Miami Cold Case Murder Solved With Recovered Memories
June 24, 2013 Comments Off on Miami Cold Case Murder Solved With Recovered Memories
Miami Cold Case Murder Solved With Recovered Memories
By Michael E. Miller Thursday, May 9 2013
….Instead, it would be more than a quarter-century before police caught a break. “Back then we were finding so many dope murders,” says retired Miami-Dade homicide detective John Parmenter. “We all thought [the bodies] had something to do with drugs.” He pauses and adds quietly, “How wrong we were.”….
So when Gloria Hampton walked into McCully’s office in the summer of 2010 with a story stranger than fiction, the sergeant was suspicious.
“I just need somebody to listen to me,” Gloria pleaded. The short 29-year-old with wide hips, tan skin, and curly hair had been through years of psychiatric therapy, she said. From the haze of her hurtful childhood, however, she had pulled one particular memory and polished it until clear.
“I saw my father kill my mother when I was 4 years old,” she said. “He put her body into an army-green bag.”
McCully was still skeptical. Cops don’t put much faith in recovered memories, and these were 25 years old. But after Gloria left, he cracked open musty boxes of cold-case files. He flipped through yellowing photographs and police reports for hours before pulling out a thin binder that hadn’t been touched in years. It was the unsolved murder from April 4, 1985. And inside was a photo of a woman’s body in an army-green bag.
DNA analysis quickly confirmed that Gloria’s mother, Nilsa Padilla, was the murder victim known for decades as “Theresa Torso.” Gloria’s father, Jorge Walter Nuñez, instantly became the only suspect. For Miami-Dade police, it was a breakthrough in one of the department’s oldest and most vexing cases. For Gloria, it was salvation.
“They thought I was crazy,” she says of the cops, foster parents, and caseworkers who ridiculed her claims for years. “Now they know I’m not.”….
I didn’t like him at all,” Soto says of Nuñez. “He was always drunk.” He also brought out the worst in Padilla. She drank heavily, slipping into dark moods. One day, Padilla drunkenly hit 4-year-old Bernisa on the head with a brush, causing a gash. Soto told her: “If you ever do that again, I’m calling the cops on you.”
Nuñez and Padilla left town shortly afterward in an old U-Haul truck he’d turned into a makeshift camper by cutting a window in the rear. They drove down the coast to Florida.
When Soto next saw her cousin, it was three years later, in 1984. Padilla was in worse shape than ever. She now had three kids: Bernisa, Gloria, and a baby named Alicia. But the family was on the run from the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
When Soto asked why, Padilla pointed to Gloria’s shoddily bandaged left hand. Nuñez had dropped a heavy piece of metal on the 3-year-old — by accident, he said — mangling her thumb. The two drunks had never taken the toddler to the hospital….
Nuñez, meanwhile, made no effort to hide his hatred. “I’m fed up with her,” he told Soto in Spanish. “One of these days, I’m going to kill her.”….
Instead of comforting her, Padilla drunkenly smacked her daughter. “She hit me so hard my face was bleeding,” Bernisa says. “Maybe she finally realized that she was with the wrong man.”
If so, it was too late. When Nuñez returned around 2 a.m., Padilla was waiting for him. From their bunk bed near the ceiling, the three children saw their father strike her with the butt of a beer bottle. He hit her again and again in the head, the glass breaking within its brown paper bag. She tried to climb out the back door. For a moment, moonlight flooded into the tiny camper.
“Then he shoved her back in with his foot,” Bernisa remembers. “He closed the door, and then he finished her off.”….
“I saw my mom beaten to death,” Bernisa says. “My only protector in the world, and she couldn’t protect herself.” Neither sister remembers Nuñez cutting up the corpse, but Gloria distinctly recalls seeing her father stuff her mother’s body into an army-green bag. “I remember helping him dispose of her,” she says….
The two sisters had already seen their father kill their mother and sister. But those sickening moments were nothing compared to the rape, violence, and neglect that would follow. Without Padilla around, Nuñez would become a monster. And Bernisa and Gloria would be forced to live like animals alongside him to survive….
Nuñez never worked, likely living on Padilla’s welfare checks. Whatever money he did have, he spent on Budweiser or marijuana. The campground was only a few hundred yards from Lower Matecumbe Key’s strip malls, but Bernisa and Gloria lived like wolves. Their hair — Bernisa’s dark, Gloria’s blond — grew long and matted, and they survived on crabs or shrimp they found in shallow pools. “If we didn’t catch anything, we didn’t eat,” Bernisa says.
The sexual abuse that had begun as a secret now spread into a sick obsession. Nuñez would emerge from the U-Haul, growl “Vámanos chicas,” and then molest them. He raped one or both of them nearly every day for years. Sometimes Nuñez would let other men take the girls into the dirty U-Haul at the edge of the world.
“Some of it is blacked out, thank God,” Bernisa says of the abuse. “If we remembered the whole thing, we probably would have gone crazy.”….
The girls’ nightmare lasted four years. Even when the police took Nuñez away, the two girls did not say what he had done to them. It would take another child to scream out….
At the police station, officers tried to get Bernisa to talk. But the 11-year-old said Nuñez never abused them. Then the cops tried Gloria. At first she also denied it all. But then the talkative 8-year-old began to tell the horrible truth. “She would have to keep the bedroom door locked at night to keep Daddy from coming in and touching them,” reads a Monroe County Sheriff’s report from March 1989. They’d kept quiet out of terror, police realized. “If I tell you, will you let my daddy go?” Gloria fearfully asked an officer.
Police didn’t let Nuñez go, at least not for four years. He was convicted of two counts of lewd and lascivious acts on children. By the time he was released in 1993, his daughters had changed their names and disappeared. But they could not change the past. And as they became teenagers, Gloria and Bernisa would relive the horrors of their childhood in their own ways….