It was Feb. 24, girls’ night out. Best friends Vilet Torrez and Clarissa Garcia went out to the Cheesecake Factory, where they ordered drinks and split a slice of cheesecake.
They laughed and chatted and caught up on the things best friends talk about over drinks and desserts: their families, their children, their marriages.
And, yet again, Garcia advised her friend she had to leave her husband.
She was tired of hearing the stories of how Cid Torrez beat her and then swore every time afterward he would never do it again. She was sick of seeing Vilet with bruises.
“What’s it gonna take? Your death? A casket?” Garcia asked.
“Oh, my good friend, he wouldn’t do that,” Torrez said.
Torrez went missing five weeks later.
Friends, family and former co-workers of Torrez all believe her husband, Cid, is behind her disappearance. Miramar police and prosecutors agreed and — despite the lack of a body, or an eyewitness, or a weapon — charged the 39-year-old with murder. Such murder charges don’t always stick, as evidenced by the just-completed murder trial of Geralyn Wilson, foster mother of Rilya Wilson. It was another case of no body, no witnesses, no murder weapon. Geralyn Wilson was convicted of lesser charges.
Cid’s family expressed disbelief that he would harm, much less kill and dispose of, the mother of his three children, although they acknowledged the marriage had turned toxic.
Cid Torrez has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in a Broward jail.
Vilet’s disappearance — and presumed death — brought a sudden and nightmarish end to a life that, from the outside, looked like a South Florida variation of the American dream, the kind of success story that reaffirms the belief that anybody with enough determination can flourish in the United States.
Born Vilet Blanco, she came with her family from Nicaragua to Hialeah when she was 15. None of them spoke English. Vilet learned the language at warp speed and excelled enough at Miami Springs Senior High School to get several college scholarships.
Vilet and Cid, also from Nicaragua, started going out during her junior year of high school and never stopped, except for a brief college breakup.
From that point on, Vilet’s world was Cid.
Vilet Torrez graduated from the University of Miami in 1997, with a major in advertising, got a job and, a year later, married Cid — on Aug. 8, 1998. It was a small ceremony in Hialeah. The honeymoon was quick, since Cid was being deployed in a matter of days for a tour that would take him to Japan, Guam, Indonesia and Australia.
Weeks later, Vilet learned she was pregnant.
When Cid came back to the United States, he was sent to North Carolina, joined by his wife and their first-born, a daughter also named Vilet.
In about a year, Cid had left the Marines and they were back in South Florida, living in the Blanco family home in Hialeah.
They fought frequently, Vilet’s family recalled, and Cid sometimes ended up sleeping in the car. But Vilet had seen her parents separation when she was a child and was determined not to do the same.
“I am not going to let him go like you did with my dad,” Vilet told her mother, Gladys Blanco.
Upon the family’s return, the boyfriend of Vilet’s sister Nayiva helped Vilet get a job where he had worked. Soon he started telling Nayiva stories he was hearing from former coworkers about how Cid would show up at work, unannounced, just checking in on his wife.
When Vilet took up selling insurance and other financial products with Primerica on the side, Cid got himself licensed to do the same, at the same company, said Manny Menendez, who worked with her there.
“She was my top person on my team for a long time,” Menendez said. As for Cid, he never made a sale.
When Cid wasn’t around, his wife opened up about life at home with him.
“Before, it was he treated her bad. And then it was he hit her. And then it was he choked me a couple times. And then I hear the stuff she told her other friends that was even worse,” Menendez said. “I talked to her a week before she disappeared. I told her to divorce him. I said ‘This isn’t gonna turn out good for you.’ ”
In March 2002, the Torrezes bought a home — a yellow, two-story townhouse on a quiet street in Miramar’s Harbour Lakes Estates community.
There were parks nearby, other young families around them and plenty of shopping and good schools within a short drive.
Cid started a trucking business, first called White Towers Investments, later Elite Carriers. Cid did the driving, her family said, and Vilet acted as bookkeeper, contract handler and even helped with directions, her sister said.
The company had one or two trucks. They got work by going out for bids on websites that connect carriers with shippers and later picked up more work through referrals, Cid’s brother Douglas said.
As the business continued, their family grew. Little Vilet gained a brother, named Cid. And Vilet befriended another neighborhood mom, Clarissa Garcia.
Garcia, a registered nurse for more than two decades, knew her best friend was an abused woman. She recognized the black eyes, bruises and excuses. But no matter what Garcia said, Vilet Torrez couldn’t break free from her husband.
“I told her, let’s go downtown and get you a restraining order. Let’s call in a police report,” Garcia said. “But it was always ‘no, he’ll get angrier’ or ‘he loves me’ or ‘I’m his only family.’”
Douglas Torrez refuses to believe that his sister-in-law would allow herself to be hit and never call the cops or tell either family about it.
“She was always outspoken and said what was on her mind,” he said.
Was Vilet Torrez a battered woman?
Only two people know for certain: one is missing, the other sits in jail.
But Leisa Wiseman, a spokeswoman for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said it’s not uncommon for victims to not seek out help.
The batterer may threaten to kill the victim or hurt their children — or convince the victim that nobody will care. An abuser will isolate a victim from their family, adding to the abuser’s control and making it harder for the victim to break free.
Adding to the difficulty, Wiseman said, is that the person administering the abuse is also a person the victim loves.
” she said. “And you love this person, you want to believe they’ll get better.”
Cid’s defense lawyer, Richard Della Fera, discounts the stories of Garcia, other friends of Vilet and her family, saying he believes there was no violence in the marriage. Where are the restraining orders, the phone calls to 911 from the Miramar home, Della Fera asked.
There is one report, from 2003, in which Vilet told Miami-Dade police that she and her husband got in an argument over a cellphone. It ended with him pushing her into a wall numerous times, she said, hurting her.
The police gave her a case card and a domestic violence pamphlet.
No criminal charges were filed in court.
In 2007, the Torrez family added a third child, newborn Marcus.
Less than a year later, Gladys Blanco got a call from a woman in California. The woman said she had been dating Cid for more than a year.
According to the woman, who talked to The Herald and asked she not be identified, they met while he was delivering cargo to a business where she worked in the shipping and handling department. He started flirting immediately.
Vilet and the woman would talk, but even then she didn’t dump her husband.
Cid would get out of trucking, however. After he sold off one truck, he bragged at a family gathering about how he got top dollar for the rig: “I told the guy I gotta sell it now because my wife just died and I need to bury her,” he said, according to Nayiva
On Sept. 18, 2011, Rafael Nunez, a counselor from the couple’s church, came over to their home, according to an arrest affidavit.
As he walked inside, Vilet ran to him and hugged him, trembling and crying. He asked to speak to the couple away from the children.
In an upstairs room, Cid kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Vilet.”
Nunez asked Cid to leave the room. Nunez said that Vilet told him Cid had hit her several times in the face while he pinned her down on the bed. Cid also told her that he was going to kill her, Nunez said.
Cid acknowledged to Nunez that he had been violent with Vilet before.
Carlos Prada and his wife went to the same church group counseling as Vilet and Cid.
About six months before Vilet disappeared, Cid talked to him several times, according to the affidavit. He said the marriage was over.
What’s more, Prada said Cid told him that he wanted to kill Vilet’s new boyfriend. He asked how to get an untraceable gun.
And he came up with scenarios, the affidavit said, like hiring a killer or faking a robbery. He asked about burying a body and asked Prada for help installing cameras to track Vilet.
“If I don’t have her,” Prada recalled him saying, “you know nobody will.”
Impossible, said Douglas Torrez.
“I’m his brother. He would have confided in me,” Torrez said. “And I would have said, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ ”
In March 2012, Vilet was in a bubble of happiness, her best friend said. Her job had given her more money and flexible hours so she could spend more time with her kids.
Her husband was out of the house, Clarissa Garcia said, and she had a boyfriend from work.
But there were also troubling developments. Vilet told Garcia she thought her husband was stalking her or tracking her phone.
Call the police, live with your mother, file for divorce from Cid, Garcia said she told her friend.
Vilet never did.
Change, like kicking out a person, filing for divorce or getting a restraining order, is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship, the domestic violence coalition’s Wiseman said, because making the change cuts into the power and control the abuser held.
“And that can lead to an escalation of violence,” Wiseman said.
Mobistealth bills one of its products as the “ultimate cellphone spy software.”
On Dec. 6, 2011, according to police, the company charged Cid Torrez’s debit card $39.99.
The software would have given Cid the power to monitor almost all his wife’s life through her cellphone — call details, appointments, contacts, pictures, video and GPS locations.
It also can activate the phone’s recorder, letting the person in control hear what’s happening near the targeted phone user.
The company’s website advertises it as a way to keep an eye on children or employees.
When Christian Roman dropped by Cid’s place of business, Continental Carbonic Products, to pick up dry ice, Cid bragged about his new technology, the affidavit said.
He even showed Roman how it worked.
Sometime on March 31, a Friday, Cid picked up his kids from the Miramar home. Cid had planned to take the kids to Orlando, and told Vilet that, but later realized he couldn’t because of work.
Instead, he told his wife he would take them to a hotel and do other things, the affidavit said.
The hotel plan didn’t happen. Instead, Cid Torrez took his children to see a movie — brother Douglas says he too went along and they watched Clash of the Titans. Afterward, Cid and his kids went back to the townhouse.
Vilet’s minivan was gone, so he decided to stay.
Vilet was at Zoe Rodriguez’s place. But something pulled her home. She left Rodriguez’s place in West Miami-Dade County at 4:30 a.m.
Surveillance footage from the entrance to Harbour Lakes shows her Toyota Sienna entering the community at 5:17 a.m.
Phone records for Cid and Vilet show Vilet called her husband, twice, at 5:19 a.m., though Cid denied getting the calls.
She’s never seen leaving. Her phone never registers another call.
Their oldest child, Vilet, was asleep early Saturday in her mom’s bed, along with her two younger brothers. She heard howling from her brother’s bedroom, one room over, she told police, and it sounded like a dog.
Except the family didn’t own one.
Her 7-year-old brother began to wake up, and she heard crying, she guessed from either her mother or father.
“No, you wake up,” she heard her father say a couple of times.
There was something like a “mini-howl”
She got out of her mom’s bedroom, went into her own room and closed the door.
She eventually made her way back to her mom’s bedroom, where her younger brothers remained. At one point, she heard crying, thought it was her mother, and went back to sleep, not rising till noon.
“It’s going to be demonstrated that those statements are not accurate,” said Della Fera, Cid’s lawyer.
Saturday morning, Cid’s Jaguar is seen leaving the Miramar townhouse. He goes to pick up Douglas Torrez about 10:52 a.m. Douglas said he, his brother and Cid’s two sons went to see Douglas’ son’s baseball game, which they ended up missing because they were late.
Vilet was due to work on Saturday but never showed up.
On Monday, Miramar police got a call from 12915 SW 29th Ct. It was Cid, saying his wife had been gone for several days. Cid seemed hesitant to report it, the affidavit said, but was urged to do so by friend Carlos Prada.
“Saturday, she wasn’t here, all right? And, Friday, as a matter of fact, Saturday morning or Friday night, she didn’t come to sleep, and then I don’t know about Saturday, and now Sunday, I definitely did it, so … “
“You did what?” the dispatcher asked.
“I mean, um, it was 1 o’clock and she didn’t show up either,” he said.
An officer who responded to the home noted that Vilet’s closet and dresser are full of clothes and her toiletries and jewelry are still there. If she left, she took off without taking a thing.
Dive teams searched the waterways near the family’s Miramar home. They found nothing.
On April 4, a K-9, Jewel, sniffed around the Harbour Lake Townhomes. On her own, Jewel walked up to the front door.
The officer believes this was indicative of the scent of human decomposition
A few months later, a dog detected the scent of human remains in the trunk and backseat of Cid’s Jaguar.
Della Fera said problems with the chain of custody of the car should keep what the dog detected out of court.
For months, Cid and the kids carried on without Vilet, the Marine enduring awkward silences from neighbors who wondered what had happened to his wife and whether he had anything to do with it.
On Nov. 21, Cid was charged with murder.
Douglas Torrez insists his brother didn’t do it.
“He swears to me no way,” Douglas said, adding that his brother insists: “This is the mother of my kids.”
The three Torrez children celebrated Christmas at Gladys Blanco’s home. The oldest daughter, Vilet, helped get the celebration ready, just like her mother would have.
Gladys Blanco still gets fliers from the Doral bathroom remodeling company where her daughter worked most recently. They still use the same graphics that her daughter designed for them.
She wonders what she will tell her grandchildren.
“I need answers,” Gladys Blanco said. “I need to know where my daughter is. Where is her body? What did he do to my daughter.”
“I don’t have answers. I don’t know what I can tell them. I am afraid.”