Mother likely suffocated, police say

The Baltimore Sun

Investigators will attempt to piece together the events leading to the death of Deysi M. Benitez, a Frederick woman whose body was identified this week, one month after being discovered in a field and more than a year after the bodies of her four children and her husband were found in their home.

Frederick authorities believe Benitez's husband killed her and dumped her body into a shallow grave in a wooded area near Emmitsburg. Her body was discovered on Feb. 29 by a real estate agent conducting a property survey.

Benitez probably died from asphyxia, investigators said yesterday during a news conference held by the Frederick County sheriff's office and the Frederick Police Department. There were no signs of damage or injury to the skeletal remains, according to authorities. The state medical examiner's office informed Frederick officials on Wednesday of the results of the DNA analysis, police said.

For family and friends of Benitez, a native of El Salvador, the identification brings a close to a long stretch of uncertainty about the missing woman's fate.

"It's sad but I feel that it is better to know that she is dead, because of the pain that she would face because of the loss of her children," said Ana Margarita Chavez, consul general for the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, who has begun arrangements to transport Benitez's body to El Salvador.

"I hope that Deysi is in heaven with her four kids," Chavez said. "Now she can rest in peace."

Police have long suspected the body to be that of Benitez. Clothing and jewelry that belonged to the 25-year-old woman also were recovered at the scene. A preliminary autopsy determined that the remains were those of a Hispanic woman in her mid-20s, 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 125 to 140 pounds, with long dark hair. Investigators believe the woman died between last March and June.

Benitez was last seen alive a little more than a week before the bodies of her children and husband were found in their three-bedroom home on March 26, 2007.

Her husband, Pedro Rodriguez, 28, had apparently hanged himself. The four children - daughters Elsa, 9, Vanessa, 4, and Carena, 1, and son Angel, 3 - were found dead in bed. The girls were suffocated, and the boy had been battered, shaken or bludgeoned, an autopsy found.

Investigators do not know where or when Benitez was killed, or why her body was left in the Emmitsburg area.

"This was not an area that we had any connection with the Benitez family," said Detective Sgt. Bruce C. DeGrange of the Frederick Police Department. Authorities had not searched the Emmitsburg area during the search for Benitez, he added.

Now that the identification has been made, police will attempt determine a motive and a construct a timeline. Investigators will search the couple's three vehicles - two minivans and a Nissan Sentra - and possibly return to their home.

The chances of police establishing a motive are daunting given that no suicide note or other type of message was found at the residence, police said.

"We know that there were some family issues, there were some financial issues," DeGrange said. "I'm not sure that we will ever know what was going on in Pedro's mind."

Rodriguez worked at a Masonite International Corp. residential door manufacturing plant in Frederick. Before taking his life, he learned that he was going to lose his job, a spokesman for the company said last March.

Frederick authorities have expressed frustration in recent days because of the pace of the state's identification process. Sheriff's department officials said the agency was told recently by the state that the identification would take an additional four months because of a backlog at the medical examiner's office.

Because of the delay, the sheriff's department had been seeking an independent forensic investigator to analyze the remains, officials said.

"That's the time that we were told," Jennifer Bailey, spokeswoman for the sheriff's department, said of the apparent disconnect. "We received this information yesterday and we called a press conference. We're doing the best that we can."

Dr. David Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner, could not be reached for comment yesterday and did not return several phone calls this week seeking comment.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he plans to call the medical examiner's office and complain that an employee there leaked the analysis results to the media before yesterday's news conference.

"That is not the normal course of doing business," he said.

Sun reporter Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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