Tanya Gonzalez was vacationing when she met Roy Ruz Blanco at a popular South Beach club six years ago, so smitten by the tall, handsome and thoughtful guy, she would soon pack her belongings and leave the comfort of her family’s New Jersey home and move in with him.
But her visions of romance on Florida’s exotic beaches would soon sour, many days spent instead dealing with Blanco’s bouts of rage and jealousy, and his unusual desire to keep his mother very near.
Now they’re both dead. And though police won’t say as much, Gonzalez’s family has no doubt that Blanco, 33, killed Gonzalez, a striking 28-year-old Queens College graduate, in what turned out to be a week-long twisted odyssey that ended in the Florida Keys with Blanco’s suicide.
Gonzalez’s body was found earlier this week in the trunk of her abandoned BMW, so badly decomposed it took almost two days to identify her through dental records. Blanco’s life ended when he plunged a steak knife into his stomach as law enforcement closed in.
Never miss a local story.
“She said she had everything under control,” said Gonzalez’s father, Ramon Gonzalez. “I don’t know if she was just telling me what I wanted to hear.”
Blanco’s mother, who fled to the Keys with her son, is in a Stock Island hospital after overdosing on pills. The Siberian husky they took with them is now the property of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Before her life began to spiral, friends and family say, Tanya Gonzalez lived a normal, peaceful existence in a suburban New Jersey community with her family, studied to become a teacher, and spent days with friends on the beach, or time alone at the gym.
Gonzalez grew up not far from New York, in leafy Ridgewood, New Jersey, the older sister of Alberto, David, Andrew and Brianna. And though her parents had split up and remarried, the family remained close, her father said.
After high school she enrolled at Queens College, earning a master’s degree in early childhood education. Tanya Gonzalez often visited the family-owned restaurant in Passaic, New Jersey, which her father still helps run.
That changed in 2008 when Tanya and a group of friends visited Mango’s Tropical Cafe on South Beach during a brief vacation to South Florida. She was immediately taken in by the six-foot, four-inch, hulking bartender who five years earlier had entered the Mr. Venezuela contest and who, according to several media reports, is a distant nephew of Fidel Castro.
“She was so happy. She felt she found the perfect guy,” said Tanya’s dad.
Back in New Jersey, Tanya Gonzalez kept in contact with Blanco. Over the next three months Blanco visited the family in New Jersey twice — each time with his mother, Marta Blanco-Mendoza, in tow. Gonzalez and his wife Carmen said that’s when they met Blanco, and the visits didn’t raise any red flags.
In fact, the family and the Blancos hit it off, they said, often discussing how Blanco’s mom and Ramon Gonzalez’s mom both came from the same province in Cuba, Pinar Del Rio.
Six months later, Tanya Gonzalez, 23 at the time, was gone from home for good. Ramon Gonzalez said though his daughter said she was going to Florida for a week, one week turned to two, then two turned to three. Then she broke the news: She was moving to South Florida to live with Blanco.
Ramon Gonzalez said he immediately called Blanco. He said Blanco got upset, and told him his daughter was grown up and moving to Florida was her decision to make.
“I said make sure you take care of my little girl,” Gonzalez said.
Tanya’s mom, Tamara Buonomo, became so upset that she and her husband moved to St. Augustine to be closer to their daughter, Ramon Gonzalez said. He said he and his wife, Carmen, visited Tanya several times, often going out to dinner, and all seemed fine.
Every time they visited, and everywhere they went, though, Blanco’s mom tagged along. By then, she had moved in with the young couple, even following them as changed apartments.
Soon, Ramon Gonzalez said, it took a toll on his daughter.
He said Tanya and Blanco-Mendoza began arguing over small things like who would cook dinner. He said his daughter complained that her boyfriend would lie in bed and order his mother to bring him a glass of water.
About a year ago, Ramon Gonzalez said, Bounomo began arguing with Blanco about the relationship. Ramon Gonzalez said he visited his daughter, intent on bringing her home. Again, she said she had everything under control, and not seeing any physical harm, he left.
In June, Tanya Gonzalez finally ended the relationship and moved out. By August she was in her own apartment in Aventura. Three days before she went missing, Ramon Gonzalez said his daughter told him she was dating someone else.
Alarm bells went off.
Ramon Gonzalez said he warned his daughter that Blanco might explode. She promised she wouldn’t see Blanco alone and that someone at work would walk her to her car. By then, Ramon Gonzalez said, he said he’d learned that Blanco occasionally became physical with his daughter.
On the afternoon of Sept.9, Tanya Gonzalez and her aunt Yvette Oliver went shopping at Midtown Miami. At 5p.m., they left in separate cars. When Tanya didn’t show up for work at 10 the next morning, police were notified.
Her father said he flew to Miami on Sept.12 and spoke with a detective in the missing persons division. He said despite practically begging him to find Blanco, the detective told him his daughter’s former boyfriend was not yet a person of interest.
Ramon Gonzalez enlisted the help of friends and private investigators to try and find his daughter. They determined Blanco had hired a private investigator to follow Tanya Gonzalez and believe he placed a GPS tracking device on her car. That has not been confirmed.
One person who knew Tanya said Blanco texted her more than 50 times the night before she disappeared. That also could not be confirmed.
“You stop living from that point on,” said Ramon Gonzalez. “My only devotion was to find her.”
On Sunday, with his daughter still missing, news broke that Blanco showed up at Miami’s Dinner Key Marina on Sept.10 and rented a 25-foot boat that he promised to take no farther than Haulover Beach. He was found aboard the stranded vessel more than 100 miles from Miami in Big Coppitt Key on Sunday, with his mother and their dog aboard.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office let him go after determining he had not smuggled undocumented immigrants, and didn’t find his name on any law enforcement database.
When Blanco’s named surfaced after Tanya Gonzalez’s car was found on Tuesday, Monroe County sheriff’s deputies began searching for him. On Tuesday, only a few hours after Tanya’s body was discovered, a local business owner notified deputies in the Keys that he had seen Blanco. As police neared, he and his mother swallowed three types of pills, police said, and ran into the woods.
As police neared, Blanco plunged a steak knife into his stomach. He died soon after.
Miami police have still not named Blanco a suspect; he remains a person of interest. The department is studying forensics attempting to link Blanco to Gonzalez’s death. Police Chief Manuel Orosa said an investigation will determine why the department didn’t enter Blanco’s name into a database before he was questioned by the Coast Guard.