UPDATE June 14, 2018:
Virginia State Police confirmed the identity of remains found along the median near mile marker 141 on Interstate 95 in Stafford back in 1991 as Marta Haydee Rodriguez, Jose Rodriguez's wife who went missing from Arlington County in 1989, WDCW reports. Not far from that location, Pamela Butler is also believed to be buried.
October 25, 2017:
For years now Crime Watch Daily has knocked on doors trying to get Jose Rodriguez-Cruz to talk about what happened to his missing ex-girlfriend Pamela Butler.
For years he's slipped away. But now Rodriguez-Cruz is telling his story in a courtroom and Crime Watch Daily was there for the huge development. Could there finally be an answer to the mystery that has tortured a family for years?
Pamela Butler walked through the front door of her own home and was never seen again. Crime Watch Daily has tracked down countless clues and stayed side by side with her loved ones.
And only now, an answer out of the blue as truth strikes like a lightning bolt in court.
Police have the very last image of Pamela. It was captured on a surveillance camera at her house on a Thursday evening two days before Valentine's Day as she stepped outside to pick up her mail.
She's never been seen again. A true mystery, because her home in northwest Washington, D.C. is equipped with several cameras and alarms. The left side of her house was the only side not covered by surveillance cameras.
And yet Pamela Butler disappeared seemingly in her own house, leaving cops and family baffled.
Pamela and her new boyfriend Jose Rodriguez-Cruz were supposed to meet Pam's mother, 84-year-old Thelma Butler, for Valentine's Day dinner in 2009.
"But when 3 o'clock comes Saturday, and I said well, maybe they're a little late; 4 o'clock, didn't come; 5 o'clock, I started. From 5 o'clock up until 10 o'clock," said Thelma.
"She started calling Pam. Pam didn't answer the telephone and she really got concerned then," said Derrick.
Her worried mother and brother go to check her house. And knowing the super-neat Pamela as they do, they are alarmed at what they find.
"The first thing that caught my eyes was a latex glove on the floor by the leg of her table. A blue latex glove," said Thelma.
"She had files that were sitting on the floor. She would never leave her house looking like that," said Derrick. "I went upstairs and I looked and the sheets were off of her bed. I saw that, I said 'Yeah, something isn't right.'"
And then there's the window on that same side of the house that is not covered by a security camera.
"She had these type of blinds that you could either lower them from the top or lift them up from the bottom," said Derrick. "My mother looked over at the window, said the blind is lifted up. She said 'Pam don't lift the blinds up, she lowers them down from the top.' Then we went over to the window and the window was unlocked. At that moment, I felt like something was wrong."
Police are soon deep into Pamela's mysterious disappearance.
"There's no explanation for her disappearance, which is another reason that we are acting the way we acted with crime scene search coming in, mobile crime coming in and working the case for weeks and weeks on end," said Washington, D.C. Metro Police Lt. Christopher Kauffman.
Derrick and Thelma recall another detail in Pamela's house.
"On the desk of the table was a note: 'Pam where are you? Are we still taking your mother to dinner? I've been here looking for you,'" said Thelma.
It's from Pam's boyfriend, 43-year-old former military policeman Jose Rodriguez-Cruz. And now it seems he's apparently looking for Pam as well. Derrick decides to go check in with Cruz at his home.
"I told him, I said, 'Pam's missing,' and I said, 'Normally when these things happen you look at the boyfriend,' I said 'And we're looking at you,'" said Derrick.
And then Cruz stops Derrick in his tracks.
"He said 'Me and Pam broke up,' and he said 'I haven't talked to her,'" said Derrick. "One time he says Thursday. The other time he says they broke up on Friday. He said 'I'm just devastated,' he said, 'But I didn't do anything to Pam."
But if they broke up the day before Valentine's Day, why would Cruz leave that note, and Pamela never called her mom to cancel their plans?
And when Derrick goes home and watches videotape from Pamela's security cameras he only becomes more concerned. Police later confiscated those tapes, but Derrick says he took some good notes.
"The whole time that she was missing, nobody ever comes up to her house but Jose, the mailman and the UPS man," said Derrick.
"Why would you be seen going in and out of somebody's house if you're broken up?" said Thelma.
Cruz returns that Saturday, Valentine's Day, and stays for two hours.
"It showed Jose going in and out of the house with bags," said Thelma.
Cruz later tells the Washington Post that he was only removing his things from Pamela's house. But Derrick has his own ideas how Pam disappeared from her home. It goes back that one window on the side of the house.
"I believe that she was put out of that window at the right time, and put in the car and taken somewhere. Would love to know where," said Derrick.
And he had a pretty good idea who did it. But at the time, no one, including Rodriguez-Cruz is named a suspect in Pamela's disappearance.
How hard has this been for Thelma?
"It's eating at her," said Derrick. "She wants some closure, and one of the things that she's afraid of is that she's not going to get it before she leaves here. So I really want answers for her."
Every year after Pam Butler went missing, friends, family and even law enforcement hold a candlelight vigil in her honor.
And after seven long years with seemingly no progress in the investigation, the family makes a heart-wrenching decision: they decide to formally declare her dead.
But not long after that, a stunning development, cops find Cruz is hiding a dark secret: There is another missing woman in his past.
The shocking details were revealed in recent court documents on the case. Police now say that Jose's first wife Marta Rodriguez also disappeared in 1989, and has never been found. Not only that, but prior to her going missing, he had also been charged with her abduction and assault.
So the big question for police, is there a connection to Pam?
Pamela Butler's family has long suspected her ex-boyfriend Jose Rodriguez-Cruz killed Pam. And now after eight years of playing cat and mouse, he's finally telling all.
Police dug up the information about Cruz's first wife, who also disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
And then, an even bigger announcement: After years without answers, Jose Rodriguez-Cruz is arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Pamela Butler's death. Though police haven't revealed exactly what evidence they used to make the arrest, whatever it was it led to this most recent development -- the biggest one yet.
"Today the defendant pled guilty, accepted responsibility for the murder of Pamela Butler back in 2009," Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner announced in a news conference.
Jose Rodriguez-Cruz pleaded guilty of taking Pam's life. For the family, it's an indescribable moment. As part of his guilty plea, Jose finally tells police exactly what happened. He claims he got into an argument with Pamela at her home the day before Valentine's Day, knocked her down, then got on top of her and strangled her to death.
Then Cruz says he snuck her out a side window. That's why cops never saw her leave her house. But why confess now, after all this time? Let's just say Cruz didn't have a sudden surge of guilty conscience. There is a catch to his confession.
"The government together with the family decided that we would support a 12-year prison sentence in exchange for him taking us to the remains of Pam Butler," Prosecutor Kirschner said.
Only 12 years for murdering a woman with his bare hands, then putting her family through almost nine years of torture.
"I think I would quote Derrick, Pam's brother, when he said we would have accepted a deal with no time in prison if we could have the remains of our loved one," said Kirschner.
Derrick Butler says they were just desperate to know what happened to their Pam.
"It was important to the family because if she's laying out somewhere, she's still missing to us," said Derrick. "We want to bring her home and know exactly where she is. That's why it was so important to us to do that. And then you know, this eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth doesn't help anybody."
And he is hoping that could happen any day. But there are no guarantees.
"He has to make a good faith best effort, so if we're misled and he doesn't help, then we're back where we started again," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines.
Prosecutors are hopeful, but cautious.
"We can't say definitely we're going to find Pam. That is the goal," said Sines. "But 2009 was a long time ago and terrain changes. We'll see."
So far, they have found nothing.
"I don't rest at night, I try to go to sleep. I wake up in the middle of the night with bad dreams," said Thelma.
Pamela's family is still waiting on pins and needles. Her mother and brother have dealt with plenty of setbacks and cliff hangers over the past eight years. Still they remain confident of seeing this through to the end, with Pamela back home at last -- and finally at rest.
Police say they are still investigating the disappearance of Rodriguez-Cruz's first wife Marta, and he could face further charges.