Rosie Tapia Murder: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?

Image Credit: Find A Grave

Investigation Discovery’s ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn: She’s Gone’ follows the heartbreaking abduction and murder of 6-year-old Rosie Tapia in Salt Lake City, Utah, in August 1995. More than 25 years after she was found murdered, the police are still searching for the perpetrator. A considerable amount of reward has been announced in 2022 to help bring forth information regarding the case. If you are interested to know more about the case, then we’ve your back. Let’s find out more, shall we?

How Did Rosie Tapia Die?

Rosa Maria “Rosie” Tapia was born in Salt Lake City in Salt Lake County, Utah, on January 17, 1989, to Lewine Lopez and Roberto C. Tapia. She was one of five children, alongside three sisters and one brother. She had a beautiful smile that warmed the hearts of everyone and pretty, expressive eyes. Rosie was a free-spirited young girl who loved listening to music, dancing, playing Super Nintendo, playing outside, and riding her bike.

Image Credit: Find A Grave

On the warm Sunday morning of August 13, 1995, Lewine woke up feeling uneasy at around 5 am. She decided to trust her motherly instinct and went down to the ground-floor bedroom of their Hartland Apartments at 1616 Snow Queen Place, where Rosie slept with her twin sisters. She was shocked to find the window wide open, and while the twins were sleeping in their beds, 6-year-old Rosie was missing from the room. She searched for her everywhere in the house but could not find the child.

Lewine’s screams woke her husband and her 18-year-old daughter, Emilia Elizondo. While they went outside to search for Rosie, Lewine informed the police and called for other family members and relatives to mount a search party for the missing child. The family had started searching for their child and printed flyers before the police arrived at the crime scene. When the police arrived, the officers joined the search while the detectives investigated Rosie’s bedroom.

The detectives came across several signs of foul play, such as the window screen being pried open and pulled from outside, the curtains partially pulled down, and a shoe print on a towel on the dresser by the window. Her mother last saw Rosie at around 2:30 am, when she and Roberto got back home from dancing the night before. She was sleeping, tucked in her bed. To the shock of everyone, a body was found a few hours after Rosie’s disappearance, floating face down in the nearby Jordan River surplus canal.

The fire department retrieved her body, and she was immediately identified as Rosie. She was still in her pajamas and had been sexually assaulted and drowned. There was evidence of blunt force trauma to the 6-year-old’s body, and she had been held underwater. Due to the body being in the canal for several hours, much of the forensic evidence had gotten compromised. However, they were still able to gather some tissue, hair, and fingernails.

Who Killed Rosie Tapia?

Emilia had been babysitting Rosie and the twins on the evening of August 12, 1995, just hours before her disappearance. Just before dinnertime, Rosie had gone to play in the playground directly outside their apartment. A few minutes later, Emilia heard a knock and opened the door to find a white man, wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, carrying Rosie in his arms. He claimed that Rosie had gotten hurt while playing. He went away, saying, “Bye, Rosie!”

Image Credit: KSL TV

It was baffling that the man knew her name and where she stayed, prompting the police to have a composite sketch drawn and ask around the neighborhood. The investigators theorized that the perpetrator lived nearby and had stalked Rosie to know exactly where she slept inside her home. Their suspicion was further confirmed by a neighbor who claimed to see a young man in wet pants driving away from the canal in a truck on the night of the crime. They even claimed that he might know Rosie, given the little girl had not woken up her twin sisters sleeping in the same room.

The apartment the Tapias stayed in generated a tremendous amount of lead with numerous suspects, but the prime one was a friend of Rosie’s father. As per the show, this individual had a son the same age as Rosie, frequently visited the Tapia residence, and knew where the little girl slept. He also was reportedly acting odd while searching for Rosie, trying to lead the search party away from the canal. The police questioned him extensively over the years, but his alibi of staying at home was confirmed by his erstwhile wife.

He also had no criminal or sexual deviant history and had never been in trouble with law enforcement since Rosie’s disappearance. The case went cold over the years, and the police are still searching for the perpetrator even after 27 years of Rosie’s disappearance. Over the years, the Utah Cold Case Coalition was formed by the police and a private investigator named Jason Jensen. In 2019, he interviewed a neighbor, who had been overlooked by the police, as per the show, and got a new composite drawn of a possible suspect. The suspect was a friend of Danny Woodland, an acquaintance of Emilia.

Image Credit: Utah Cold Case Coalition

Danny claimed that back in 1995, he used to climb through the window to meet Emilia, and his friend knew of the window. The neighbor had even picked the concerned friend from a line-up. However, Rosie’s case is still unsolved to date. The Salt Lake City police had announced a reward of $35,000 for any information regarding the case. On Rosie’s 27th death anniversary, the Utah Cold Case Coalition announced that the reward had been raised to $100,000 in the hope that the large amount will finally lure someone to come up with information to help crack the case.

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