The husband of a Vista woman who went missing under unusual circumstances in October 2017 was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murdering his wife of 20 years and dumping her body near Palomar Mountain, sheriff’s officials announced Thursday evening.
Maria Elena Guzman-Cordova, 38, was reported missing Oct. 14, 2017, by her husband, Hector Garcia Martinez, who told sheriff’s investigators that Guzman-Cordova left the family’s apartment after the couple had argued the previous night.
Martinez, 39, told deputies that his wife went for a walk around 9 p.m. Guzman-Cordova didn’t take her cellphone, wallet or the medications she was taking for depression, and she never returned.
As recently as last month, San Diego County sheriff’s officials appealed to the public for information about Guzman-Cordova’s disappearance. Martinez spoke at the news conference, joined by his daughters who are 19, 9 and 5.
Speaking in Spanish through a interpreter, Martinez said life had been difficult without his wife. He said he and Guzman-Cordova, who worked as a house cleaner, had the usual problems in a marriage, but he declined to elaborate.
“She loved her daughters very much,” said Martinez, foreman of a roofing company. “We just want to know where she is.”
Sheriff’s detectives said Thursday that they believe Martinez killed his wife and dumped her body in a wilderness area about an hour east of Vista either the day before or the same day that he reported her missing.
“Maria’s remains were recently located in a rural area near Palomar Mountain and positively identified through DNA,” homicide Lt. Rich Williams said in a statement.
Investigators from the county Medical Examiner’s Office were unable to determine the cause or manner of Guzman-Cordova’s death, according to Williams.
“[But] evidence gathered over the course of the yearlong investigation linked Martinez to Maria Guzman’s murder,” Williams said.
Detectives believe Martinez disposed of his wife’s body last year on Friday, Oct. 13, or Saturday, Oct. 14. He’s believed to have driven her body to near Palomar Mountain in either a four-door white sedan or burgundy SUV.
“We are asking anyone who may have seen any related suspicious activity that weekend to please call [the] sheriff’s homicide unit,” Williams said.
Detectives arrested Martinez on Thursday morning near his Vista residence, Williams said. He was booked into the San Diego Central Jail on a felony charge of murder and was being held without bail, according to jail records.
Martinez’s arrest leaves the couple’s three children without either of their parents. The family’s eldest daughter, Kellie Martinez, also spoke at last month’s news conference alongside her father.
“It’s been a hard year,” she said, adding that she had to step into a mother’s role for her two little sisters. “Being responsible for them is hard. Whatever actions I take, I think about what my mom would want to do, like pushing the girls to do good in school.”
Her family reported Guzman-Cordova missing on Oct. 14, and in the ensuing weeks and months, deputies and homicide investigators interviewed neighbors and searched trails along the nearby San Luis Rey River and used search dogs.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the sheriff’s homicide unit at (858) 285-6330 or contact Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 or at sdcrimestoppers.org.
Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.