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Decades after his wife vanished, Virginia man is sentenced to 40 years in prison in her murder

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Jose Rodriguez-Cruz, who admitted in 2009 to strangling his girlfriend in the District and disposing of her still-missing body, was sentenced to 40 years in prison Thursday for the murder of his estranged wife in Virginia in 1989 and also the hiding of her remains.

Ending a tortuous case that bedeviled investigators in several jurisdictions for years, Circuit Court Judge Michael E. Levy in Stafford County, Va., imposed the maximum sentence on Rodriguez-Cruz, 55, after he pleaded guilty in November to second-degree murder. He already is serving a 12-year term in the D.C. killing.

His estranged wife, Marta Rodriguez, 26, was last seen alive in May 1989. Her remains, concealed on a highway median strip in Stafford, Va., were found in 1991 but not identified until 2018, after Rodriguez-Cruz had been charged with murder in the District.

Thursday’s sentencing followed two related investigations involving multiple police departments and a suspect described by authorities as having an explosive temper toward women who spurned him.

About a decade after Marta Rodriguez’s 1989 disappearance from Arlington County, Rodriguez-Cruz became romantically involved with a D.C. woman, Pamela Butler, a 47-year-old computer specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency. In February 2009, she also mysteriously vanished.

Although Butler’s body has not been found, Rodriguez-Cruz, a clerical worker who had been living in Northern Virginia, was arrested in 2017 by D.C. police, largely based on circumstantial evidence. He eventually admitted he had strangled her. Butler’s family said she was in the process of breaking up with him when she disappeared.

He led investigators to a spot along Interstate 95 in Stafford, but the area had since been dug up for construction, and Butler’s bones were gone.

While searching that area, police learned that different remains, which were still being held in storage, had been found there in 1991. DNA tests confirmed that the remains were those of Marta Rodriguez, and Rodriguez-Cruz was charged with killing her. An autopsy report lists the cause and manner of Marta Rodriguez’s death as undetermined.

In March 1989, two months before Marta Rodriguez vanished, Rodriguez-Cruz, a former military police officer, was charged with abducting and assaulting her. In that incident, an Arlington County police officer saw him dragging her along a street, bound and gagged, authorities said.

“When asked by the investigator why he would commit such acts against his wife, Rodriguez-Cruz responded that ‘if I can’t have her, no one else will. She’s mine,’ ” according to the office of the Stafford County commonwealth’s attorney.

However, the case against him began to fall apart on May 18, 1989, when Marta Rodriguez failed to appear in an Arlington courtroom for a preliminary hearing. She was not seen alive after that, authorities said.

Although Rodriguez-Cruz, in pleading guilty, conceded in court that Stafford County prosecutors had enough circumstantial evidence to convict of him of second-degree murder, he did not offer details on the killing.

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