Raquel Calderin, middle-aged mother of three and Kendall elementary school custodian, wanted a divorce from a husband she described as a jealous, violent stalker.
Then, one year ago, she vanished.
Miami-Dade detectives arrested her estranged husband, Jesus Maqueira, on charges of killing her — but it’s an unusual murder case, one without a corpse.
Still, prosecutors believe they have plenty of evidence: Cell phone records placed Maqueira with Calderin when she disappeared after leaving work at Gloria Floyd Elementary in Kendall, police said.
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Witnesses contradicted his alibi that he was at a pal’s house that night in September 2012. To her friends and family, Maqueira, 55, also made cryptic remarks, according to police, even saying that whoever killed his 43-year-old wife “would never be found because she was probably dead in a canal.”
But it was not until recent weeks that detectives and prosecutors learned the details of what may have happened to Calderin: A fellow jail inmate told police that Maqueira confessed to hiding in the back seat of Calderin’s Ford Expedition and implied he beat her to death before dumping her corpse in a body of water.
The unnamed inmate at Metro West Detention Center, who is now a witness against Maqueira, also lifted two letters purportedly written by the suspect and tucked in his Bible. One is addressed to Calderin, the other to God. Both express agony, seemingly over the killing.
The letter to Calderin reads: “I destroyed my life because I was stupid and I ask you with all my heart to forgive me for all the pain and suffering I have put you through.”
The one to God reads: “I beg you to protect me from this torment. I haven’t the slightest idea what came into me that day. It is true that there exist demons that control you. I am human and we all make mistakes.”
Murder trials with missing bodies are unusual but not unprecedented in Miami-Dade. Besides Maqueira, three other defendants in Miami-Dade are currently awaiting trial in cases without corpses. Past prosecutions have been mostly successful in Miami-Dade, with three convictions since the 1970s.
On Monday, Maquiera — who is in jail while awaiting trial — will challenge the evidence from the informant and ask Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Eric Hendon to release him on bail. Miami-Dade prosecutor Luis Perez-Medina will argue Maquiera is a flight risk who should remain behind bars.
Defense attorney Alex Michaels insists his client never authored the letters, and he blasted the jailhouse informant as a “rat” trying to curry favor with prosecutors.
“My guy did not commit a crime. He did not kill his wife.’’ Michaels said, suggesting Calderin might still be alive.
“The wife has a history of disappearing. She may very well appear one day,’’ he said. “It sounds like a movie script but it’s not above the realm of possibility.”
Investigators say the informant, who bonded with Maqueira over games of checkers, knew details of the case that only could have come from Maqueira.
Calderin had been with Maquiera for more than 20 years. They had three children.
But according to evidence released by prosecutors, Calderin had long suffered under a dominating husband, who bristled if she even socialized with neighbors.
Usually, they squabbled about money. Often, one friend told investigators, Calderin would find him watching pornography. She also discovered that he was picking up women through the Internet.
“He was very aggressive. He would hit her. They were always fighting,” her friend Lourdes Guerra told detectives. “He would very frequently give her bruises, black eyes.”
About seven years ago, Guerra told police, she saw Maqueira grab her by the hair and throw her to the ground.
“She told me one time that he said if he ever saw her with another man, he was going to kill her,’’ Guerra said.
Though her husband was never arrested, Calderin complained to the courts. Twice, in 1996 and again in 2009, Calderin alleged domestic violence and sought a restraining order against him, records show.
Still, she continually accepted him back. Calderin often left for days at a time, sometimes staying at shelters for battered women. Finally in July 2012, after meeting another man at a South Miami-Dade supermarket, Calderin left the home and filed for divorce and a restraining order.
For his part, Maqueira later told police, he had no idea why Calderin left “because she was treated like a princess,” adding “she was lazy and only cared about shopping.” Her friends told police he “brainwashed” his two youngest children, portraying her as a drunk.
Miami-Dade police say her departure roiled Maqueira. He began stalking her aggressively. One of Calderin’s friends said Maqueira sent angry texts, such as “die whore.” Employees at Floyd Elementary told police they frequently saw Maqueira parked across the street in his black Mercedes Benz, watching her.
The conflict escalated in August 2012, when Maqueira found Calderin and new boyfriend Dagoberto Vasquez at a West Kendall Laundromat. Maqueira, with his two younger children in tow, harangued her for more than 20 minutes before Vasquez called police, he said. Maqueira left.
The same day, Calderin and Vasquez — who she had moved in with — drove to Islamorada to fish off a bridge. Vasquez, trying to hide a small container of fish he believed had exceeded the legal limit, kneeled down to hide the catch under the chassis of Calderin’s SUV. That’s when he noticed a GPS tracking device, planted by Maqueira underneath the car.
“It’s so easy,” Maqueira later bragged to police about using the device.
Later, Maqueira showed up at the elementary school, accompanied by their 15-year-old daughter. He tried to convince her to drop the divorce proceedings and return home. She refused.
The tense encounter in the parking lot left Calderin shaken and tearful, co-workers told police. Her supervisor allowed her to leave early, about 9:30 p.m. As she left, Calderin called Vasquez. They chatted briefly until something odd happened. “At 9:38, the call just dropped,” Vasquez told police.
She never came home.
For police detectives, Maqueira’s behavior after Calderin disappeared was baffling.
Maqueira got a television station to back off on a story about her disappearance, threatening to sue. He began flooding her friends with phone calls, bad mouthing the missing woman — at one point, even accosting her friend Guerra outside the police station, demanding to know what she had just told detectives.
Investigators immediately suspected foul play. Her SUV had also vanished. Her credit cards and bank accounts went untouched.
Detectives scoured canals, lakes and the wetlands with no luck, but their suspicion toward Maqueira still grew.
The investigation finally came to a climax on Feb. 7, when Miami-Dade Detective Juan Segovia brought in Maqueira for a dramatic all-night interrogation.
Smacking the table and pointing at Segovia, Maqueira denied ever abusing his wife. Maqueira failed a lie-detector test, which by law is not admissible at trial.
At first, Maqueira said he went home right after the afternoon encounter at the school. Then, Maqueira insisted that he had gone to a friend’s house to conduct online research about his estranged wife’s new boyfriend. But that friend told police Maqueira had not been to his house for two weeks.
When detectives confronted him with cell-phone records placing him around the elementary school the night Calderin disappeared, Maqueira first appeared nervous and flustered. An hour later, Segovia wrote in his report, Maquiera suddenly floated an excuse: he had given her his cell phone as a gift that day because she had admired it.
According to police reports, phone towers also pinpointed Maqueira’s phone in another curious location later that night, just south of Kendall Drive past Krome Avenue in rural West Miami-Dade. Police believe that is where he dumped his wife.
Throughout the interrogation, Maqueira mocked detectives.
At one point, he said sarcastically, “Look, I killed her, take me to jail.” At the end, Segovia wrote in his report, “Mr. Maqueira laughed out loud at these investigators and stated that without a body there was very little we could do to him.’’