Twenty-six-year-old Rebeca Peña was a young mother with big dreams. The brown-haired, brown-eyed woman was “outgoing, outspoken, and ambitious — she was a people person,” said her brother, Jorge Peña.
With her daring personality and immense dedication, Rebeca was confident she’d make it big.
“I’m going to be an actress,” she assured her mother, Juana Peña. Unfortunately, those dreams would not come true.
On April 11, 2001, at 2:15 a.m., Rebeca Peña was seen alive for the last time. Today, almost 18 years later, investigators continue to search for leads that will help solve her case.
In the early hours of the morning on the night of April 11, Rebeca was seen walking toward a parking lot in Liberty City where her car was located. The young woman had just finished filming as an extra in Will Smith’s upcoming movie, “Ali,” and was eager to get home.
But when she didn’t communicate with her family in the following hours, the Peñas grew uneasy. Something was not right.
“It was completely out of the ordinary,” said Jorge Peña. The family spoke frequently, and his sister’s lack of contact was a certain indication for them that something was wrong.
The family reached out several times, but when they received no answer, they decided to visit her apartment. At first glance, nothing seemed amiss. Rebeca’s white Honda Civic was in the driveway and nothing inside her home raised alarm or signaled foul play.
Nonetheless, the young woman was nowhere to be found, and it was not like her to leave her 3-year-old daughter behind.
Immediately, the Peñas decided to contact local law enforcement. As detectives arrived on the scene to investigate, the events that occurred just hours before began to take form.
Neighbors and witnesses described to police that shortly before her disappearance, Rebeca and ex-boyfriend, Berkley Curtis Jr., were heard arguing inside her apartment. Several reports indicated that the argument was heated and filled with profanity.
According to those who knew Peña and Curtis, these arguments were nothing out of the ordinary. “Their relationship was volatile,” said Jorge Peña. “He was abusive and controlling. She was afraid of him.”
A restraining order that had been granted by a Broward County judge months before Rebeca’s disappearance suggested how toxic their relationship was. Apart from the restraining order, the young woman had also filed a domestic-violence suit against Curtis.
The case file from the civil suit contained handwritten letters in which Rebeca confessed she was in fear for her life.
“In these seven years, he’s threatened to kill me more than once. One of those times, there was a gun in the apartment,” she wrote.
The young woman had also received unsigned, typewritten letters in which the writer referred to her as a “dirty bitch” and a “whore.” Rebeca testified in her lawsuit against Curtis that she was sure Curtis was the author of these anonymous notes.
Apart from this, not much else had been found in the police’s investigation.
Upon hearing news of these inquiries, Berkley Curtis Jr. immediately sought out legal counsel. He declined to help or speak to detectives.
Days had gone by and there was no sign of Rebeca. But five days after she was last seen, officers received a tip that flipped the investigation inside-out.
In the Biscayne Canal, on I-95 near 153rd Street, 19-year-old Kevin Boehmer and two other men caught sight of a mysterious suitcase that was floating in the edge of the water. Upon opening the case, the young men were
shocked to uncover human remains.
Although the body was found in advanced stages of decomposition, a magazine addressed to Rebeca’s apartment led detectives to believe this was the body of the missing woman. Shortly after, dental records confirmed their suspicions.
Although the cause of death was unclear due to the state of the body, medical examiners and police believe she was in the water for some time.
“Based on her condition, we believe she was killed on the day she went missing,” said Miami-Dade Police Homicide Detective David Denmark.
Police deem it likely that Rebeca was killed inside her home and subsequently placed in the suitcase as a means to transport her body. It’s estimated that the killer disposed of her shortly after.
While detectives consider Berkley Curtis Jr. the only suspect, Rebeca’s case remains unsolved due to lack of evidence.
A short while after Rebeca’s body was discovered, Curtis moved to Maryland with the pair’s 3-year-old daughter.
Today, police are not actively searching for him. Despite several attempts to locate Curtis, his whereabouts remain unclear.
“My heart bleeds for that family,” said first investigator on the case, Detective Terry Goldston.
Despite the elapsed time, police urge anyone who knows something about that night to come forward. If anyone remembers anything or has any information that could help law enforcement, contact Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS to place an anonymous tip or contact the Miami-Dade Police Department at 305-598-HELP (4357).