A married Florida father of four has been charged with the death of his girlfriend and their unborn child last month, police said.
Jose Soto Escalera, 41, was arrested Friday after investigators tied him to the murder of Tania Wise, 23, whose body was found abandoned on an isolated road in a northwest corner of St. Lucie County, north of Lake Okeechobee, according to St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.
Wise was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she died, and was scheduled to have a C-section the week after she was murdered, Mascara said.
Wise's body was discovered by a passing motorist on the morning of August 24, when the driver noticed what he first thought to be a trash bag in a drainage ditch, according to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. The driver pulled over and found Wise, with her shirt raised slightly and her hair covering her face, facedown in the ditch, and "obviously deceased," police said.
Investigators found her in a state of rigor mortis but with no visible decomposition, indicating she had died recently, with her hands splayed above her head and visible trauma to her throat, with blood splattered on the ground by her neck, according to the affidavit.
She had been killed with a knife, police said.
Over the next 28 days, investigators worked to figure out what had happened to Wise, who was last seen the evening of Aug. 23.
“In those days, our detectives, crime scene technicians and crime lab scientists have been piecing together the final moments of Tania’s life,” Mascara said at a press conference Friday afternoon. “Today, the final piece of this puzzle has been put in place.”
Wise already had a child who is about 7 or 8 years old, but the unborn baby would have been her first child with Soto Escalera, according to Mascara.
Using DNA evidence, investigators found that Soto Escalera was the father of the unborn child, and also placed him in the area of the crime scene by speaking with witnesses who said they saw his pickup truck near Wise’s home as well as in the area the night of her disappearance, Mascara said.
The witness who spotted the truck said they saw the driver pull away from the area where Wise's body was later found, driving at first with its lights off and only turning its lights back on when the truck was a safe distance from the crime scene, according to the arrest affidavit.
“This important information is not only thanks to digital forensic evidence, but to eyewitnesses who confirmed seeing a truck matching the description of the one owned by Jose on Russo Road the night that Tania was murdered,” Mascara said Friday. “We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Tania’s family and know that what took place today will begin to bring them closure in this horrible and tragic event.”
Police were still working out a possible motive for the alleged murder, but said that Wise had multiple men in her life and that they had not ruled out jealousy as the reason Soto Escalera allegedly killed her, Mascara said.
Deputies caught up with Soto Escalera in Port St. Lucie on Friday afternoon as he drove toward a neighboring county, police said. The suspect had been under surveillance for some time, and Mascara said his cops swooped in to prevent him from leaving the county.
When he was arrested, Soto Escalera—who was driving his wife’s car at the time—did not give police a hint of remorse, Mascara said.
“He denied everything, really,” Mascara told reporters at a press conference on Friday. “That’s one of the things that struck me. I mean you have the mother of his child, and the child himself that he was responsible for, and he showed no remorse.”
Meanwhile, authorities do not believe Soto-Escalera’s wife was aware of his extramarital relationship with Wise, Mascara said, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Escalera Soto is currently being held at St. Lucie County Jail without bond pending a hearing, according to online jail records.
[Photo Credits: St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office]