Crime

Blood on the carpet. Food burning on the stove. Jewelry in the trash. Does it add up to murder?

Remaining hopeful for their missing mother

Sisters Blanca Rodriguez and Gardenia Rodriguez express hope someone will provide the information to find their missing mother, Estela Torres Rodriguez. Their father, Tiburcio Rodriguez, and brother, Clemente Rodriguez Torres, are suspects.
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Sisters Blanca Rodriguez and Gardenia Rodriguez express hope someone will provide the information to find their missing mother, Estela Torres Rodriguez. Their father, Tiburcio Rodriguez, and brother, Clemente Rodriguez Torres, are suspects.

Update on this story: Second son of missing Tri-Cities grandmother arrested for murder

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Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez wanted his wife back.

More than a month had passed since the couple returned from a visit to Mexico, and Estela Torres Rodriguez was living with her adult children, happy to be out from under her controlling husband.

The morning of March 28, the father of nine begged one of his sons to talk to her, to ask her to reunite with her husband.

He professed his love for his wife — while driving back and forth past her Franklin County house in a car with two sons, eventually parking in a field so he could watch the house from afar.

But Estela, his wife of 30 years, was clear. She did not want to get back together.

Two hours later, the 54-year-old grandmother was missing, leaving a pot with chicken burning on the stove.

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Estela Torres Rodriguez went missing March 28 and is believed dead. Her estranged husband Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez and their son Clemente Rodriguez Torres are wanted for first-degree murder.

Investigators would soon discover three large blood stains on the living room carpet, her clothes and jewelry in a Prosser dumpster, cash withdrawn from her account and her SUV abandoned at a rest area.

Yet, one month later, there still is no sign of Estela or her suspected killers — her 63-year-old estranged husband and their 33-year-old son, Clemente Rodriguez Torres.

Searching for answers

Twenty-five search warrants obtained by the Herald give details about what allegedly happened in the hours leading up to Estela’s disappearance and in the days after.

While those warrants are public, the probable-cause affidavits supporting first-degree murder charges against the father and son remain sealed in Franklin County Superior Court. Both men are wanted on $1 million warrants.

The couple’s other eight children have spent the weeks since desperately searching for answers and their loved ones.

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Gardenia Rodriguez started a GoFundMe account for her mother, Estela Torres Rodriguez, who went missing March 28 from her Franklin County house and is believed dead. Screenshot

A GoFundMe account was started by daughter Gardenia Rodriguez to help with bringing home the mother of nine.

“The police believe my father and brother have something to do with her disappearance,” she wrote. “The rest of us siblings are completely lost and don’t even understand this situation they left us in.”

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond provides an update about the investigation of a missing Franklin County woman named Estela Torres Rodriguez.

She was “a selfless, caring and loving person and never hesitated nor refused to help others when in need,” Gardenia Rodriguez wrote. “If she had $5 left in her pocket and someone needed something, she would give her $5 not caring if she would (be) without anything.”

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond said they keep getting little pieces of information, but have yet to track down Estela or her husband and son.

Drone flight over canyon

Evidence of a violent attack inside the 140 Orchard Road home is why they believe the grandmother of 15 is dead.

They continue to search for her body in remote areas around Connell and the Hatton Coulee Rest Area along Highway 395, where her 2006 Buick Rendezvous was abandoned.

On Friday, investigators flew a drone over a canyon in the northern reaches of the county.

Raymond told the Herald those searches are based on pings to her cellphone that give investigators an idea of where her phone was in the hours after she was last seen alive.

Franklin County Sheriff 2
Franklin County sheriff’s deputies have searched on the ground and by air for the body of Estela Torres Rodriguez. They believe the body is near Connell or a Highway 395 rest stop. Franklin County Sheriff's Office

Search warrant documents show the phone was turned off just before 1 a.m. March 29, about 15 hours after her disappearance. GPS coordinates place the phone at the time in a remote area along the border of Benton and Yakima counties.

However, Raymond said there is a much higher probability her body is somewhere along the Highway 395 corridor, north of Pasco up to Highway 26, based on the pings on March 28.

‘Fled our southern borders’

While investigators believe Estela’s body isn’t far from home, they think the two suspects “have fled our southern borders” into Mexico, said Raymond.

Sheriff’s deputies were called to the Orchard Road house at 3:15 a.m. March 29 by Gardenia Rodriguez, who reported that her mother had not been seen since the prior morning.

Estela Torres Rodriguez lived with her son, Nicolas Rodriguez, and his girlfriend. It was the girlfriend’s home.

Over the next several hours, investigators sketched out a March 28 timeline of family members’ activities, according to the search warrant affidavits written by Deputy Scott Wright and Detective Steve Warren.

Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez lived in a rental with son Clemente Rodriguez Torres, two daughters and a grandchild. The two-story house is attached to McCorkle’s Market on North Rothrock Road in Prosser.

Surveillance video from the store shows the father and son drove off in the son’s 2005 BMW 325i at 6 a.m.

Estela Torres.
Estela Torres Rodriguez

Another son, Carlos Rodriguez Torres, met his father and brother in Pasco about 6:30 a.m. The three drove north to Orchard Road and parked in a field to watch Estela Torres Rodriguez’s home.

“Carlos said that Tiburcio kept stating how much he loved Estela, and was begging Carlos to go talk to Estela for him and to ask (her) to get back together with him,” documents said. “They then drove up and down Orchard Road, driving past the residence.”

Carlos Rodriguez Torres told his dad he didn’t want to talk to her then but he would return later. As promised, he went back about 9 a.m.

After his mom said she would not get back together with her estranged husband, the son relayed the conversation.

A neighbor confirmed to deputies that a green BMW drove repeatedly by the house that day.

Odor of cleaning supplies

Nicolas Rodriguez, his girlfriend and brother Carlos Rodriguez Torres left Estela home alone between 9 and 10 a.m. to get breakfast.

She called Nicolas Rodriguez to have him pick up some spices on his way home.

But when they returned about 11 a.m., his mom and her Buick Rendezvous were gone and a pot with chicken was burning on the stove, after all the liquid had boiled away.

It was odd, but they figured Estela got tired of waiting and ran to the store herself.

The house also smelled strongly of cleaning supplies, and later a bottle of cleaner and a comforter from Estela’s bed were found to be missing.

Drone Missing Home
Estela Torres Rodriguez, 54, is believed to have been killed inside this north Franklin County house on March 28. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Daughter Alfa Rodriguez has a joint bank account with her mother and realized $320 — the maximum withdrawal allowed by the ATM — had been taken out that day.

A Bank of America security camera images from a Pasco branch showed a heavy-set, bald Hispanic man with a black beard using a debit card at an ATM at 2:09 p.m. March 28 and getting in and out of a BMW sedan.

It was Clemente Rodriguez Torres.

Stashed items in dumpster

Back in Prosser, the market’s security footage caught the father and son returning home about 3 p.m.

Clemente Rodriguez Torres gets out of the driver’s seat of his BMW, while his dad gets out of the passenger side. They take items from the trunk, put them in a Dumpster and cover them up with other trash, according to the footage.

Gardenia Rodriguez called her mom at 4 p.m. and again at 5. She never got an answer.

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Sisters Blanca Rodriguez, 21, left, and Gardenia Rodriguez, 28, are holding on to their faith and express hope someone will provide the information to find their missing mother, Estela Torres Rodriguez. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

When another brother called later that night to ask if his sister had seen their mom, she checked Facebook and realized Estela had not logged on for at least 10 hours.

That wasn’t like her. Estela was a frequent user of the social media site.

Gardenia Rodriguez freaked out and drove to the Orchard Road home, where she woke up her brother and his girlfriend.

When they couldn’t find her car in the area, they called other family and then 911.

Significant blood loss

Deputies discovered three stains — each measuring about a square foot — in the carpet that someone had tried to clean up. Detective Warren used special testing material to confirm the stains were blood.

The carpet was peeled back and investigators found the stains soaked into the carpet pad.

“The quantity of blood located at the scene was indicative that the body would not have been able to sustain life due to the amount of blood lost,” wrote Wright.

As family members gathered at the Franklin County house the next morning, Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez joined them.

Rodriguez family
Estela Torres Rodriguez and Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez stand at the center of their nine children. Police believe Tiburcio and one of their sons, Clemente, were responsible for killing the woman and then disappearing. Gardenia Rodriguez

His children previously told the Herald that he seemed just as shocked by the blood and cooperated that morning with sheriff’s deputies. But he was nowhere to be found by the next day.

Nicolas Rodriguez told deputies his father told his sisters that he had “done something” to their mother but had said nothing more, said court documents.

Buick keys hidden in BMW

A deputy got permission from the owner of McCorkle’s Market to search the trash can and seized five bags, which included Estela’s brown shoes, two purses, jewelry, clothes and a prescription pill bottle with her name.

The BMW was left at the apartment when the father and son allegedly fled the area.

It since was towed to a Pasco shop, and a search turned up Estela’s SUV key and key fob under the passenger seat and a white straw hat.

A witness told investigators that the afternoon before Estela went missing, he saw a man “wearing a big hat squatting down in a sitting position” outside the Orchard Road house near the driveway. The stranger left after a few minutes.

Missing deputies search
Investigators believe a missing Franklin County woman, Estela Torres Rodriguez, 54, was killed March 28 inside her Orchard Road house. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

The man said he couldn’t get a good look at the man because of the hat, which was similar to the one found in the BMW.

In two searches of the Orchard Road house, investigators collected a vacuum and its contents, swabs of blood stains from a door and hallway wall, cutouts of blood stains on the carpet and a mattress, towels from the dryer and a baseball bat in the laundry room.

Detectives noticed Clemente Rodriguez Torres was wearing red sweat pants at the bank ATM, and recalled seeing the pants on the floor of his Prosser bedroom with other dirty clothes. They went back to the apartment and retrieved them for analysis at the state crime lab.

Blood found in her SUV

Estela’s SUV was found April 3 at the rest stop along Highways 395 and 26. A driver recognized the abandoned car from media reports about the missing woman.

Evidence collected during a search of the SUV the following day included several possible and confirmed blood stains, drink cups and water bottles.

Estela Torres Rodriguez is described as 5-foot-3 and 200 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.

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Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez is believed to be driving his yellow 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. Franklin County Sheriff's Office

Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez is believed to be driving his yellow 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup, with Washington plate C51417N.

He is described as being of medium build and is clean shaven.

His son is reported to be 5-foot-9 and 250 pounds, with a bald head and possibly clean-shaven face.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of either Estela Torres Rodriguez or the suspects is asked to call the sheriff’s office at 509-545-3501 during business hours or dispatch at 509-628-0333. Call 911 if it is an emergency.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.
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