The re-investigation of a cold case from 2009 led the authorities to solve another mysterious disappearance from 1989. Both victims were women, and in both cases, the common thread was their partner at the time. NBC News’s ‘Dateline: A Haunting Stretch of Road’ delves into the murder of Marta Rodriguez, who suddenly went missing in 1989. While the circumstances surrounding her vanishing were suspicious, the case wasn’t solved until more than three decades later. So, let’s find out what happened then, shall we?
How Did Marta Rodriguez Die?
Marta Haydee Rodriguez-Cruz had been married to Jose Rodriguez-Cruz. At the time, the 28-year-old was a nurse’s aide and had been living in Arlington County, Virginia. Together, the couple had a son named Hansel. As the authorities would find out later, things between the couple weren’t great, ultimately leading to Marta’s death. However, she was last seen sometime in May 1989 walking to a bus stop.
When Marta didn’t show up for her court appearance on May 18, 1989, the family began to worry, leading to a missing person report. However, it seemed like Marta vanished without a trace, and there was no sign of her anywhere. A few years passed by, and human remains were found concealed on a highway median strip in Stafford County, Virginia, in 1991. These remains remained unidentified until 2018 when DNA testing proved they belonged to Marta. The cause of death was listed as undetermined.
Who Killed Marta Rodriguez?
In the time leading up to Marta’s disappearance, there was volatility between her and Jose. In March 1989, an Arlington County police officer witnessed Jose dragging Marta on the street while she was bound and gagged. After Jose was arrested, the authorities found duct tape and rope in his car. At the time, Marta had even told police that she feared for her safety.
While charges were filed against Jose, they were dropped just as quickly when Marta failed to show up at court to testify against him. At the time, she worked at a hospital in Washington DC, and a co-worker also stated that Marta was scared because Jose was “coming for her.” Unfortunately, the investigation into her disappearance went nowhere.
The case stayed unsolved until 2000, when Marta was taken off the missing person database as a woman had used Marta’s name to get a driver’s license that year in Miami, Florida; it was one of Jose’s relatives. While an alert led to the authorities speaking with the woman, she claimed to be Marta and insisted she was okay. The authorities didn’t verify photos at the time, and Marta’s case was considered solved until another twist close to two decades later. Jose was at the center of another missing person investigation — that of Pamela Butler, his girlfriend, who went missing in 2009.
The investigation revealed Jose’s violent behavior, with a witness claiming she was bound and sexually assaulted in 2004. Another witness stated that he saw Jose threaten another woman’s life with a gun at one point. The prosecution presented a largely circumstantial case based on Jose’s violent history, and in November 2020, Jose pled guilty to killing Marta. However, he insisted that it was accidental, claiming to give her pills for a migraine that caused her death.
Jose stated that he buried Marta’s body along a highway in Stafford County. The remains were found in 1991, but the investigation into Pamela’s murder led the police to take another stab at identifying them. While Pamela’s remains were never found, Marta’s were identified through DNA, bringing a close to a decades-long unsolved case. In the end, Jose was found guilty of killing both women and put away for a long time.