31 years later, convicted murderer Jose Rodriguez-Cruz pleads guilty to killing estranged wife

Police search for the remains of Pamela Butler along I-95 in Stafford County, Virginia. Inset is an image of Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who disappeared in 1989, and whose remains were found in the same area. Police believe the two cases are connected. (Credit: NBC Washington/Arlington County police)
Police searched for the remains of Pamela Butler along I-95 in Stafford County, Virginia. Inset is an image of Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who disappeared in 1989, and whose remains were found in the same area. Jose Rodriguez-Cruz has admitted killing both Butler and Haydee Rodriguez. (Credit: NBC Washington/Arlington County police)

The estranged husband of a woman who went missing more than 30 years ago has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, closing one of the oldest cold cases in the D.C. area.

Jose Angel Rodriguez-Cruz, 54, pleaded guilty in Stafford County Circuit Court on Monday morning in the killing of 28-year-old Marta Haydee Rodriguez, who was last seen walking to a bus stop in Arlington, Virginia, in April 1989.

Her remains were found in 1991 in the median of Interstate 95 in Stafford County, but weren’t identified until 2018 after a DNA analysis that came as authorities searched for the remains of another woman Rodriguez-Cruz was convicted of murdering.

Rodriguez-Cruz faces up to 40 years in prison in the death of Haydee Rodriguez. He is already serving a 12-year sentence in federal prison in the 2009 murder of his girlfriend, Pamela Butler, of D.C.

In the courtroom Monday was Pamela Butler’s brother, Derrick Butler, who had been instrumental in raising public awareness of the similarities between the disappearance of his sister in 2009 and the disappearance of Rodriguez-Cruz’s estranged wife 20 years earlier.

“I want to see him serve life for the crimes that he committed,” Derrick Butler told reporters outside the courthouse Monday of the punishment that will meted out to Rodriguez-Cruz when he is sentenced early next year. “No matter how old he gets — if he comes out of 80 years old, if he makes it that far — he’s still a violent criminal, and it’s not going to change.”

Hansel Rodriguez, the son of Marta Haydee Rodriguez and Rodriguez-Cruz, who befriended Derrick Butler as the two murder cases intertwined, was a young boy when his mother disappeared.

“From a young age, I kind of became aware of the evil of the world,” he told reporters over the phone after the plea deal was announced in court Monday.

Regarding the sentencing, Hansel Rodriguez, now 35, said, “I don’t want to try to do the judge’s job, but I do really think that there are people that can be redeemed, and change for the better, and be out in society and become productive and positive members of society. And I don’t think my father is one of them.”

The punishment for second-degree murder is between five to 40 years.

Regardless of the penalty, Rodriguez-Cruz would first need to complete his federal prison sentence in Pamela Butler’s death before beginning to serve time in Virginia.

Since the crime was committed in 1989, before Virginia eliminated parole, Rodriguez-Cruz would technically be eligible for an early release, but Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen said he would urge a parole board not to grant it.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Monday, Olsen said, “It took 30 years, but today we brought Marta Rodriguez justice.”

Derrick Butler standing at a podium speaking into a mic.
Derrick Butler is the brother of Pamela Butler, who was also killed by Jose Rodriguez-Cruz. Butler thanked Stafford County prosecutor Eric Olsen for indicting the case. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Twist and turns: Mistakenly taken off missing persons list

In court documents, prosecutors painted Rodriguez-Cruz as an abusive, jealous husband, who had been arrested for assaulting his estranged wife just a few months before she vanished.

In March 1989, a police officer in Arlington saw Rodriguez-Cruz dragging Haydee Rodriguez down the street. After he was arrested, police found duct tape and rope in his car and he told an officer, “If I can’t have her, no one else will,” according to an account provided by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

After her husband was arrested, Haydee Rodriguez told an officer she was “afraid for her life.”

But the charges against her husband were dropped after she failed to show up to testify against him. A week after the missed court appearance, she disappeared. A co-worker at St. Elizabeths Hospital in D.C. recalled her saying she was afraid her husband was coming for her.

In one of the twists in the more than 30-year-old unsolved case, Haydee Rodriguez was apparently removed from the missing persons database several years after she disappeared.

A woman in Miami used her name to obtain a driver’s license in 2000, triggering an alert in the missing person database. A Miami police officer contacted the woman, who identified herself as the missing woman and said she was “OK,” leading authorities to remove her name from the database without comparing photos of the woman with the missing Haydee Rodriguez.

Authorities now say it appears the person who obtained the license was actually a relative of Rodriguez-Cruz’s.

It wasn’t until 2017 — when Rodriguez-Cruz pleaded guilty to killing Pamela Butler — that a break in the Haydee Rodriguez case finally came. As part of his plea agreement in the Pamela Butler case, Rodriguez-Cruz agreed to show authorities where he had dumped her body, which had never been found.

Rodriguez-Cruz led investigators to the median of I-95 in Stafford County, near the border with Prince William County, and a trained K-9 dog alerted to the presence of human remains, but investigators were unsuccessful in locating any evidence in the case.

However, during the unsuccessful search, Virginia State Police notified D.C. investigators that unidentified human remains had been found near that same spot in 1991. A DNA analysis later confirmed those remains were of Haydee Rodriguez.

Rodriguez-Cruz was charged with her murder earlier this year and initially pleaded not guilty.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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