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California

A 16-year-old mystery over the disappearance of a Long Beach woman takes a dark turn

Diana Raquel Rojas
Diana Raquel Rojas, then 27, went missing in 2000, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter. An anonymous tip led Long Beach police excavate a desert area in Ridgecrest this week in search of her remains.
(Long Beach Police Department)

For 16 years, nobody knew what happened to Diana Raquel Rojas.

The 27-year-old Long Beach woman had left her 2-year-old daughter with a relative on a Friday in October 2000, then missed an appointment the next day, two things her family considered highly uncharacteristic.

Her friends and family called her repeatedly, but got no answer. Her black 1992 Nissan pickup truck was nowhere to be found. Days of concern turned into weeks, then months, then years.

Now, Long Beach police say, an anonymous phone call they received earlier this year may have confirmed the worst fears.

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Homicide detectives will travel to Kern County on Thursday to follow up on claims by the unknown caller earlier this year that Rojas was dead and her remains could be found in a desert area in Ridgecrest, about 100 miles east of Bakersfield.

Homicide Sgt. Megan Zabel said Wednesday that police have formally reopened the cold case and are investigating Rojas’ disappearance as a homicide. 

“We are hopeful that Diana’s remains will be located, and answers about her disappearance will come to light,” Zabel said.

Investigators do not have a person of interest in the case, and Zabel would not say exactly when the phone call that led to the planned search was placed. Rojas was going through a divorce at the time of her disappearance, but Zabel said police interviewed her estranged husband years ago and did not consider him a suspect.

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Rojas, who worked at a church and helped young single mothers, was last seen in her residence in the 5500 block of Ackerfield Avenue on Oct. 20, 2000. She was wearing a pink shirt with spaghetti straps, blue sweat pants with a Winnie the Pooh logo and a jacket with a medical insignia. Police searched her apartment at the time and gathered physical evidence that led them to suspect foul play, according to Zabel.

Police “do not believe she left of her own free will,” Zabel said.

Zabel said investigators have received several phone calls in the past 16 years suggesting Rojas had been killed. Detectives searched for her remains in multiple locations based on those tips with no success.

Detectives are confident, however, that the Ridgecrest location where they plan to conduct an excavation Thursday will lead them to Rojas’ remains.

NecroSearch, a Colorado-based company that specializes in locating clandestine graves and evidence recovery, examined the area using satellite images and discovered “topographical inconsistencies,” police said. Cadaver dogs from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide unit searched the area and showed interest in one of thelocations pinpointed by NecroSearch’s efforts, according to police. The dogs are trained to locate cadavers that are more than 10 years old.

Zabel would not say exactly where the remains might be located, but a police spokeswoman described it as a “desert area.”

Still, even if police recover Rojas’ body, they are still a long way from figuring out how and why she wound up there. After waiting years for justice, Rojas’ relatives are hoping the public can help finally bring their nightmare to an end.

“If there is anyone out there with any information, anything, please help my family find closure,” said Solomon Cortez, Rojas’ brother.

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james.queally@latimes.com

To read the article in Spanish, click here

For more breaking crime and cops news in Southern California, follow me on Twitter: @JamesQueallyLAT

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UPDATES:

1:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the investigation and Rojas’ missing vehicle.

This article was originally published at 1:35 p.m.


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