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D.C. woman's disappearance leaves a trail with no end
"Have I had tumultuous relationships? Yes, unfortunately, I have. Does that mean I did something to Pam? No, it doesn't."
He said that their romance bloomed quickly last fall and that he was soon sleeping at her home most nights. "I basically lived there," he said.
'They got along fine'
For some of the five months they were together, one of Butler's nephews, Brandon Butler, a college student, also lived in the house. "She seemed happy," Brandon Butler recalled. "I mean, they had their arguments here and there. But for the most part, they got along fine."
Other relatives and some of Butler's friends said they got the same impression on the few occasions they socialized with the couple.
They said Rodriguez-Cruz was affable and pleasantly attentive to Butler, who seemed to enjoy being with him.
"Pam was a very, very sharp lady, one who did not suffer fools," said her friend Michael Yelverton, a Defense Department executive who went to graduate school with Butler at American University.
Yelverton recalled meeting Rodriguez-Cruz in an Irish pub last fall at a get-together with Butler and a few of their old classmates. "I could never see her letting her guard down," said Yelverton, adding that Rodriguez-Cruz "seemed like a nice fellow."
Apparent financial strain
Rodriguez-Cruz said their relationship soured in the winter, though, after Butler began "stressing out" over money.
The impact of the economy on her real estate is evident in assessment records. The value of her Brightwood house fell sharply and is set at $353,000 for next year, which is less than she had borrowed against it. "She was complaining about bills," Brandon Butler recalled. After he and his aunt had a spat about living costs, he said, "I moved out, to give her time to cool down or whatever."
That left just Butler and her boyfriend in the house. "She was stressing out about people taking advantage of her, people thinking she was made of money," Rodriguez-Cruz said. "And then she starts getting on me, like I'm a leech. . . . Especially that last month. She was coming out of left field. And I was, like, what the hell is going on, you know?"
Others who had contact with Butler in the week before she vanished said she gave no hint that she intended to break up with Rodriguez-Cruz.
Thelma Butler said her daughter called her Thursday, Feb. 12, to say that the couple wanted to take her out that Saturday for a Valentine's Day dinner. And her friend Rita Moss said Butler mentioned in a text message that Friday that she and Rodriguez-Cruz had plans for that evening.
"We are going to the new restaurant called 'Next Door' owned by Ben's Chili Bowl and others tonight," Butler's message read.
But that evening, when he arrived at her house after work, Rodriguez-Cruz said, Butler told him they were finished as a couple.
"It didn't make any sense to me," he said. In an emotional discussion, he said, Butler was never specific about her reasons for breaking up with him.
"She kept saying that I didn't have her back. And I'm like: 'Your back on what? What are you talking about?' That's why it was a mystery to me." Finally, he said, "she told me to get my [stuff] and get out."
He said he climbed into his '97 Dodge Neon and drove home to Alexandria.
It was Friday, Feb. 13.
"After that, I don't know what happened to her," he said. "All I know is, I left her alive and well in that house."
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.
COMING TOMORROW: The evidence. What is on the surveillance video at Pam Butler's home? What more is known about her disappearance?