No body, but plenty of evidence in Miami-Dade murder case

John Paul Garcia, 47, in Miami-Dade court Thursday as he stands trial for the suspected June 2013 murder of Larissa Macriello. Her body was never been found.
John Paul Garcia, 47, in Miami-Dade court Thursday as he stands trial for the suspected June 2013 murder of Larissa Macriello. Her body was never been found. Miami Herald

Prosecutors cannot explain how Larissa Macriello died — or where her remains may be hidden.

But on Thursday, they methodically laid out dramatic, if wholly circumstantial, evidence against her suspected killer. Detailed cellphone records show she last visited the home of her lover, John Paul Garcia, and soon after he was seen driving her car to a bank, the state told jurors.

Blood evidence suggests her body was, at some point, hidden in the trunk of the car, the state said. And records showed that Garcia soon looted more than $40,000 from Macriello’s bank account, Miami-Dade prosecutor Christine Hernandez-Baldwin said.

“He takes every single dime from her bank account,” she told jurors on the first day of Garcia’s murder trial. “There’s a reason people say follow the money.”

Garcia’s trial for first-degree murder and grand theft comes two years after Macriello, a 44-year-old massage therapist, “vanished from the face of the earth.”

“She’s not missing,” Hernandez-Baldwin said. “She’s dead.”

In Garcia’s defense, lawyers pointed out that Macriello was also an escort, a “dangerous job” that may have spurred her to leave town. “It was very easy for her to pick up and go,” attorney Erick Cruz said.

Detectives, he told jurors, have “no body, no crime scene, no murder weapon, no conclusive forensic evidence to show she is dead.”

Missing-body murder cases are still rare, but there have been more than a few high-profile prosecutions in Miami-Dade.

Jurors last year convicted Miami-Dade businessman Clifford Friend of murdering his wife, then dumping her body in the sea in 1994. Another defendant headed to trial in the coming months is Kendrick Williams, accused of murdering New York law student Stepha Henry in 2007; her body has never been found, but her blood was found in his car.

Macriello, born in Panama, was an avid traveler and cook who had never been married or had children. She moved to Miami in 2009, where she worked as an “erotic” massage therapist.

She frequently called her family. Her brother, concerned she had gone missing, flew from Jacksonville and found an uneaten meal inside her efficiency in the 3100 block of Northwest 98th Street.

Miami-Dade homicide detectives zeroed in on Garcia, 47, a married employee of a bail bondsman. He earlier spent six years in prison for drug trafficking. His history included an arrest on murder charges in 1991. It was a suspected drug rip-off killing case that was eventually dropped.

On June 4, 2014, cellphone records showed Macriello got a call from Garcia, then traveled to his home — where the phone shut off hours later. For weeks afterward, whenever the phone was turned on, it was always in the same place with Garcia’s phone, Hernandez-Baldwin said.

One day after her disappearance, Macriello’s phone was used just a few blocks away from the Brownsville Bank of America. Six minutes later, surveillance video showed Garcia — alone and in Macriello’s Ford – withdrawing $500 cash from her account at the bank’s drive-thru ATM. Garcia also cashed two checks from Macriello for $20,000 each.

Five days after she vanished, prosecutors said, Garcia left her car — cleaned and the driver’s seat adjusted for someone much bigger than the missing woman — back at at Macriello’s home before arranging a ride.

“Guess who is calling a cab just three blocks from Larissa’s house, where he has no business being,” Hernandez-Baldwin said. “The defendant: John Paul Garcia.”

Cruz, the defense attorney, insisted that money was no motive at all. He suggested someone else may be to blame. “She was giving money to other men,” Cruz said. “It’s a dangerous job she was in. So dangerous that some of her friends were concerned for her safety.”

The trial continues Friday in front of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stephen Millan.