A D.C. MYSTERY
Family sees clues in D.C. woman's disappearance
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Romance is for younger folks, Thelma Butler said. Until she noticed a cluster of heart-shaped red balloons on sale at a grocery store one morning, it hadn't occurred to her that Valentine's Day was near. To an elderly widow living alone, the occasion meant little.
Never again, though, will Feb. 14 be just another day on her calendar.
She waited that Saturday in her small house in Southwest Washington. And she waited and waited. Her daughter Pam Butler, 47, had called two days earlier, saying that she and her boyfriend, Jose Rodriguez-Cruz, wanted to treat her to a Valentine's dinner. They were supposed to pick her up at 3 p.m. for the early bird. Then 3 p.m. came and went.
Thelma Butler, 77, said she had socialized with Rodriguez-Cruz at holiday gatherings last fall and winter but knew little about him. "I thought he was a regular guy -- you know, nice." In her living room, watching the clock tick toward evening that day, she wondered why her daughter hadn't called to say they'd be late.
"I thought, 'She's never done this before.' "
Feeling her first twinge of worry, Thelma Butler said, she dialed her daughter's home and cell phones, but got no answer. "I thought, well, maybe they just decided to go out by themselves for Valentine's." After church the next day, though, when she called her daughter again, she still couldn't reach her.
Pam Butler, a computer specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency, had a compressed work schedule: 10 hours a day, Tuesdays through Fridays, with three days at EPA headquarters and Fridays at home.
Because Presidents' Day, Monday, Feb. 16, fell on one of her regular days off, she had planned to take Tuesday off for the holiday, giving her a four-day weekend. As Thelma Butler's anxiety worsened Monday, others in the family tried to reassure her, saying that maybe the couple had booked a last-minute Valentine's getaway.
Too scared to go to her daughter's place alone, afraid of what she might find and not having a phone number for Rodriguez-Cruz, Thelma Butler said, she waited until Tuesday. Then she and a posse of relatives descended on Pam Butler's two-story brick home on a corner lot at Fourth and Oglethorpe streets in the Brightwood neighborhood in Northwest Washington.
Walking around inside a house that her daughter normally kept impeccably neat, Thelma Butler said, she thought: Something's definitely wrong.
The relatives found no vivid evidence that Pam Butler had come to harm. They saw no blood, no signs of a struggle or forced entry. What they saw in the house amounted only to puzzle pieces.
But soon the pieces would fit together in their minds.