Details of Disappearance
Ruben was last seen on April 7, 1983 in El Paso, Texas. He left home to walk to Eastwood Knolls Elementary School and apparently never arrived for the day's classes. His mother reported him missing when he didn't come home from school. A friend of his thought he saw him running towards McRae Street at about 5:30 p.m.
Ruben's maternal uncle, Miguel Zaragoza, lived in Juarez, Mexico in 1983. He ran a gasoline business and was wealthy. On the afternoon of Ruben's disappearance, a man called Zaragoza and said, in Spanish, "The boy is all right." He used nicknames that only someone close to the family would have known.
The caller demanded a $300,000 ransom for Ruben's safe return, and said that Zaragoza and one of his brothers were to deliver the money at 9:00 p.m. that same night to the Denny's restaurant in the 400 block of north Mesa Street in El Paso. Zaragoza went to the Denny's, but did not make contact with Ruben's abductor(s). The family contacted the police.
Two days later, a man called Zaragoza's office in El Paso and said Ruben was in Juarez. Zaragoza was told to go to two pay phone booths and await further instructions. When he got a call at one of the booths, the phone company traced the call to a pay phone at the Revco Drug Store in the 6100 block of north Mesa.
When FBI agents went to the location, they found Raymond Henry Acosta, Ruben's stepfather's brother, talking on the phone. He had an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a bank larceny charge out of California. FBI agents arrested him, and when they searched the car he'd been driving, they found a map with instructions to leave the $300,000 ransom in a cement pipe at the Quail Hollow Shopping Center on north Mesa Street.
Ruben wasn't with him and Acosta told the police he was dead. Authorities believe it was he who placed the ransom call from a pay phone, and he may have taken Ruben to Mexico in his car, a silver and green or silver and black 1977 Cadillac Seville. He refused to say where the child's body was. and said he could not identify any co-conspirators, out of fear of retaliation against him or his family.
Ruben's mother stated that about two weeks prior to her son's disappearance, someone broke into her elderly mother's home and attempted to grab her. The abductor was scared away when his would-be victim's two grandsons started yelling, but left a chalked message behind reading: "Don't call police or I will kill her." Ruben's mother believes Acosta was responsible for this kidnapping attempt, but he was never charged.
A photo of Acosta is posted with this case summary. In July 1983, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping, for which he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison. In January 1984, Mario Javier Martinez, the former owner of an El Paso ambulance service, was arrested and charged with demanding a $500,000 ransom from Zaragoza. His release didn't lead to any more information in Ruben's case, however, and he was released for lack of evidence.
Acosta died in 2012, still incarcerated. Before his death, authorities interrogated him again and about the identities of anyone involved in the ransom plot. Acosta said his only role in the crime was to collect the ransom money. He didn't offer any more details and Ruben's other family members, including his mother, his biological father and his stepfather, were ruled out as suspects in his abduction.
In May 2013, a man in an unspecified South American country claimed to be Ruben. The individual contacted the Colombian organization Fundación Papá por Siempre (Father for Life Foundation) and said he was indigent and needed help getting his immigration status settled. He said he didn't want to return to the United States or re-establish contact with his relatives, other than his sisters. He only wanted Ruben's Social Security number and a street address for his relatives in El Paso, and for the police to stop looking for him and stop listing him as a missing child.
Fundación Papá por Siempre contacted an El Paso newspaper requesting assistance, and the person was put in touch with the El Paso Police Department. The South American individual's identity hasn't been verified and it isn't clear whether he is in fact who he says he is.
Ruben's mother is dead, but his stepfather and his two sisters are still alive. Foul play is suspected in Ruben's disappearance, which remains unsolved.