Nearly 20 years after the shocking discovery of a young woman’s body that had been stuffed into a suitcase found floating in a Florida canal, investigators say they now have the evidence needed to charge her alleged killer.
The body of Rebeca Pena was found by boaters in April 2001 inside a suitcase floating along the Biscayne River Canal, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office said in a Tuesday press release announcing the arrest. Investigators said they believe two 25-pound Weider weight lifting plates discovered along with the 26-year-old’s body were intended to keep her corpse submerged and concealed.
Inside the suitcase, along with Pena’s remains, was a magazine addressed to the Maryland residence where she had lived with Berkley Calvin Curtis Jr., her ex-boyfriend at the time of her death. Curtis, now 45, is also the father of her child.
This week, Curtis was charged with second-degree murder in Pena’s killing. He was allegedly stalking Pena at the time of her murder and she had an active restraining order against him, according to the State Attorney’s office.
“According to Ms. Pena’s father, Ms. Pena was afraid of Curtis and was concerned that he would harm her,” the office said. “Conversations with the victim’s sister, Francis Pena, informed investigators that Curtis had been physically abusive to her sister in the past, citing an incident in November of 1998, where Curtis became violent, choking Rebeca Pena and requiring police intervention.”
However, there was not enough evidence to charge him in connection with her death in 2001. Investigators tried to interview Curtis, but his attorney would not allow law enforcement to speak with his client, according to the State Attorney’s office.
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told local outlet WFOR-TV that new forensics and technology were able to help provide the information investigators needed to make the arrest.
“We could go back and look at GPS records, for instance. And today, we could see where people are moving around. So that was a huge asset for us,” she told the station.
The investigation was a joint effort by both the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. The Miami-Dade Police tweeted that investigators finally now “were able to bring closure to Rebecca Pena’s family.”
Pena's father said that the news nearly two decades after his daughter's death provides some relief, but he noted that knowing an arrest has been made cannot heal all wounds.
“With this news of the arrest of this person, the pain will be less because justice has been served,” Rafael Pena told WFOR-TV through a Spanish translator. “But the emptiness is still there and won’t go away."