After more than eight years, an arrest has been made in the murder of a woman initially reported missing in Sampson County in early 2009 and found dead days later. Her husband, who had reportedly fled to Mexico, resurfaced in Florida and was taken into custody this week following a multi-agency investigation, authorities said.
On Jan. 6, 2009 family members filed a missing person’s report with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, saying they had not seen or heard from Mary Esther Avellaneda, then 38, of 285 Patterson Lane, Salemburg, or her 13-year-old son Jose Andres Avellaneda, for two days. An investigation into their whereabouts was immediately launched.
Investigators attempted to locate Avellaneda’s husband, Jose Cruz Avellaneda, to question him about the whereabouts of his missing wife and teenage son. However, it was learned that the man had fled the United States to Mexico.
On Tuesday, the Sampson County Sheriff’s and Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Florida both received information that Jose Cruz Avellaneda was living in Polk County, Fla. Investigators with the sheriff’s offices began working together to attempt to locate him. Polk Sheriff’s authorities responded to a residence in their county and took Jose Cruz Avellaneda into custody on unrelated charges. Sampson Sheriff’s officials flew to Florida that same day to conduct several interviews related to the 2009 homicide investigation.
According to authorities, “enough probable cause was established” to obtain a murder warrant on Jose Cruz Avellaneda and detain him on a fugitive warrant with no bond. He is currently awaiting extradition back to North Carolina, where he will be formally charged with the murder of his wife.
According to previous Sampson Independent reports, family members told sheriff’s authorities that they had seen the three — the Avellanedas and their son — leave their Patterson Lane residence in a mid-90s model white Chevy Lumina around 9 p.m. Jan. 4, 2009. The vehicle returned to the Salemburg address about 20 minutes later with just Jose Cruz Avellaneda in it. Previous reports also described him as Mary Avellaneda’s “estranged husband.”
During the course of the investigation, the vehicle belonging to the Avellanedas was found abandoned at a truck stop in San Antonio, Texas, and it was also learned that the 13-year-old son was not missing, but was living in Mexico. In Sampson, aerial teams with the N.C. Highway Patrol and Wayne County Sheriff’s Office were flown over a 9-mile radius, while Sampson sheriff’s deputies scoured the ground on foot and in patrol cars.
It was not until nearly a week after she first went missing that the body of Mary Avellaneda was found in a wooded area off McKenzie Road. A local resident was checking a nearby pasture when his dog sniffed out her body near the woodline.
An autopsy conducted showed no known cause of death, with Sampson County Medical Examiner Dr. Carl Barr saying at the time that “there was not a lot of trauma, externally or internally,” noting just minor wounds to her face. He noted no other trauma to any other part of her body, calling her death “a puzzle.” Avellaneda was said to have suffered cardiac problems, one of the many factors Dr. Barr mulled over in an attempt to establish a cause of death.
Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said that, while more information is still to come, he hoped members of Avellaneda’s family could get a little closure as a result of the arrest.
“I know the media may have more questions concerning this case, but understand at this time little information will be released because of the ongoing investigation,” Thornton said in a prepared statement. “This has been a lengthy investigation, which is far from over. I sincerely appreciate the hard work of my investigators and the hard work of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. I’m content that we can now provide the family of Mary Avellaneda the closure they deserve with the arrest of Jose Cruz Avellaneda.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.