Eight-year-old Gabriel Cruz strangled on day he went missing: Autopsy

The main suspect in the case is his father’s girlfriend, who has been taken by police to the family property where she concealed the body for a reconstruction of events

Ana Julia Quezada (wearing red hood) is taken back to the scene of the crime.
Ana Julia Quezada (wearing red hood) is taken back to the scene of the crime.M. Zarza
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The body of eight-year-old Gabriel Cruz, who had been missing for the last 12 days from his home town in southern Spain’s Almería province, was located on Sunday by the Civil Guard in the trunk of his father’s girlfriend’s car.

Ana Julia Quezada, a 43-year-old woman from the Dominican Republic, is currently the only suspect in the investigation into the disappearance and death of the boy. She had been under surveillance by the authorities leading up to her arrest.

According to sources from the investigation into the child’s death, an autopsy has revealed that Gabriel was strangled on the same day that he went missing, February 27. His body had traces of earth when it was located inside the vehicle on Sunday.

At around 3.30pm on Monday, the Civil Guard took the suspect back to the family property in Rodalquilar where she had concealed the body, for a reconstruction of events in front of judicial authorities. Her statements will be key in determining exactly what happened from the moment the child went missing 12 days ago until his body was found inside Quezada’s car on Sunday.

A days-long search

Hundreds of police officers and volunteers had participated in the search for Gabriel inside Cabo de Gata natural park, a sparsely populated area covered with desert scrubland that the child reportedly knew well. Gabriel went missing as he was covering a short distance to his cousins’ house in Las Hortichuelas.

Gabriel Cruz, whose body was located on Sunday in the car being driven by his father’s girlfriend, Ana Julia Quezada.
Gabriel Cruz, whose body was located on Sunday in the car being driven by his father’s girlfriend, Ana Julia Quezada.STRINGER (AFP)

The police have also begun a parallel investigation into the death, 22 years ago, of the suspect’s four-year-old daughter back when Quezada was living in Burgos, in northern Spain. At the time, the incident was found to be an accident. It was originally reported that Quezada had been caring for someone else’s child when the latter fell out of a window, but sources familiar with the investigation have confirmed that Quezada was the mother.

The search for Gabriel came to a dramatic end on Sunday, when the Civil Guard stopped Quezada as she was driving a car in La Puebla de Vícar, 43 kilometers from the spot where the boy went missing. The body was inside the trunk.

In video footage filmed by a witness, Quezada is heard shouting: “It wasn’t me! I collected the car this morning!”

According to sources familiar with the investigation,on Sunday morning Quezada left the house of the boy’s grandmother, Carmen, the location of his disappearance, with the boy’s father, Ángel Cruz. She is reported to have left her partner at a hotel three kilometers away, before driving on to the village of Rodalquilar, a further seven kilometers on. There she entered a property owned by the family. Her movements were being observed by the Civil Guard, who watched as she removed the body of the child wrapped in a blanket from a well, and then placed it in the trunk of her vehicle.

She was arrested as she tried to enter the garage of the property where she lived with Ángel Cruz in La Puebla de Vícar.

Quezada had been a prime suspect in the case from the beginning. Her witness statement was of key importance, given that she had been with the child’s grandmother, Carmen, when Gabriel was seen for the last time.

In her first statements she claimed to have lost her cellphone. A few days later it was found, allegedly by some friends of hers, behind a bush. When she was asked to hand it over a second time, she said that she had lost it again.

Murder suspect Ana Julia with the father of victim Gabriel, Ángel Cruz, during the search for the missing boy.
Murder suspect Ana Julia with the father of victim Gabriel, Ángel Cruz, during the search for the missing boy.Carlos Barba (EFE)

On the fourth day after Gabriel disappeared, and while she was actively taking part in the searches for the youngster, Quezada apparently found a shirt belonging to Gabriel at the bottom of a ravine, next to the sewage treatment plant of Las Negras. The fact that the item had not been found in earlier searches prompted closer scrutiny of the woman.

In subsequent days she remained close to the family and to her partner, making numerous statements to the media about the day of Gabriel’s disappearance. “Right on that day [February 27] we said to Gabriel, at breakfast time, that if he ever saw a stranger he should run, and look what happened, right on that very same day he disappeared,” she told a news crew, while standing side-by-side with the boy’s father.

“It wasn’t me! I collected the car this morning!”

Ana Julia Quezada, suspect

Despite simulating good relations with the child’s family, some sources reported that her relationship with the boy’s grandmother was not easy. “Carmen couldn’t stand her, she didn’t like her at all,” a source who knew them both said. “She didn’t like the fact that she had so much control over her son.” Sources from the family added that she was “strange and distant.”

Ana Julia Quezada had lived for several years in nearby Las Negras with another man, and knows the area well. She previously ran a bar there with her ex-boyfriend, until she met Ángel Cruz. According to sources close to the investigation, Quezada is currently out of work, and living with Gabriel’s father in Puebla de Vícar, where she was arrested on Sunday. Her former boyfriend described her as a “woman of expensive whims,” according to sources close to the investigation.

Unclear motive

The motive remains a mystery, but there are two main theories. The first is a crime of passion: that the alleged killer was jealous of the child and the good relationship between his father and Patricia Ramírez, Gabriel’s mother (the parents had split up years ago). The second is money: that she was hoping to benefit from some kind of financial gain by requesting a ransom. At the outset the family offered €10,000 to anyone who could supply information about the whereabouts of Gabriel.

Investigators warned the family that offering such a reward could interfere with the investigation, but despite this they reportedly wanted to increase the sum by tens of thousands of euros. Sources close to the family say that Quezada was one of the main advocates of offering a higher amount.

Investigators will now be turning their attention to the death of another child in Quezada’s past, when she was living in Burgos. On March 13, 1996, her four-year-old daughter died after allegedly falling out of a window. Quezada was not a suspect in the death, which was ruled to be “accidental,” according to sources consulted by EL PAÍS. “Although it always seemed strange that she could  have climbed up and fallen all alone,” a local resident stated. It is unclear whether Quezada was inside the home when the child died.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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