Details of Disappearance Isabel was last seen in Miami, Florida on November 13, 2001. The last sighting of her was that morning, when dropped her two daughters off at elementary school. She has never been heard from again. Neighbors reported her missing the next day.
Isabel was in the process of a divorce from her husband, Jesus Natividad Rodriguez, a Cuban-born farmer and trucking entrepreneur, at the time of her disappearance. They had married in 1993. In early 2000, both of them filed assault complaints against each other in the space of a few months.
The couple separated in April 2001, and in August, Isabel filed for divorce. On October 29 of that year, she requested a restraining order against Jesus, stating he had threatened to kill her if she got any money from him in the divorce settlement.
Witnesses reported Jesus was extremely angry when he was served with the restraining order on November 1. A hearing about the order was scheduled for the following month, but Isabel had disappeared by then.
Jesus wrote a letter to the judge, saying Isabel had been stealing money from his trucking business and suggesting she left of her own accord. He also stated she had many enemies due to her disrespectful behavior towards others, particularly his employees, and suggested she'd been murdered.
A photograph of Jesus is posted with this case summary. He got temporary custody of the couple's daughters after Isabel's went missing, but his parental rights were later terminated and the girls were placed with a foster family. He also began seeing another woman, also named Isabel, shortly after his wife vanished.
Two women who rented an efficiency from the Rodriguezes saw a man hiding under a truck in Isabel's carport the day she vanished. The witnesses believed the man was Jesus, but couldn't say for sure because they only saw his legs.
Cellular phone records also placed Jesus at Isabel's house on the day of her disappearance, and he himself later admitted he'd been there in violation of the restraining order.
Homicide detectives interviewed Jesus about Isabel's disappearance three times, and confiscated his Lincoln Continental for processing. His adult daughter from his previous marriage saw Jesus pressure-washing the car right after Isabel's disappearance, and the officer who confiscated the car noted the smell of decomposing flesh in the trunk. It had recently been cleaned and was still sopping wet from cleaning solution.
On November 26, when a police officer served a search warrant on Jesus's five-acre farm on the edge of the Everglades swamp, Jesus invited him inside and said he didn't care about the restraining order anymore because he knew Isabel was never coming back home.
Jesus, who had no prior criminal record, was arrested for Isabel's murder on April 11, 2002, four months after her disappearance. When the police accused him of killing her over jealousy, Jesus responded that they had the motive wrong.
Investigators believe Jesus killed his wife at her home, then partially burned her body at his farm and disposed of it there. Witnesses saw a fire on the farm that day that burned for hours. Extensive searches of the farm, involving infrared cameras and cadaver-sniffing dogs, turned up only a dead cow and a dead goat; there was no sign of Isabel or any human remains.
Jesus had spread ten truckloads of dirt and gravel over the property before the searches commenced, making it hard to find any evidence that may have been there. He ordered his employees not to come to work that day, saying he was performing a Santeria cleansing ritual.
The first trial, in 2004, was declared a mistrial due to allegations of witness tampering. The second trial was in 2005, but there was another mistrial after Jesus allegedly tried to hire someone to kill his prosecutor.
Jesus was tried for a third time in 2007, six years after Isabel disappeared. His attorneys said there was no proof she was dead, and suggested she had simply returned to Honduras, where she has a son from a prior marriage. However, there's no record of Isabel either leaving the United States or entering Honduras.
Several of Jesus's fellow inmates from jail testified he confessed his wife's murder to them; he allegedly killed her with a baseball bat. Jesus himself referred to Isabel as "worse than the devil" when he testified in his own defense. His girlfriend stated he had scratches on his chest and back after Isabel's disappearance, and his adult daughter from a prior relationship said his nose was scratched.
Jesus was convicted of murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated stalking and burglary in November 2007. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder and kidnapping, thirty years for the burglary and five years for the stalking.
Isabel's remains have never been found, but foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
- Miami-Dade County Police Department
Updated 4 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated March 17, 2013; details of disappearance updated.