's body was found and identified, her family issued a brief statement but has not commented on her relationship with Esteban.
Le's body was located by Carrie McGonigle of Escondido, whose own 14-year-old daughter Amber Dubois was missing for more than a year until a convicted child molester who pleaded guilty to her killing led police to the body in 2010.
McGonigle said her dog, which is taking search and rescue lessons but had no cadaver training, broke off from the search group and raced several hundred yards down a hill to Le's remains.
"I know now that God, my daughter Amber, and Michelle needed me," McGonigle said. "It was a power higher than all of us."
Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.