Laura Ayala

Laura, circa 2002; Van similar to vehicle reportedly seen at the time of Laura's disappearance; Walter Alexander Sorto; Edgardo Rafael Cubas

  • Missing Since 03/10/2002
  • Missing From Houston, Texas
  • Classification Non-Family Abduction
  • Sex Female
  • Race Hispanic
  • Date of Birth 10/29/1988 (35)
  • Age 13 years old
  • Height and Weight 4'0, 90 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A blue and white checkered dress and probably no socks or shoes.
  • Associated Vehicle(s) Full-size, mid-1980s model red/maroon cargo van, two-tone with a large white or light-colored stripe along the center and a gray bumper. It had a sliding door with windows, which may have been missing, and possible rear windows.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Hispanic female. Black hair, brown eyes. Laura has brown highlights in her hair. She wore a full set of orthodontic braces on her teeth at the time of her March 2002 disappearance. She speaks fluent English and Spanish. Laura has a scar on her upper right arm. Her ears are pierced. Some agencies may list Laura's hair color as brown with blonde highlights.

Details of Disappearance

Laura resided in an apartment complex in the 7930 block of Serita Street in Houston, Texas. She asked her mother for money to purchase a newspaper for a school assignment during the evening hours of March 10, 2002.

Laura departed from her home at approximately 10:15 p.m. and walked to the Broadway Convenience Store, which is less than 100 feet behind her residence. The store is housed inside the Conoco gas station in the 2600 block of Broadway Street. An employee told authorities that Laura arrived at the store alone and bought a newspaper, then left shortly afterwards. She has never been heard from again.

Laura's mother became concerned when her daughter failed to return home and walked to the store herself. She reported Laura as a missing child shortly thereafter. Laura's shoes and her newspaper were discovered scattered inside a parking lot between her apartment complex and the gas station later that evening. An extensive search of the area produced no clues as to her whereabouts.

Witnesses reported observing a full-size mid-1980s model red/maroon cargo van near the store around the time of Laura's disappearance. The vehicle was two-tone and had a large-sized white or light-colored stripe painted along its center and had a gray-colored bumper. The sliding door on the right side of the van had a window; witnesses said that the window behind the door may have been missing and plywood concealed its opening. It was apparently a work-related vehicle and appeared to be faded and in worn condition. Additional reports stated that the van had rear windows. A photo of a similar vehicle is posted with this case summary.

A resident near Broadway Street reported seeing the van at approximately 10:00 p.m. on the night of Laura's disappearance. The witness did not contact law enforcement officials until April 2002, one month after Laura vanished; he stated that at the time he had not realized the significance of what he saw. He said the van's sliding door was open and reported observing an unidentified Hispanic or Caucasian male near the scene. The vehicle was parked in the same lot where Laura's shoes and newspaper were discovered.

In February 2003, Laura's disappearance was linked to three men: Walter Alexander Sorto, Edgardo Rafael Cubas, and Eduardo Navarro. Photographs of Sorto and Cubas are posted with this case summary. Sorto is from El Salvador and Cubas is from Honduras. They went on a crime spree of robberies, rapes and murders in the predominantly Hispanic east side of Houston. Navarro was charged with driving the getaway car; he was not directly involved in the murders.

Blood found in a SUV belonging to Cubas's father was linked to Laura's DNA. Cubas admitted that he, Sorto, and Navarro occasionally borrowed the vehicle. Semen matching one of the suspects was also located in the car. Cubas and Sorto were charged with capital murder in the deaths of two adult waitresses and a fifteen-year-old girl. Navarro was charged in the same offenses, but could not face the death penalty because he was only fifteen years old at the time of the crimes.

Sorto and Cubas were ultimately convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death; both are awaiting execution. Navarro pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to thirteen years in prison. None of the suspects were charged in Laura's case due to lack of evidence.

Laura's favorite color is maroon and her favorite number is one. She is described as having a shy, reserved nature and is very organized. She enjoys journal-keeping and records her activities. Foul play is suspected in Laura's disappearance, but no charges have been filed in her case.

Updated 2 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated November 1, 2019; two pictures added.