A D.C. MYSTERY, PART 1
Woman vanishes, leaving a trail with no end
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
They made a love connection in cyberspace, two lonely strangers in their 40s, each long divorced and yearning for new romance.
By all accounts, Jose Rodriguez-Cruz and Pam Butler were a happy couple for most of their five months together. "This was a woman I really cared for, okay?" said Rodriguez-Cruz, who met Butler through the online dating service eHarmony.
"I mean, I treated her like a queen."
Then, on the eve of Valentine's Day, she disappeared.
"I'm telling you," he said, "there's no way I would ever hurt her."
And no one can prove he did.
Butler, 47, a computer specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency, vanished in February in what D.C. police think was a homicide. From the outset, detectives have focused on Rodriguez-Cruz as a suspect, searching his Alexandria apartment with a warrant, taking his car and other belongings, digging into his past and questioning him aggressively.
But with Rodriguez-Cruz denying any knowledge of Butler's whereabouts and detectives lacking enough evidence for an arrest, the stubborn case "has gone about as far as it can go at this point, unfortunately," a law enforcement official said.
A dead end.
Rarely is homicide in the District so complicated; rarely are the facts so intricate. This year, 130 people have been killed -- the carnage numbing, its rhythm bleak: A gunshot sounds; detectives roll up to a corpse on the pavement; there are shell casings to examine, motives to explore, witnesses to cajole. Maybe a thug cuts a deal, snitches on the shooter and the file gets put away.
Not this time.
Of the dozens of active cases being handled by the D.C. police homicide unit, only one involves a suspected victim who can't be found. Butler's mother said a detective told her that investigators might never learn what happened to her daughter.