Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” reboot dropped this week, and the first episode explores unanswered questions in the death of Rey Rivera, a 32-year-old Baltimore man found dead in 2006.
Rivera’s unexplained death at the Belvedere Hotel was chalked up to a suicide by the Baltimore Police Department. His body was found with fatal injuries in an unused conference room at the hotel, under a hole that suggested he’d fallen through the roof, about a week after he went missing.
But the medical examiner’s office, unconvinced of the evidence, labeled his cause of death “undetermined,” and Rivera’s widow, brother and mother and the lead homicide detective on the case provided interviews to Netflix show’s producers, laying out their reasons for suspecting foul play.
The case has been featured on the popular Crime Junkie podcast, and was the subject of a book, “An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere” by Mikita Brottman.
So what happened? Here are the basic details of the case:
Who was Rey Rivera?
The 32-year-old was a writer and freelance videographer and his girlfriend, Allison, whom he later married, had moved to a home in Baltimore’s Original Northwood neighborhood in December 2004, for a job working for his best friend, Frank Porter Stansberry.
The 53-minute “Mystery on the Rooftop” episode opens with footage of the couple laughing and beaming at their wedding six months before his death, and quotes family members saying Rey had showed no signs of mental or psychological distress.
Rey and Allison did not plan to stay long in Baltimore, however, and had put their house on the market, with plans to move to Los Angeles, where Rey wanted to pursue a career in movies, his widow said.
Allison said her husband had made her breakfast before she left for a business trip on the morning of May 16, 2006, and a friend of hers who was staying at the house said she had heard him answer the phone, then leave in a hurry in his flip-flops — leaving several of the lights on behind him.
His older brother Angel Rivera, a radio producer in Orlando, Florida, who is interviewed in the documentary, was among the family members who traveled to Baltimore to help search for Rey.
“It’s completely out of character,” Angel Rivera told The Sun at the time. “He’s not only going to tell you where he’s going; he’s going to tell you how he got there. For him to go this long and not contact any of his family or friends, it’s got everyone scared.”
Family members reported him missing and searched for him, eventually finding Allison’s vehicle, which he had left parked in a Mount Vernon parking lot near the Belvedere and Stansberry and Associates, where he worked. Looking down from the top of the adjacent parking garage, they noticed a hole in one of the hotel’s lower roofs below.
Stansberry, who swam and played water polo with Rivera, and had been friends since they were 15, offered a $1,000 reward for information when he went missing.
“He’s a happy guy,” Stansberry told The Sun at the time. “He and his wife had just booked a trip to go to New Mexico in a few weeks. This is not a man that wanted to leave. I’ve got to find my friend. I can’t imagine my life without him. He’s my best friend.”
But after investigators traced a call to Rivera’s cellphone from the financial newsletter company on the night of his death, according to the documentary, the company put a gag order on its employees so that they couldn’t discuss the case with police or anyone else. Stansberry did not sit for an interview in the Netflix documentary.
Stansberry, now Stansberry Research, is the largest operating subsidiary of Baltimore-based Agora Publishing, the world’s largest investment newsletter company through its holdings, according to its website.
David Churbuck, a publicist at Sitrick & Co., a crisis management firm hired by Agora earlier this year, denied Thursday that Stansberry’s employees had been barred from speaking about the case.
“There was no gag order or direction given to employees to not speak to the press, law enforcement or any other party,” Churbuck told The Sun in a phone interview. “Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.”
Churbuck also said the reward Stansberry offered for information was increased to $5,000 days later. The publicist said he did not know whether anyone ever claimed the money.
How did Rivera die?
Police said suicide, that he must have jumped off the roof of either the hotel or the parking garage. (The police department did not respond to a request for comment on the case Thursday.)
Rivera’s family and Michael Baier, the retired homicide detective who investigated the case, are skeptical of that explanation.
They point to the fact that, despite Rivera suffering a slew of fatal injuries, his eyeglasses and phone were found undamaged. They note the call to his phone from the Stansberry and Associates switchboard, and the company’s immediate move to gag its employees. Additionally, they cite the medical examiner’s decision to mark the cause “undetermined,” rather than “suicide,” as police had concluded.
Baier said he noticed inconsistencies in the hole in the roof and how Rivera’s body was found.
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“To me, it looked staged,” he said in the documentary.
Allison Rivera said her husband was afraid of heights. She said she never found his money clip, a prized possession he took with him everywhere. And he had told her he wanted to start a family.
“He wanted a baby so bad,” she said. “He wanted a family so bad.”
If it was a murder, what was the motive?
Allison Rivera thinks her husband had discovered “some kind of information” that was highly sensitive and others didn’t want getting out.
“I believe Rey was murdered,” she said in the documentary. “What would that information be?”
Do you have any information in the case? If so, you can send tips to the producers of Unsolved Mysteries online.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.