This series is something that’s been a long time coming,
an idea I’ve had for years, and over the last year at AudioChuck,
we’ve been putting together the right team of people
to make this show a reality.
Those of you who are deep in the true crime community
might know about cold case playing card decks.
Some law enforcement agencies have replaced
the faces of traditional playing cards
with images of missing and murdered people.
Each card represents a victim who’s gone without justice.
The goal was to get these out to the public and into jails and prisons,
hoping that they might find their way into the hands of someone with answers.
And now, it’s time to bring these cases to a bigger audience,
hoping each of these stories will finally hit the right ears.
Our card this week is Raquel Ramirez, the Seven of Diamonds from Connecticut.
In 1985, Raquel disappeared in the middle of the night from her family’s home,
only to be found the next day in a bizarre area not easily accessible to anyone.
In the many years since her death, her family has never stopped seeking justice,
and one detective has vowed to keep investigating her case
until he can prove who killed her.
I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.
June 29th, 1985 was your usual summer evening at Juana Almena’s house in Hartford, Connecticut.
Her 29-year-old daughter Raquel Ramirez and Raquel’s three children were living with her,
so the house was lively, especially because it was a Saturday night.
After dinner, the kids got ready for bed and settled in the living room,
while Raquel went out for drinks with some of her friends.
Juana didn’t judge her daughter for wanting to have a social life
on top of her full-time mom duties.
Raquel was always responsible and always put her kids before her social calendar.
Raquel’s daughter Brenda Perez, who was 10 years old at the time,
said even if money was tight,
her mom had a natural ability to make each one of them feel special.
She was upbeat, outgoing. She loved to dance.
She, most of all, just loved to be around us.
Shortly after Raquel headed out on that Saturday,
Brenda and her siblings went to bed.
And as expected, Raquel got home a few hours later, right after midnight.
But none of the kids were awake and actually saw their mom.
Juana was the only one up who noticed Raquel arrive.
When Juana eventually went upstairs to go to bed,
she saw Raquel had fallen asleep on the couch, still in her going-out clothes.
About an hour later, though, around 1.30 in the morning,
Juana heard the sound of the front door opening and closing.
That was kind of unusual,
but she figured Raquel must have just gone back out to the bars.
Maybe one of her friends had stopped by.
Juana didn’t think much more about it and drifted off to sleep.
When everyone woke up Sunday morning,
they were surprised when they didn’t see Raquel on the couch.
And she wasn’t in her bedroom either.
They thought maybe she stayed overnight at another relative’s house,
but it wasn’t like her to not let the family know if that was her plan.
Juana started calling family members to see if anyone had seen Raquel,
or if she was with them.
But none of them knew where she was.
By midday on Sunday, a few hours after they realized Raquel was missing,
Juana finally decided to call the Hartford Police Department.
The dispatcher who answered took down Raquel’s physical description.
Five feet tall, short dark hair, late 20s, missing since 1.30 that morning.
The information was filed away as something officers could follow up on later,
since Raquel hadn’t even been missing a full day yet.
But not long after they took this report,
a teenager showed up at the Hartford Police Department to report a strange discovery.
The kid told authorities that he and his friends had found a body
under the I-91 overpass.
The teenager said he wasn’t sure how old the person was, or even what gender.
But based on the size of the corpse, he and his friends all thought that it could be a child.
Hartford detective Drew Jacobson said when emergency responders first got to the scene,
they too, at first glance, thought the body was that of a little girl.
So they found her on June 30, 1985, under a bridge.
I-91 is a highway that runs centrally through Connecticut, north to south.
And in Hartford, there’s a section of the Connecticut River, and I-91 is really close to it.
She was itty-bitty, just barely five feet tall.
I want to say she weighed 85 or 90 pounds at the time of her death.
It didn’t take police long to realize the body was actually that of a young woman.
The teenagers who’d reported finding the body said that they had been fishing on the bank of
the river when they went up an embankment to the overpass to look for worms to use as bait.
And that’s when they found her lying in some brush.
She was covered in dirt and had some scrapes on her, so they were pretty sure she was dead.
One of the teens said he trekked back to his car and drove two miles to the Hartford police
department, while his other two friends went out to the road to see if they could flag down
a patrol officer if one happened to pass by.
Police responded to the scene right away,
taped off the area, and started to process the crime scene.
It was obvious to investigators that all signs pointed to a scenario
that the woman had been murdered, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how she died.
Her shirt was kind of moved over, her bra was exposed, part of it was torn,
her pants, the top of her pants were unbuttoned, and she had drag marks on her rear end.
Police decided, just based on her positioning,
that where the victim’s body had been found was likely also where she was killed.
It would be very, very difficult to carry a body into that area.
It would be tough.
You would have to kind of convince a person to climb in there with you.
Just kind of looking at the pictures in the dirt, it kind of looks like there was a struggle there.
Her shoes are kind of like in a couple different areas.
It probably happened on the dirt and then they dragged her into the vegetation.
So that’s probably the scuff marks on her backside.
In her back right pocket, investigators found a lottery ticket, dated for Friday, June 28, 1985.
The ticket had been purchased from the Spanish-American package store in town.
So officers took a photo of the victim and then went to the store,
where a clerk on duty confirmed the woman in the picture was Raquel Ramirez, a regular customer.
So police’s next stop was to go to Juana’s house,
where Raquel’s 12-year-old son, Benjamin, answered the door.
They told Juana that in order to be sure they had their official ID correct,
they needed her to go to the medical examiner’s office to confirm her daughter’s identity.
But Juana was too upset to do that.
So Raquel’s sister Ada ended up driving two and a half hours to Hartford from
Patterson, New Jersey to make the identification.
And Ada recognized her sister right away.
Detective Jacobson wasn’t a responding officer back then
and wasn’t in the room when Ada ID’d her sister’s body.
But for the past 17 years, he’s worked the case.
And after reading through all of the material his agency has collected,
he has a really good handle on what those first few hours of the investigation look like.
He said back then, some of the first people detectives were suspicious of
were the teenage fishermen who’d reported finding Raquel.
Even today, Jacobson struggles with understanding
why those teens were in such a secluded, obscure area.
To gain access to it, you had to walk across a section of a highway to get kind of underneath.
When I went in and climbed in there a few years ago to kind of take a look around,
I had to go to an access road and climb over like a half of a cement wall
and kind of duck underneath.
It was a little strange to get into.
So getting worms to me doesn’t make sense.
I haven’t been able to sort it out to this date,
why those three men were underneath there.
Could you be looking for worms?
But maybe they were overnight drinking beer or maybe they had some information about it.
Detectives kept the fishermen for questioning,
but the teens didn’t have much else to provide police.
They stuck to their story about only happening upon the body
because they were looking for bait.
They weren’t even from the area.
An autopsy showed Raquel had been strangled
and her killer likely used their bare hands to choke her.
The medical examiner did find sperm when he examined Raquel,
but it was undetermined who it belonged to
and if it had been from a previous consensual encounter
or from a sexual assault before her death.
The only two things found in her pockets were that lottery ticket
and someone else’s social security card,
which detectives found highly suspicious.
But at the time,
police efforts to locate the correct owner of the card were unsuccessful.
After learning everything they could from her autopsy,
detectives interviewed as many of Raquel’s friends and family as they could.
Juana told them about how Raquel had gone out that Saturday,
only to return around midnight and then leave again around 1.30.
To police, Raquel’s movements were hard to piece together.
They needed to figure out how she’d gone
from being fast asleep on her mom’s couch
to hours later being murdered and left under an interstate overpass.
After speaking with family members,
police wanted to talk to Raquel’s exes and her current boyfriend.
Raquel had two exes who were the fathers of her three children,
but those relationships were from when she lived in New Jersey,
so the men had no ties to Connecticut.
Each of those guys provided solid alibis right away
and were determined to have been miles away in New Jersey
during Raquel’s murder.
So, detectives zeroed in on Raquel’s current boyfriend,
and they found out right away that Raquel’s relationship with him was far from perfect.
It was no secret among Raquel’s family
that her boyfriend had physically assaulted her in the past,
and there was an incident that happened earlier on Saturday,
right before Raquel was murdered.
Here’s Raquel’s daughter Brenda again.
I recall telling the detectives when they questioned me
that they got into an altercation.
Don’t remember exactly now what I had said then,
but I had told my grandmother that moms and her boyfriend got into a fight that day.
Police investigators at the time knew that similar incidents had happened in the past.
According to Detective Jacobson,
interviewed transcripts with Brenda from 1985
indicate that she remembered one disturbing altercation
between Raquel and her boyfriend that involved a pretty serious weapon.
They said it was abusive.
They were on and off.
She would break up with him.
He would get really upset and would slap her around a little bit.
Brenda had even heard that within a month or two of her mom’s death
that he might have hit her in the head with a hammer.
Detectives couldn’t find a police report or hospital visit
to corroborate the alleged hammer assault,
and Raquel’s autopsy did not show injuries
consistent with having been hit in the head recently.
But police did confirm through multiple sources
that Raquel had tried to break up with her boyfriend right before she was killed,
but the breakup wasn’t clean.
For abused women, the national statistic is that
it can take up to seven times to actually leave for good.
And so if the allegations of abuse are true,
it’s not surprising to learn that the couple got caught up in a cycle
of breaking up, reconnecting, breaking up, reconnecting over and over again.
Police became aware of this when they actually spoke with the boyfriend.
He confirmed in his interview with police
that Raquel had actually been by his apartment on that very Saturday night.
He said that the two of them had sex, but he swore he didn’t kill her.
So while this is one possible explanation of the sperm found during Raquel’s autopsy,
at the time investigators had no way of knowing if that sperm was his.
Aside from the allegations that he was a violent partner,
police lacked evidence linking him to any assaults or Raquel’s murder.
So they didn’t pursue him any further as a suspect.
Detectives tried to get more information from anyone
who might have been with Raquel out drinking that Saturday night,
but witnesses weren’t exactly lining up to be interviewed.
At the time, a lot of people in Raquel’s community
were actually fearful of talking to the police.
In the early 80s through like the mid 90s,
the city of Hartford had a real problem with street gangs,
specifically some Latin street gangs like the Los Salidos and the Latin Kings.
There seems to be a resurgence of them now,
but it seems like a lot of people were scared to talk to police back then
and would really provide very, very little information.
Weeks went by with very few clues as to what happened to Raquel.
There were some unverified sightings of her at a bar called Amigo Cafe
just hours before she was killed,
but again, police were having a hard time finding willing witnesses
who would swear to that.
But then, on July 23rd, a month after the murder,
someone called in a tip, asking authorities an alarming question.
Do you want to know who killed that woman in Connecticut River?
The audio clip from that actual call is from 1985,
and it’s hard to understand,
but Detective Jacobson gave us the transcript.
It was a woman talking to an officer at the Hartford Police Department.
To sum it up, the caller said she not only knew the man who killed Raquel,
but she provided his name and his address,
and she confirmed how she knew he was the killer.
The tip says, yep, and his wife fled shortly after.
They went to Newark, they got out of town,
that he was involved in it.
And this is, like, right after it happened.
We’re censoring his name because it’s off the record,
but we’ll call him Jay.
Detective tried to corroborate the tip and track down Jay,
but most people in town were not willing to talk about him,
and there was no sign of him or his wife in Hartford.
Eventually, after weeks of persistence,
detectives found a potential witness
who reluctantly agreed to be interviewed about Jay.
According to the witness, he’d seen Raquel get into Jay’s car
during the early morning hours of Sunday,
shortly after Raquel left her home.
The witness said he saw Jay again a few hours later,
and by that point, Jay had changed his clothes and appeared to be upset.
The witness said he’d heard that Jay
and two of his drug trade associates killed Raquel
over an outstanding drug debt
that one of her family members had racked up.
The story was that Raquel’s relative had lost some cocaine
that was worth a lot of money,
and because of that, the dealer didn’t get paid
and was furious over it.
The men were overheard discussing the drug debt,
that they were really upset,
and that they were going to go get her
because they thought that maybe she had taken it.
I don’t think it’s the case,
but they think that she had taken it
and that they’re going to go take care of the problem,
the problem being Raquel.
You can imagine how detectives felt
while listening to this witness’s story,
like they were well on their way to solving Raquel’s murder.
But almost as quickly as the guy who was saying all of this
came forward and agreed to talk,
he got spooked and put down his pencil during the interview
and was like, you know what, never mind, I’m out.
Without a signature from the witness on an official statement,
the detectives were left with nothing.
Not a single word of what the man had said in the interview room
could be used in court,
and no matter how much the authorities pleaded with him,
the witness was not changing his mind about backing out.
So with no other cooperating witnesses,
the investigation stalled.
A year went by with no answers,
and Raquel’s family was devastated.
Juana had continued raising her grandchildren,
even though her heart was aching over the loss of her own daughter.
There was a missing piece in their family,
and they felt it whenever they were at home.
Raquel used to teach her kids how to salsa dance,
and they tried to hang on to those happy memories.
Our birthdays were special to her to have.
She made them special for us, and it was a big deal to her.
Whether it was hard times or not, she made it happen.
Those little umbrellas, you know,
she, even though those were for little cocktails or whatever,
she used them for parties.
She did her own little things.
So certain things that she did back in the years
still remind me of things that I see now in stores,
and remind me of her and things that she did.
In 1986, Raquel’s family convinced the governor of Connecticut
to approve a $20,000 reward for information
leading to the killer’s arrest.
They figured a little public pressure and financial incentive
might make witnesses re-evaluate cooperating with the investigation.
But ultimately, people still wouldn’t talk.
To avoid getting tunnel vision,
detectives started looking into other possible motives
for why someone would want to kill Raquel.
And when they did, they noticed a trend.
Women all over Connecticut were being strangled and left for dead.
At least 18 women were murdered in the state between 1985 and 1991.
The slayings were so noteworthy
that the state actually formed a task force
to look into possible connections between the victims,
even though bodies were being found in different jurisdictions.
By the end of 1986,
Hartford police detectives began to suspect that
maybe, just maybe,
Raquel had been the victim of a serial killer
who’d been operating in Connecticut.
And those suspicions weren’t completely unfounded.
The other cases did have some similarities to Raquel.
They were all female victims,
and most were killed in the same way.
Strangled and left in secluded areas near highways and interstates.
Five of the victims were all killed in Hartford.
Others were found in different locations around the state,
but the state of Connecticut isn’t that big.
You can drive across it in less than two hours.
At least one of the other victims was strangled
and found along an interstate just a month after Raquel.
She was also a petite woman in her 20s.
And weirdly, her body was also discovered by fishermen,
but not the same fishermen who found Raquel’s body.
A lot of the women that were being found had a history of sex work.
And even though police did not think Raquel had been a sex worker,
her case was investigated as possibly being linked to the others.
Mainly because all the victims were part of marginalized groups
and or women of color.
The task force did have some success.
They solved a few of the murders,
but nothing in their investigation linked Raquel’s killing
to a serial murderer.
Detective Jacobson wasn’t surprised by this
because he thinks it’s more likely that Raquel
was targeted by someone she knew.
The random killing of people,
although it does happen,
that’s such a small percentage of actual homicides
that I really don’t believe that that occurred.
The case went cold in the 90s,
but Raquel’s family never stopped looking for answers.
As her kids got older,
they kept doing anything they could to fight for justice,
The loss of a mother at the age of 10 in a rock, you know.
At one point, I remember she made a stack of flyers
and walked up and down Park Street with her family,
tacking them up on telephone poles and stuff,
putting them in different bodegas
and different stores in the windows,
trying to seek information for her mom.
The ripple effect that something like this,
an unnatural death like this,
that has on generations and generations of family
I mean, she’s now a grandmother,
so Raquel would have been the great grandmother.
Even those kids aren’t caring about Raquel being killed
and what had happened and why.
By the time Detective Jacobson took over the case in 2005,
he discovered that some major missteps happened
in his department after the case went cold.
Evidence had not properly been stored
by the Hartford Police Department.
And to make matters worse,
the agency flat out lost pieces of evidence.
Their evidence room had moved three times since the 80s,
and items weren’t organized and digitally marked
with barcodes the way they are today.
Detective Jacobson said key pieces of evidence
that he knows existed at one point
were now nowhere to be found.
There’s some things missing,
like there were some beer cans
that were collected at the scene.
I don’t remember the exact number,
but say there’s 10 beer cans
and they must have dusted them for fingerprints at the time.
Maybe I’m only left with three or four.
There’s no notation what happened to the other ones.
Maybe the lab just said
there was nothing identifiable on it
and for whatever reason, they got rid of them.
The standards that even by the court’s eyes
are much different in 2021 than they were in 1985.
I actually went through
and ripped through all sorts of boxes
and tried to account for everything we had,
where things have gone,
to different labs and everything else.
So what we have is not going to go anywhere.
It’s all very, very tight,
but there are things that are missing that I wish I had.
The police department had even lost
Raquel’s fingernail clippings,
which might’ve had DNA under them.
It angered me.
It angered me to the point
that I really thought mom’s case fell through the cracks.
It’s really frustrating.
And the worst part is trying to explain
to the daughter of a homicide victim
why I don’t have something.
Jacobson also noticed that as detectives retired
in the late 80s and 90s,
his department never assigned a new detective
to investigate Raquel’s case.
Then in 1997,
major news broke about police corruption in Hartford
that majorly derailed everyone’s trust in the police,
especially Raquel’s family.
One of the detectives
who’d been the original lead investigator on Raquel’s case
was arrested and charged with 10 counts of sexual assault.
According to an article
that ran in the Hartford Courant in 1997,
a criminal inspector with the state of Connecticut
charged former Hartford police detective Joseph Marrero
with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.
The article referenced unsealed court documents
that said the girl first told her mom
about the allegations against Marrero in 1995.
And when that girl’s mother confronted Marrero,
he admitted to inappropriately kissing and touching the girl.
Marrero was with the Hartford police department for 20 years
and worked Raquel’s case from 1985
until his retirement from the police department in 1989.
Then he went to work
for the chief state’s attorney’s office as an inspector.
He also worked on the state’s fugitive squad,
which helped track down felons
who skipped out on court and jail sentences.
When the news about Marrero’s arrest broke in 1997,
Raquel’s family was like,
well, no wonder police never solved her case.
The lead detective was a criminal himself.
Theories and rumors about corruption
within the police department ran wild.
The Marrero scandal really steered a lot of attention
away from cold cases like Raquel’s.
And people, including Raquel’s family,
began to deeply mistrust Hartford law enforcement.
Mom’s case had no chance in hell.
Detective Jacobson says that time was extremely troublesome.
Unfortunately, whatever was going on back in the time,
I don’t have control over.
And anything’s possible.
I can’t rule anything out,
but it doesn’t seem like what those cops were doing
at the time influenced this case file.
Years went by with no new developments,
and Raquel’s case never got any press coverage
outside of Hartford.
For almost a decade,
the local publications just did a few anniversary stories
here and there, but that was about it.
In 2006, in hopes of getting new leads
or revisiting old ones,
the Hartford police department announced
that they would re-up the $20,000 reward
that was previously promised by the governor
for any information that led them to Raquel’s killer.
And some of the local media coverage
jogged people’s memories and got them talking.
It led Detective Jacobson to a brand new witness,
a woman who had been dating a prior person of interest
back in the 80s, one of Jay’s drug trade associates.
We’re going to censor his name too,
but we’ll call him Paul.
I was able to run into a girlfriend
from back in the time,
and I interviewed her in a city nearby.
And she had actually said to me,
she said, well, I dated when I knew he was a player.
He would go out and mess around with all the girls
and he’d get all dressed up,
but he would always come back to me
and I loved him at the time.
And she knew who Raquel was.
The woman told Detective Jacobson
about something that happened the night Raquel was killed
that always left her suspicious of Paul.
That same night, he had also gone out,
all dressed up in a suit,
had gone out to a bar or whatever.
And he came home with mud on his suit,
scratches on his neck and on his wrists.
And his shirt was kind of like partially torn.
And she was mad figuring that he went out
and had sex with a girl
or who knows what he was involved in.
And his explanation was that
he had to help somebody fix a muffler.
You know, it’s craziness.
The woman didn’t buy the muffler story at the time,
but she was so scared of Paul
that she didn’t cooperate with police.
But she still put two and two together in her head.
Well, Raquel’s missing.
They find her down by the river.
He’s got scratches on him
and I haven’t been able to interview him
because I don’t know where he is.
The woman told Detective Jacobson
that the information she’d been keeping inside
all these years always bothered her.
But by the time she was ready to talk,
Paul had been out of her life for years
and she knew it was time to share
what she knew with police.
That new information helped Detective Jacobson
go back through all of the old information
with fresh perspective.
And he theorized about
how it could have all tied together.
And he strongly suspected that it was possible
Paul and Jay worked together.
My gut instinct with everything that I’ve known
I really feel like it was probably the person
who was directly involved in her death.
There was definitely other men that were involved
in getting Raquel to that area.
But I really feel like it was the person
that most likely did it.
Again, we’re not saying the men’s real names
because they’ve never been charged
with Raquel’s murder.
But Detective Jacobson said
charges down the road aren’t out of the question.
He can’t say for sure that Jay and Paul
were tied to any gangs,
but he does think they were involved
in the drug trade in Connecticut in the mid 80s.
The issue is trying to find them today.
Some of the people are dead
that might’ve had information.
Some of the people are moved out of the state,
out of the country.
So it’s a little bit of work
trying to track people down.
Now, if you’re like me,
you’re probably wondering,
surely Jay and Paul’s DNA is in the system
since they have criminal records.
Can we just compare it to DNA found from Raquel?
Well, the problem is their DNA isn’t in CODIS
because the other felonies they committed
were prior to the national database being established.
As he continued looking for Jay and Paul,
Detective Jacobson wanted to tie up
a few other loose ends.
In 2015, he found the mysterious woman
whose social security card
was in Raquel’s pocket at the crime scene.
Police in the 80s didn’t give much attention to that clue,
but Jacobson just wanted to mark it off his list
as a possible connection.
I talked to her over the phone
and the woman was baffled.
She said, you know, I was two years old in 1985
or whatever it was.
The woman lived in Chicago
and had no ties to Raquel.
When I spoke to this woman,
she said, I don’t know how this woman
who died in Hartford, Connecticut
has my social security card.
So that left Jacobson unable to explain
why Raquel had the card.
It was a dead end.
Another avenue he tried to pursue
was having new DNA testing done
on the little bit of evidence
that was preserved in Raquel’s case,
evidence he thinks could point him
directly to Raquel’s killer.
There was a sperm cell,
which was huge to me.
Really, really, I mean, that’s massive.
And, you know, there’s tons of DNA in that.
Unfortunately, you know, when they examined it
and they submitted it in for comparison to CODIS
to look for other offenders
throughout the United States,
there was no match.
Just because there wasn’t a match to the sperm
doesn’t mean there won’t ever be one.
But if the motive was a drug debt
and the sperm was from consensual sex
that Raquel had with her boyfriend before she died,
it might be a dead end
even if Detective Jacobson does get a match.
He said it would still be good
to rule it out one way or the other,
since examiners at the time
couldn’t determine whether or not
Raquel was sexually assaulted at the crime scene.
Detective Jacobson says that
his gut still tells him
that Raquel was targeted
because of her family member’s drug debt,
not a stranger attack or a serial killer.
He thinks her killers knew her,
or at least knew her family.
Poor Raquel paid the ultimate price
when they saw her walking down the street
at 1.30 or 2 o’clock in the morning on June 30th.
But in the absence of a confession
or being able to locate any suspects for interviews,
it will take another good witness
or a genealogy match on DNA
for him to prove his theory.
Raquel Ramirez’s murder
has taken a big toll on her family.
Her mom Juana passed away in 2018
without knowing how or why her daughter was killed.
Brenda, who’s now in her 40s,
has kept her mother’s legacy alive
through her own children and grandchildren.
They know who their grandmother is,
and they know how painful it is.
Raquel’s kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids
are still left seeking answers.
If the person that murdered the moms
or persons that were involved in murdering moms,
I wish they would come forward in just 36 years.
And I believe my moms deserve that justice.
To know that that person is paying for what they did,
for what they took away from this family.
They didn’t take it away from just one individual.
They took it away from so many people.
Those are memories that were never made,
of things that were never settled with it.
Not that I could get her back,
just to get that justice.
Please, if you know anything
about Raquel’s 1985 murder in Hartford, Connecticut,
it’s time to speak up.
You can call 860-548-0606.
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