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Family sees clues in D.C. woman's disappearance
That night, Rodriguez-Cruz said, he decided, "I'm done cooperating."
Except for a news briefing in February at which D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier appealed to the public for tips without disclosing many details of the case, authorities have said little if anything on the record about Butler's disappearance.
As for the house, Derrick Butler said, a detective told him that crime-scene technicians found no blood in any of the rooms -- and he remembered that Rodriguez-Cruz, in denying any wrongdoing, had told him from the beginning that the techs would find no blood.
Inquiries, and answers
"They did everything," Rodriguez-Cruz said. He said detectives at one point tried coaxing a confession from him with an empathy ruse, saying they understood how angry he must have been, getting dumped by his girlfriend on the eve of Valentine's Day. What an emotional blow that must have been, they said. Maybe he wasn't guilty of murder; maybe it was manslaughter; maybe he'd be out in five years.
"I told them, 'Look, it makes a nice story, it really does. But it didn't happen that way.' "
After Butler kicked him out Friday night, Rodriguez-Cruz said, he tried to reach her by phone the next day. He said he wanted to ask whether he could stop at the house to pick up his clothes and other possessions.
When he got no answer, he said, he figured that she had kept their Valentine's date with her mother and that the two were at dinner. He said he left a voice mail, telling her what he planned to do, then drove to her house and let himself in.
All he did there, he said, was gather his belongings, on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, carrying them out in a trash bag and duffle. He said he left phone messages for Butler before the Sunday and Monday visits, too. When he arrived and she wasn't home, he said, he assumed she had gone out because she didn't want to see him.
How did he get in?
Rodriguez-Cruz said Butler, in happier times, had given him a set of keys. But her relatives said they doubt she would have done that. They said it would have been unlike Butler to show that much trust in a fairly new boyfriend, no matter how often he stayed overnight. They said they suspect Rodriguez-Cruz used Butler's keys to keep the house secured over the weekend until he was finished doing what he had to do there.
Rodriguez-Cruz said investigators pressed him on that point. When a detective asked him to produce the keys, he said he replied truthfully:
"I don't know exactly where they are."
After he was done at the house, he said, he lost them.
What about the alarm?
If Butler entrusted him with keys, it stands to reason that she would also have told him how the turn off the alarm. He said a detective asked him about that: What's the code? He said Butler never gave it to him. Why would she give him keys but not the code? He acknowledged that it seems strange but chalked it up to her "siege mentality."
After Butler's family figured out she was missing, it became clear that the alarm had been off since the previous Thursday, when she last got home. Rodriguez-Cruz said he didn't know that when he visited her house over the weekend. So when he walked in to get his stuff, wasn't he worried the alarm would sound?
"No, because sometimes she would leave the house, knowing I was coming, and she would leave the alarm off," he said. But how could he have been sure she would leave it off for him that weekend? "I never thought about it," he said. "It never occurred to me."
So where could she be?
"It's a complete mystery to me," he said.
And until it's solved, he said, "I'm on hold for any type of relationship." Like Thelma Butler, who said she searches her dreams in vain for her missing daughter's face, Rodriguez-Cruz said he is trapped in a nightmare.
"They're thinking, 'How did this Houdini do it?' Well, I'm telling you, I'm not Houdini. I can't make people disappear."
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.