The Texas Motel Mystery: Where is Roxanne Paltauf?
09/22/2017 12:16 pm PDT
UPDATE July 5, 2019:
Paltauf's sister Rosalynn Schultz (who was just 15 when Paltauf, then 18, went missing) discovered "airtime" charges on Paltauf's phone bill from the night of her disappearance, the Austin Chronicle reports.
Schultz ended up with her sister's phone records and noticed a handful of "unexplainable charges" that could "only be roaming charges" from the night of Paltauf's disappearance. The records, reviewed by the Chronicle, show approximately 48 phone calls made from Paltauf's phone on July 7, including the potential roaming charges for 12 calls between 6:44pm and 8:42pm, the time period during which Paltauf left the hotel.
A teenage girl gone without a trace, and a mother on a mission to find her daughter.
It's summertime in Austin, Texas in 2006, and the Paltauf sisters -- Roxanne, Rosalynn, Ronica, Rubi and their mother Elizabeth -- can be found keeping cool at nearby Lake Travis.
But when the July 4 weekend rolls around, the weather goes from hot to a sweltering heat wave.
"You gotta understand it the craziest summer ever," said Elizabeth Harris, the girls' mother. "It was one of the hottest summers Austin, Texas ever had. It was hitting over a hundred every day. It was hot, it was miserable. People act crazy in the summertime heat."
But Elizabeth could never know just how crazy things were about to become when her oldest daughter, Roxanne, asks to spend this traditionally family-filled holiday instead with her boyfriend Louis Walls.
It's the couple's two-year anniversary so Elizabeth reluctantly agrees.
"She said 'I'll be home in a couple of days,' and I said 'OK, that's fine. She always called me every day, we always kept in touch and I knew she would be all right," Elizabeth Harris tells Crime Watch Daily.
When Roxanne returns from her romantic getaway, Elizabeth plans to take her eldest daughter and the rest of her kids on a shopping spree.
"We were supposed to go shopping at the outlet mall," said Rosalynn Paltauf. "This was a Saturday. My mom spoke to Roxanne that Friday before, letting her know what time to be home, what time we're leaving."
After Roxanne's phone call with her mom, several hours passed. According to her family, Roxanne should be home already, but instead she makes another phone call to her mom.
"Saying that 'I'm gonna spend one more night with him and I'll be home in the morning,' and I was kind of upset that she didn't just come home and we could have left early and gone shopping, but I said 'OK, fine,'" said Elizabeth.
"Roxanne said 'Don't worry, I will be there," said Rosalynn Paltauf.
Then Saturday morning arrives.
"Roxanne never showed," said Rosalynn.
Roxanne's family assumes she got caught up with her anniversary celebration. And Roxanne's an adult now, turning 18 six months prior, so they give her some space and continue on with their Saturday plans.
"Went ahead and went shopping that day and was in another town and we came back that evening probably around 4-ish," said Elizabeth.
Then, finally, a call from Roxanne's cellphone. But it's not her voice on the other line.
"It was Louis on the line, and I was just kind of, 'Yeah? Why are you using her phone, why are you calling?'" said Elizabeth. "He goes, 'Have you seen Roxanne?' And that was just peculiar. I said 'What do you mean have I seen her? She's with you. What's going on?'"
Roxanne's sister Rosalynn is standing in earshot of the conversation.
"He said they got into an argument. That she stormed out and he tried to go after her, but she was too mad," said Rosalynn.
So mad, according to Louis, that Roxanne left the hotel empty-handed.
"Then Louis goes on and says that 'I have her cellphone. She didn't take her purse with her. I have everything of hers,'" said Rosalynn.
The Paltauf family is panicked. And already time isn't on their side.
"That was last night, and here's almost 24 hours later and you don't know where she's at," said Elizabeth. "We've got to find her, and I immediately got in the car went to that area."
But when Roxanne's family arrives at the motel where Louis and Roxanne spent their romantic weekend, it's hardly a lover's paradise. In fact, it's downright terrifying.
"I really didn't know the Rundberg area until I started hanging out there trying to look for my daughter and I realized how rough it was," said Elizabeth. "It's not a place where you want your daughter."
"Austin is a very vibrant town. It has a large flagship university," Jordan Smith, a staff writer with the Austin Chronicle, tells Crime Watch Daily. "When you start to move north, you tend to get into sort of a little bit rougher neighborhood known for street crime, a lot of flophouse-y kind of motels you can rent by the hour."
This area is the Austin corridor known as Rundberg, the last known place Roxanne Paltauf was seen.
"I did call the police, but she's 18, it was a day or two later before they responded, you know. I knew in my mind I had to take action. This is my daughter. It's nobody else's responsibility. I gotta do what I gotta do," said Elizabeth Harris.
Meanwhile, Roxanne's frantic mother tells Louis Walls to call police too.
"He was there. He was the last one to see her, so he knows more of what happened," said Elizabeth.
Detective James Scott takes the call.
"We had almost two simultaneous calls, police reports: one from Elizabeth, who is Roxanne's mom, and then we had one from Louis Walls," Det. Scott tells Crime Watch Daily.
Louis tells cops the same thing he told her mother.
"They had gotten in an argument and she had stormed off," said Det. Scott.
But was he telling the truth?
There is a series of clues to Roxanne Paltauf's disappearance that begin to surface for cops.
"Which kind of in and of itself bumps it up a level," said Austin Police Detective James Scott.
Roxanne has been missing since Friday night. It's now Sunday morning and still no word from the 18-year-old Austin teen.
But one thing is for sure: Louis Walls was in no rush to report Roxanne's disappearance to the authorities.
"Louis didn't let Roxanne's mom know for quite some time," said Det. Scott. "He didn't report that night that she didn't come back. He didn't report the next morning that she didn't come back."
Louis Walls took a full 24 hours to report his girlfriend missing.
"As a detective, you know, that's a big alarm for me," said James Scott. "He was already at home, had already picked up, supposedly picked up everything from the room and taken it and checked out of the hotel."
And by the time cops arrive at the motel?
"Three days had passed with us not even being aware that someone was missing, it gives time for the hotel to have other tenants in," said Det. Scott.
It's a devastating blow to the investigation, and it was about to get even more complicated.
"Because of the bookkeeping at the front desk, it was almost impossible to determine exactly what room they were in," said Det. Scott.
So detectives turn their attention to the evidence that does exist, the items Louis says she left the night she ran off. But first, they need to get them back from Louis.
"The fact that all that stuff is left behind is incredibly creepy," said Jordan Smith. "I think one of the other disturbing things about that is what Louis does afterward, is he keeps her possessions."
Five long days, according to her family. Then finally, Louis returns them.
"He gave back her purse and her cellphone and the jewelry that she usually wears, everything, and also a bag of clothes," said Rosalynn Paltauf.
But when they go through her bag of clothes, there's a big problem.
"They were not Roxanne's," said Rosalynn. "I know her clothes. I'm her sister, I know every article of clothing that she has. They were not hers."
Then detectives make another startling discovery when they pull the missing teen's cellphone records.
"It was calls every two or three minutes, as if someone didn't answer, just call after call after call," said Det. Scott.
More than 300 calls in all, after Roxanne went missing. And just who is dialing up a storm on the missing girl's phone?
"Louis Walls," said Det. Scott. "He started using her cellphone and making calls that obviously he would not be making with Roxanne in the room."
So who is Louis calling?
"The 1-800-sex lines," said Det. Scott.
And another frequent number that pops up:
"His ex-girlfriend in New Mexico," said Det. Scott.
But calling "1-800-sex lines" and an ex-girlfriend isn't a crime. So Austin Police detectives keep digging, and speak with the motel clerk working the night Roxanne disappeared.
"There was a clerk that said 'Yes, I did see her leave, I did see him follow her,'" said Det. Scott.
The clerk's story matches Louis Walls' account of the night in question.
"He said they got into an argument. That she stormed out and he tried to go after her, but she was too mad so he stayed inside," said Rosalynn Paltauf.
But he wasn't alone in his motel room for long. As cops question the motel clerk further, they learn she's handling more than the books.
"The young lady indicated from late that night after her shift, she had gone to the room and spent time with Louis until the wee hours of the morning," said Det. Scott.
Which leads detectives to wonder if Louis Walls was expecting Roxanne Paltauf to return -- ever.
"Any reasonable person would say to themselves, 'OK, if I just got into an argument with my girlfriend, would it behoove me to bring another girl into this room right now, knowing that she is going to return here at some point because all of her stuff is here?'" said Det. James Scott.
Now police want to know, Did Roxanne walk away or is there something more sinister at play? Detectives want to speak to Louis Walls, but he's refusing to cooperate.
"Louis told me several times, 'Hey, you're trying to frame me, you're trying to put this on me,'" said Det. Scott. "I tried to explain to Louis, 'Hey, if you didn't do this, help me, you know, you supposedly loved Roxanne, let's me and you make a team, let's work together, come help me figure out what happened.'"
But while Louis isn't talking, Roxanne's sisters are, and they have a frightening tale to tell. Just months before Roxanne went missing:
"We were coming home and we saw Roxanne at a bus stop," said sister Rosalynn Paltauf. "She was wearing sunglasses, so we of course pulled over and told her to 'Come on in, you're going home anyways.' We happened to be on that side of town. And she takes off her sunglasses and there's this completely black and white across her face. She had a broken nose, and it was detached and she had to have surgery."
Roxanne tells her family that she got caught in the middle of a fight between Louis and some other men. But after Roxanne goes missing, her family discovers a darker take on the events from a couple of Roxanne's friends.
"Louis did in fact punch her and caused that injury," said Rosalynn.
But cops have no proof that Louis Walls attacked Roxanne Paltauf. The investigation seems to be stalling.
"I have no probable cause right now to arrest him," said Det. Scott.
Then, six days after Roxanne's disappearance, a domestic disturbance call comes in to the Austin Police Dept. from a motel next door to the one where Roxanne was last seen.
"It was somewhat of a perfect storm," said Det. Scott. "A security officer that happened to be walking by looked in the windows."
According to police reports, the security guard sees a man and a local stripper in the middle of a struggle.
"He had had her pinned to the floor and was choking her and trying to get her clothes off," said Det. Scott.
The man takes off before police arrive, but he leaves some things behind.
"His hearing aid had fallen out during the tussle and had left behind his wallet," said Det. Scott.
Eventually, the suspected assailant returns to retrieve his belongings, now in the hands of police officers. The man is identified as Geoffrey Moore.
"Geoffrey Moore was somewhat of a sexual predator," said Det. Scott. "He would hire ladies of the night from that area and take them to hotel rooms. However, Geoffrey was somewhat rough."
Police question Moore about the alleged assault.
"He said 'Hey, I know that girl, we were going to have sex,' and the young lady, now that she is safe, has said 'I don't want to be a part of this,'" said Det. Scott. "She refused to cooperate."
There are no charges brought against Geoffrey Moore concerning this incident. But before cops let Moore go:
"There were questioning Geoffrey, 'Let me see your I.D.' You know, natural routine of what the police do," said Elizabeth Harris, Roxanne Paltauf's mother. "Roxanne's I.D. fell out."
Now cops have a new person of interest in their investigation, and he's not Roxanne's boyfriend.
It's a game-changer that's about to lead detectives to stunning new developments.
"The police went through his wallet and found Roxanne's I.D.," said Austin Police Detective James Scott.
Geoffrey Moore says he can explain.
"Geoffrey said 'No, it's a friend, and we went out somewhere and I had her I.D., I was holding it," said Det. Scott. "Geoffrey was asked again: 'How did you come to have this?'"
Feeling the squeeze, Moore offers up additional details to police.
"'I was downtown at a club and we started talking and I was about to leave the club and they asked me if I could give them a ride to Rundberg,' Roxanne must have dropped her I.D. in his car," said Det. Scott.
His story sets off alarm bells with detectives.
"Completely contradicts the story he told the first time, that 'She's a friend of mine, I really want to give it back to her,'" said Det. Scott.
Right away investigators track down Geoffrey Moore's car. Inside, they spot an ominous dark stain. They send it to the crime lab for testing.
"The DNA, evidently it wasn't Roxanne's, so it could have been anybody's," said Roxanne's mother Elizabeth Harris.
The stain was nothing more than dried ketchup.
Geoffrey Moore remains a person of interest, but takes a backseat in the investigation for now.
Meanwhile, police turn their attention back to Roxanne's boyfriend, Louis Walls.
"I truly believe that he has the answers," said Elizabeth.
"Roxanne met Louis when she was 16, and Louis purported to her and her family that he was 18 at the time," said Det. Scott.
Try more like 28. Louis Walls is an imposter who set his sights on a much younger girl.
"I didn't really find out his true age until after Roxanne disappeared, and he was approximately 11 years older than her, so in my mind, if they met at 16, he's a pedophile," said Elizabeth.
But there's more. Police records reveal Louis Walls has a long rap sheet with a criminal history landing him in and out of jail.
"If you live this life long enough to be a sociopath, if you have a one-track mind, if it's drugs, sex, money, well, that's all you're going to think about," said Det. Scott.
Despite the shocking fact that Roxanne's boyfriend turns out to be a much older convicted felon, police still don't have any direct evidence to connect him to her disappearance.
It's a frustrating reality for her family.
"I think something happened to Roxanne that night," said sister Rosalynn Paltauf. "I don't think she ever walked out to go cool off. I think they got into an argument and he hurt Roxanne."
Determined to find justice and bring Roxanne home, once again the Paltauf family heads to the area she was last seen, handing out missing-persons posters and asking questions.
"I spoke with everybody in that neighborhood and it wasn't all the greatest neighborhood at all, I gotta account for that, it was a whole bunch of hotel rooms everywhere, there were drug dealers in that area, there were street girls out there," said Elizabeth Harris.
One of those girls goes by the name "Loretta."
"She came up to me, 'Hey, have you found your daughter?'" said Elizabeth. "I said 'No, I'm still searching.' She reached down and got her cross and she goes 'I'm gonna help you find your daughter.'"
Sadly for the Paltauf family, almost two weeks pass and still no word from Roxanne.
"There was just no sign of her," said Elizabeth.
Then there's news, and it's not good.
"They found a body under a bridge," said Rosalynn.
Det. Scott was hoping to cushion the blow for Roxanne's mother.
"Unfortunately her mom found out about it on the news, that a body was located," said Det. Scott.
The Paltaufs brace for the worst.
"We got a call from the police department asking if we can have Roxanne's dental records ready," said Rosalynn.
But when the coroner's office officially identifies the body, it's stunning news for the Paltauf family: the dead woman is not Roxanne.
"It was that woman that we met on the street," said Rosalynn.
The dead body found under the bridge belongs to "Loretta," the very same woman who told Roxanne's mother she would help find her daughter.
"There was paper towels shoved down her throat," said Rosalynn. "Honestly, I think she was asking a lot of questions, trying to find out what happened, maybe she did find out what happened, and maybe they were trying to shut her up."
But who wanted to shut her up, and why? And did it have anything to do with Roxanne Paltauf's disappearance?
As July turns into August, all anyone really knows is that Roxanne Paltauf is still missing. The Paltauf family continues their desperate search for Roxanne.
"My family has hope. There's always those stories of missing loved ones coming home," said Rosalynn.
As for the last person to see her alive, her boyfriend Louis Walls:
"He never once called us. Why aren't you out here helping us look for her?" said Rosalynn.
Turns out Louis Walls is a busy man.
"He was with another girl maybe a month afterwards," said Elizabeth Harris. "He just kind of navigated to another young girl, just another victim in his story."
But not if Roxanne's mom can help it.
"I wanted to try save her before it happened again," said Elizabeth Harris. "I brought the young girl over to my house and I started showing pictures of my daughter. She revealed a lot to me and she was scared."
And for good reason when Louis's new girlfriend drops this bombshell:
"He told her at one time 'If you don't do what I tell you to do, the same thing's gonna happen to you like that white girl Roxanne,'" said Elizabeth.
"In the right company, Louis will talk about it -- 'Hey, I killed someone and I'm out here and they can't touch me,'" said Austin Police Det. James Scott.
But by the time detectives interview Louis's girlfriend about this alleged killer confession, the girlfriend refuses to cooperate with cops. And as far as Louis' alleged admission to murder?
"I have no probable cause right now to arrest him," said Det. Scott. "I've got sufficient circumstantial evidence. I've got hearsay -- unfortunately people from the street, their credibility is not the best."
Sadly for the Paltauf family, the case goes cold. Months turn into years. Then --
"There was a tip and the FBI was out, and it was in a field off Rundberg not far from the little strip of motels where she went missing," said the Austin Chronicle's Jordan Smith.
Austin Police call a press conference.
"Because we have her last seen in this area, we believe that this is probably going to be a valuable tip for us," Austin Police Commander Mark Spangler said at the time.
And the tip?
"There might have been some remains found in this field, so there was a big FBI excavation team, and they were up there sifting through the debris and dirt," said Jordan Smith.
"The reality really hits home. They are searching for her. I broke down and cried. 'This is it,'" said Elizabeth.
As investigators dig, the Austin news media and Roxanne's family wait, anticipating the absolute worst.
"They don't go out and put all this kind of money and manpower and time into something until they definitely got a hit. They had search dogs and everything, and they truly believed Roxanne is there," said Elizabeth.
FBI agents and Austin homicide units spend all day digging in the field near the motel where Roxanne disappeared. But after hours of an extensive excavation for the missing girl's remains, they did not find any remains.
According to police, there remain two persons of interest in Roxanne Paltauf's disappearance: Geoffrey Moore and Louis Walls.
"These two individuals, they have something to hide, and they're hiding it," said Det. James Scott.
Det. Scott, who was the lead detective on the case, shares his theory on what he believes happened to Roxanne.
"Geoffrey Moore, being a sexual predator, he hired prostitutes and then he was rough with them," said Det. Scott. "Louis wanted Roxanne to prostitute herself out for his benefit. And I think what happened is those two worlds collided."
And Roxanne was caught in the middle.
"Roxanne had no interest in that whatsoever," said Det. Scott.
And according to cops, it's possible her refusal to turn tricks may have gotten her killed.
"Everything in the investigation points to that, unless something new comes to light, but without the testimony or complete cooperation from Geoffrey Moore or Louis Walls, nothing new is ever going to come to light," said Det. Scott.
To date, Louis Walls and Geoffrey Moore haven't been charged in connection with Roxanne Paltauf's disappearance.
It's a frustrating fact for the 23-year veteran detective.
"I doubt not one bit that these two gentlemen are responsible for her demise," said Det. James Scott.
Geoffrey Moore has since moved to Houston, but Crime Watch Daily gets a tip that Louis Walls is still in the area. A private investigator who is working with us takes me to an apartment complex where Louis Walls was spotted earlier in the day. Once and for all, I want to get his side of the story.
We waited her for several hours wanting to talk to him to see if he knows more than he's leading on, but he was a no-show.
Louis Walls has yet to give an official statement to police.
Every year on the anniversary of Roxanne's disappearance, her family hands out missing-person flyers and talks to anyone who will listen.
"I just keeping marching forward, and I do it for me and for my family, especially for my mother and for Roxanne," said Rosalynn Paltauf. "When I think about all the good golden memories of her laughter, her jokes. She was just so funny, she was goofy. I just miss her so much."