Investigation Discovery’s ‘Grave Secrets Beneath the Stairs” follows the brutal 1969 murder of 27-year-old Reyna Marroquin in Jericho, New York. Though her body was discovered more than three decades later, the police’s skilled investigation helped zero in on her alleged killer within a week. Unfortunately, the authorities were never able to arrest the person, yet her murder case was officially closed. So how did Reyna die, and who was allegedly held responsible? Let’s find out.
How Did Reyna Marroquin Die?
Reyna Angelica “Angel” Marroquin was born in Municipio de San Martin in San Salvador, El Salvador, on December 2, 1941 to Ercillia “Grandma” Marroquin. According to news reports, she migrated to the United States after a failed marriage in August 1966. Reyna’s sister, Dora Marroquin, recounted how she wanted to make a fresh start. The latter reminisced, “She’d tell my mom, ‘I’m going to be somebody. I’m going to be somebody someday.'”
The show stated how Reyna enrolled herself in English classes, went to fashion school, and took a job in a Manhattan workshop named Melrose Plastic Company that specialized in manufacturing decorative artificial plants. According to Dora, her sister diligently wrote regular letters to her family for the first three years until they stopped hearing from her one day.
The concerned family put out announcements in newspapers, urging for information from the public to help them find Reyna. Seeing no results, their constitution weakened over the years, and they accepted the inevitable – they might never know what happened to their daughter. Sadly, their worst fears came true in September 1999 when the police uncovered an intact mummified body in a barrel in a home in Jericho, Long Island. The airtight barrel had preserved the body, with subsequent investigation revealing it to be Reyna’s.
The Nassau County medical examiner determined the body belonged to a “young, petite, dark-haired, and pregnant” lady. There were numerous blows to the back of her head, and the cause of death was officially determined to be blunt force trauma. But the most heartbreaking aspect of the homicide was the presence of the almost nine-month-old unborn male fetus about 17 inches long in the stomach of the murdered woman.
Who Killed Reyna Marroquin?
According to the show, an individual named Hamid Tafaghodi had purchased a residence at 67 Forest Drive in Jericho, New York, from Ronald Cohen. Surprisingly, the new owner discovered a 345-pound barrel in the crawl space of his purchased home and requested Ronald to remove it after the sanitation department refused to do so due to the drum’s hefty weight. On September 2, 1999, Ronald pried open the lid to find a mummified dead body covered in plastic pellets.
The authorities were immediately informed, and Detective Robert Edwards of the Nassau County homicide department recounted, “I saw that there was a 55-gallon drum on the curb-line outside the house. I opened the drum up, and I could see … what appeared to be a human hand with a ring on it.” Luckily, the investigators quickly stumbled upon clues left behind by the suspected novice murderer. The most significant evidence was the discovery of an address book with a note attached.
While the airtight barrel had preserved the dead body, the pages had frayed and decayed, making it impossible to read them with the naked eye. Nevertheless, the investigators relied on cutting-edge technology – a video spectral comparator coupled with moisture extraction and magnification. One of the investigators handling the case recounted, “I knew I was just looking for names and whatever information I could find from it … And as I was looking at the information on this page, … a name popped up with an address.”
The detectives scrutinized the letters to make out the name “Marroquin.” Moreover, the address book supplied another vital piece of information that cracked open the case – the address of Reyna’s best friend, Katy Andrade. Fortunately, she still lived at the same address when the investigators arrived at her doorstep. She told the officers that Reyna lived in a women’s Catholic home, took English and citizenship classes, and worked at the Melrose Plastic Company.
Katy recounted how Reyna’s happy life shattered when she got pregnant by an unnamed male. Reyna had refused to disclose the identity of her child’s father to her friend but confessed that he was married. According to Katy’s statements, the unnamed man arranged for a private doctor and a New Jersey apartment and even promised to marry Reyna though he already had a family.
However, when the individual failed to deliver his last promise, a desperate Reyna “lost her head, and she called the house and told his wife” about the affair in January 1969. She immediately called her friend, expressing her fear and apprehensions that he might murder her if he found out what she had done. When Katy rushed to Reyna’s apartment, she found her to be missing and even tried to file a complaint with the local police station. Since she was unrelated to the victim, the police refused to file a report or act on it.
Meanwhile, the investigators traced the barrel to a chemical company in Linden, New Jersey, and discovered the manufacturing date to be in 1965. Upon interviewing the locals, the detectives learned Howard Elkins partly owned the manufacturing factory Reyna used to work in. They also discovered that the house where the body was found originally belonged to him. Although, when an anonymous phone call tipped the officers about Howard’s illicit relationship with Reyna, the detectives decided his name had come up too many times to be a coincidence.
How Did Howard Elkins Die?
On September 9, 1999, the police paid Howard a visit in his upscale retirement community in Boca Raton, Florida. He admitted to the investigators about having an affair with one of his female employees but claimed he did not remember her name or description. He also declined to know about the barrel containing a pregnant dead woman in one of his prior residences. Yet, when the detectives requested a blood sample to rule him out as a suspect, Howard refused to cooperate with the authorities.
The investigators told Howard they would return the following day with a court order to collect his blood sample. When the officers arrived on September 10, they found him dead inside his neighbor’s car. He had killed himself with a 12-gauge Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun. The weapon was lodged between his legs, and a subsequent probe revealed it as suicide.
The lab reports came back in January 2000 with an analysis of Howard’s DNA sample with the placenta, fetus, and Reyna’s bones. It disclosed a 99.93% likelihood that he was the father of the victim’s unborn child. The authorities deduced Howard had killed her in a fit of rage and had hidden her body in a barrel, where it remained for about three decades. Nonetheless, with the primary suspect dead, the case was closed, and no charges were pressed for Reyna’s murder.
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