HOUSTON — Maria Jimenez-Rodriguez’s daughter, Destiny, turned 5 on Friday.
As the smiling, dark-haired little girl blew out the candle on the giant, sprinkle-covered treat her aunt presented her, she had one wish.
"Her wish was that Mommy comes home," her aunt, Gloria Jimenez, wrote on Facebook.
It has been a year and four months since Jimenez-Rodriguez, 29, of Houston, was seen alive. On Thursday, Houston police officials announced that they are seeking Erik Fardell Arceneaux, her boyfriend at the time, on a murder charge.
Arceneaux, 47, also of Houston, is accused of killing Jimenez-Rodriguez and using a chainsaw to dismember her body, which has never been found.
Jimenez reported her sister missing on June 21, 2018, after she failed to show up for work that day at the law firm where she worked as a paralegal. Jimenez-Rodriguez also failed to pick Destiny up from a neighbor, who was babysitting the girl.
The concerned neighbor called Jimenez, who notified police, according to a probable cause affidavi filed Aug. 20 in the 178th State District Court, which covers Harris County.
"Since that time, an extensive investigation has revealed her boyfriend, Arceneaux, killed her," police investigators said in a news release.
Arceneaux remained at large Friday afternoon.
On Thursday, Gloria Jimenez shared on social media a news report from Fox 26 in Houston about the fugitive accused of killing Jimenez-Rodriguez.
"Help us catch this monster, so he can pay for what he did to my sister," Jimenez pleaded.
Jimenez appears to be raising her sister’s daughter. She shared several photos of the girl Friday in celebration of her birthday.
Jimenez-Rodriguez would have been 31 next week.
Jimenez-Rodriguez was last seen alive by her brother, who was at her home on Texarkana Street as she dropped Destiny off with the neighbor, then returned home to grab her purse and gym bag.
Her brother last saw her driving away in her truck, dressed in a dressy T-shirt, possibly green, and pastel-colored pants. The missing woman also had on brown slipper shoes, a pink Apple watch and was carrying a tan purse.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Jimenez told detectives last year that she tried in vain to contact her sister by phone and text when she failed to pick Destiny up from the babysitter’s house.
Jimenez told authorities she contacted a co-worker of Jimenez-Rodriguez’s, who told her she received a text from Jimenez-Rodriguez’s cellphone at 8:57 a.m. on the day she vanished, saying she was on her way to work.
Jimenez-Rodriguez never showed up. The co-worker said Jimenez-Rodriguez appeared to text again a short time later to say she had to turn around and go back to the babysitter’s home because her daughter, who has special needs, was acting up, the court document says.
The woman got a third text from Jimenez-Rodriguez’s number around 6:20 p.m. that day, which stated she was being chased by three “white or Hispanic” men.
The woman never heard from her again.
Jimenez called OnSTAR to track her sister and the company was able to track Jimenez-Rodriguez’s truck, which was parked near 100 Port St., but there was no sign of the missing woman. Jimenez reported her missing around 10 p.m. that night.
The distraught sister told television legal commentator Nancy Grace shortly after her sister’s disappearance that she didn’t believe the texts were written by Jimenez-Rodriguez. In at least one of the texts, Jimenez-Rodriguez’s daughter was referred to as “Dez” instead of by her full name.
“She doesn’t say ‘Dez’ as the baby’s name. The baby’s name is Destiny,” Jimenez explained on Grace’s podcast, “Crime Stories.” “Those texts are saying ‘Dez.’ That’s not the way she relates to the baby. I’ve already looked all over my texts and they always say ‘Destiny.’”
Jimenez said the texts to the co-worker also contained slang, which was not her sister’s habit when writing or speaking to colleagues or supervisors.
Tim Miller, leader of search and rescue organization Texas EquuSearch, which has been involved in the case, also pointed out that the person who texted Jimenez-Rodriguez’s co-worker, if it was a woman being followed, would more likely have dialed 911 for help.
Listen to Nancy Grace’s “Crime Stories” podcast about Jimenez-Rodriguez’s disappearance below.
A missing persons detective who handled the case prior to it being handed to homicide investigators interviewed Arceneaux, who claimed Jimenez-Rodriguez was supposed to pick him up for a job interview at 9 a.m. on June 21, but she didn’t show and texted him that she could not make it. According to the affidavit, Arceneaux said he heard from her again around 5 p.m. that day, at which time she told him she was “super busy.”
Arceneaux told the detective he had last seen his girlfriend June 20, the day before her disappearance.
Houston homicide Detective G. Sullivan, who penned the affidavit, wrote that a missing persons detective had interviewed Arceneaux’s grown daughter, who told the investigator that her father had called her 11 times on June 22, which was unusual, and that he seemed scared. She told the detective her father told her he thought “something bad” had happened to Jimenez-Rodriguez and asked to come to her apartment.
The baffled daughter said her father had never asked to come over before, according to the affidavit.
“(The daughter) said the defendant is mean and did not talk a lot, and that he is very demanding and would order (her) around,” the affidavit reads.
The young woman told investigators that family members told her Arceneaux used to beat her now-deceased mother. The missing persons detective who spoke to her looked back at Arceneaux’s criminal history and turned up a disturbing find.
Arceneaux pleaded guilty in March 2011 to aggravated assault in connection with an incident in which he “held a gun to the head of a woman with whom he had a dating relationship, while threatening to killer her,” the affidavit says.
Investigators also learned that Jimenez-Rodriguez may have been attempting to break off her relationship with Arceneaux.
“(Arceneaux’s daughter) said that she thought (Jimenez-Rodriguez) was trying to break off her relationship with the defendant because (Jimenez-Rodriguez) was under stress from her family because the defendant was black,” the affidavit reads.
When the missing persons detective asked Arceneaux’s daughter if it was possible that her father hurt Jimenez-Rodriguez, she said it was.
The detective then went back to Arceneaux for a follow-up interview, but he declined to talk about Jimenez-Rodriguez’s disappearance and said he’d hired a lawyer, the court document says.
Surveillance footage and a visit to Home Depot
Sullivan wrote that on July 23, just over a month after Jimenez-Rodriguez vanished, he canvassed the area of Port Street where the missing woman’s truck was found. Surveillance footage from a camera on a nearby warehouse showed the truck drive by around 8:12 a.m. the morning she disappeared, heading westbound.
The spot where Jimenez-Rodriguez’s truck was found is about seven blocks from the home where she lived in June 2018.
Knowing the route between Jimenez-Rodriguez’s home and the home where Arceneaux lived 2 miles away, the homicide detective found the movement of Jimenez-Rodriguez’s truck to be consistent with a drive from her home to that of her boyfriend.
The truck was next seen on the surveillance footage at 5:06 p.m., just minutes after Arceneaux had told detectives Jimenez-Rodriguez told him she was “super busy.”
“I saw the complainant’s vehicle circling the area for a short time and then again going eastbound, which was consistent with it being abandoned at 100 Port St., just east of the warehouse,” Sullivan wrote. “Just moments after the complainant’s vehicle was seen on video for the last time, I see a black male matching the defendant’s description walking westbound on Wallisville (Road).”
Sullivan wrote in the affidavit that when shown the footage of the man, Jimenez identified the man as Arceneaux, whom she had met during his time dating her sister.
Two days after finding the surveillance footage, Sullivan got a warrant for historical and tower information on both Jimenez-Rodriguez’s and Arceneaux’s cellphones, the document says. The data showed the two phones were together near Arceneaux’s home at 5030 Evella Street at 8:45 a.m. the day Jimenez-Rodriguez disappeared.
The phones remained together throughout the day until Jimenez-Rodriguez’s phone was turned off. Arceneaux’s phone remained on, and the data put his phone near 100 Port St. at the time Jimenez-Rodriguez’s truck was being abandoned, the detective wrote.
“The information even showed the defendant’s phone moving down the streets as he was apparently walking back to his residence on Evella Street,” Sullivan wrote.
Based on what Sullivan had learned, he determined that Arceneaux had lied to the missing persons detective about when he’d last seen Jimenez-Rodriguez.
Further analysis of the cellphone data showed Jimenez-Rodriguez’s phone was back on and with Arceneaux’s phone later in the evening as they traveled to an area on North Loop West. When the detective looked up the address, he found it was a Home Depot store.
Sullivan went to Home Depot on Oct. 4, 2018, and pulled the surveillance footage. What he found was chilling.
Arceneaux walked into the store around 6:30 p.m., 90 minutes after Jimenez-Rodriguez’s truck was abandoned. He was alone and, although Jimenez-Rodriguez’s phone was at the location, she was nowhere to be found on the footage.
“I saw the defendant at the register purchasing a Homelite electric chainsaw and Husky 42-gallon contractor trash bags,” Sullivan wrote. “I obtained the register receipt for these items and saw that it was signed, ‘Erik Arceneaux.’”
‘Dropped off the face of the Earth’
Sullivan wrote in the affidavit that, as a 12-year veteran law enforcement officer who had been working homicides for five of those years, he knew killers “may attempt to dispose of a corpse by dismembering the body with tools, including but not limited to chainsaws, packaging the remains utilizing items such as trash bags, and concealing those remains through burial or other methods of concealment.”
The detective also noted that it was while the cellphones were moving toward Home Depot that Jimenez-Rodriguez’s co-worker got a text from the missing woman’s phone about being followed by three Hispanic men.
“I did not observe anyone that appeared to be following the defendant and had not seen the complainant,” Sullivan wrote.
After Arceneaux left Home Depot, both his and Jimenez-Rodriguez’s phones headed toward his home on Evella Street. As they neared the house, Jimenez-Rodriguez’s phone was deactivated and never came back on.
Sullivan wrote that he met with an officer assigned to the Houston Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Division who specializes in cellphone data analysis. The officer agreed with his interpretation of the data.
Read the probable cause affidavit in Arceneaux’s case below.
The homicide detective executed a search warrant on Arceneaux’s home on Oct. 18, 2018. Crime scene technicians also went to the home, where they employed a chemical used to detect the presence of blood.
“I observed that when the chemical was applied, it indicated that blood had (been on) the walls and ceiling in the bedroom and, looking at the patterns I saw, it appeared the blood had been cleaned up, as I saw circular patterns that would be consistent with cleaning the surface,” the detective wrote.
DNA was recovered from an area near the circular patterns but testing by the Houston Forensic Science Center was unable to match it to anyone because the material was “mixed and not suitable for comparison,” the affidavit says.
Sullivan wrote that he has not found any evidence that Jimenez-Rodriguez is alive or found anyone who has been in contact with her. She has made no financial transactions since her disappearance, either.
“I can say that it appears the complainant has dropped off the face of the Earth,” the detective wrote.
Based on his review of the evidence, Sullivan theorized that Arceneaux killed Jimenez-Rodriguez and, after attempting to establish an alibi by sending text messages from her phone, used the chainsaw and trash bags to dispose of her body.
According to ABC 13 in Houston, police officials said last Oct. 30, on what would have been Jimenez-Rodriguez's 30th birthday, that the investigation into her disappearance had turned into a homicide investigation.
It was not immediately clear why it took until August for authorities to file the murder charge against Arceneaux or why investigators waited two months after filing the murder charge to announce they were looking for the man.
Anyone with information in the case is urged to contact the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS. Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 award for information leading to Arceneaux’s arrest.
Cox Media Group