When Cecilia Newball disappeared last week, she left behind her car and inside it a cryptic "goodby" card, her wedding and engagement rings, and a snapshot of her son.
As if the message wasn't clear enough, a week later her husband received a letter saying Cecilia--who is 8 1/2 months pregnant--was headed for Honduras with another man.
It seemed painfully obvious: Cecilia, 31, had left her husband.
But the husband, Alfredo Newball, didn't buy that theory for a minute. And neither do police, who have more questions than answers.
For instance: Why would Cecilia leave when she was excited about having a baby? Why was the "Dear John" letter typed? Why didn't Cecilia take a change of clothes for herself or her son, and take her son's eyeglasses?
"There were no arguments, nothing," said Newball, who hasn't slept much and hasn't worked at all since the disappearance. "There was no sign that she wanted to leave. If something was wrong, she would tell me about it. She was like that with me."
Police fear the worst. "There are things that make us think it was foul play," said Detective Alex Valadez, who wouldn't say much more.
As police try to sort it out, Rene Perez Sr.--father of the missing 6-year-old, Rene Perez Jr.--has moved into the Newballs' Chatsworth apartment. The two men say they can do little but pray and hope that everything turns out well.
"This has brought us closer," Perez said on Wednesday as the two sat in the living room.
Fighting tears, Newball said, "It's hard . . . everything I look at reminds me of them."
Newball's ordeal began Sept. 20, after he went to his nursing job just before 2:30 p.m., leaving his wife and stepson at home.
As he left, Cecilia, who was on maternity leave from her job as a customer service representative at a nearby company, was writing thank-you notes for gifts the couple had received at a surprise wedding shower two days earlier, on the first anniversary of their wedding.
Newball remembers kissing her goodby, and coming back and kissing her again. He doesn't remember why.
A few hours later, on his lunch break, he called home. No one answered.
Several hours later, when he came home from work, Newball found his wife's Jeep parked out front, instead of in the garage. On the front seat lay a printed card bearing her signature. But something seemed amiss.
"It said, 'Thank you for the good times we had,' " Newball remembered. "But the only writing on it was her signature, but not her last name."
Newball searched the neighborhood, asking everyone he saw if they had seen her and the boy. Only one neighbor remembered seeing Rene--outside the apartment at about 5 p.m. With no other leads and no reassurances, Newball returned home to discover that his wife had taken nothing with her but her purse and keys.
"She didn't take her toothbrush, her deodorant, her maternity vitamins," he said. "They practically left with what they had on their backs."
As Newball spoke, the telephone rang. Someone on the other end asked for Cecilia. The caller wanted to know when the next payment on the Jeep would be made. Newball explained the situation, and promised a check in a day or so. Then he started to cry again.
"I wish there was just something to tell us they were OK or something," he said, after hanging up.
The only clues Newball has had to his wife's whereabouts were in a typewritten letter he received in the mail on Saturday. The postmark was Van Nuys and the message was that Cecilia was going to Honduras--where Newball said she has no relatives.
That seemed odd to Newball. Valadez, who is investigating the case, concurs. "Something wasn't right about the letter," the detective said.
Since the disappearance, Cecilia's friends and co-workers have covered the San Fernando Valley with 3,000 flyers in English and Spanish featuring pictures of Cecilia and Rene. The family has checked local hospitals and telephoned all the relatives and friends they can think of from the U.S. all the way to El Salvador, where Cecilia was born.
Newball has even visited maternity wards.
"When I see the women with their babies, it just breaks my heart," he said. "I wish it was her."
Pausing, he adds, "I checked the mail again today. But nothing. My heart hurts every time."
Anyone with information about Cecilia Newball and Rene Perez should call police at (213) 485-5381.