Discovery of Laura Garza’s body spurs grief – and murder investigation
BY Rocco Parascandola
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF
April 28th 2010
For 16 months, Elizabeth Garza slept with her cell phone on, hoping against hope her missing daughter, Laura, would call.
That changed last Friday, when authorities identified Laura Garza’s remains in a field near Scranton, Pa.
“Turn it off,” Elizabeth Garza told her sister, Isela Villalobos.
“You can only imagine how she feels,” Villalobos told the Daily News. “It’s going to take a lot of time for the healing process to begin.”
Laura Garza, a 25-year-old dancer, left her small Texas town for New York City in 2008 and lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, until she disappeared that December. She was last seen leaving Marquee, a Chelsea nightclub, with sex offender Michael Mele.
The case was cold for 16 months, with Mele refusing to cooperate with state police investigating her disappearance.
But on April 11, the skeletal remains of a woman were found in the field near Scranton. DNA tests later confirmed Garza’s identity, and an autopsy will determine how she died.
When Mele met Garza he was on probation for exposing himself and masturbating on women at a Rockland County mall.
He’s been jailed ever since for failing to register an address change when he moved.
The son of a retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority cop, Mele was recently denied parole, with the board citing his “history of sexually deviant behavior.”
It is not clear if Mele has any ties to Pennsylvania, but New York State Police Capt. Wayne Olson said investigators are looking for witnesses who may have seen Mele near where the body was dumped.
Authorities believe she was killed at his home in Wallkill, Ulster County.
Olson said Mele owned an Infiniti SUV when Garza disappeared. He previously owned a green Jaguar that was stolen in New York City two months before the disappearance.
Anyone who saw Mele in or around Scranton is asked to call Pennsylvania State Police at (570) 963-3156 or New York State Police at (845)344-5300.
Laura Garza’s Remains Found: Michael Mele Seen Leaving Club Marquee With Aspiring Dancer Night Of Disappearance
A DNA analysis confirmed the identity of 25-year-old Laura Garza of Brooklyn. She had moved to New York from McAllen, Texas, five months before she disappeared.
A group of ATV riders found the remains April 11 in Mount Cobb, Pa., several miles outside of Scranton, said Capt. Wayne Olson.
A watch described as one Garza was wearing when she disappeared was found on the remains, Olson said. Forensic experts will be brought in to examine the skeleton and determine how Garza died, he said.
“We’ve been in mourning since Friday, when the police told us,” said a cousin, Isela Villalobos of McAllen, Texas. “It has been very difficult for the family. Laura’s mother was expecting for her daughter to come in the door until that dream was shattered Friday afternoon.
“All we do is think of Laura. We have moments when we cry. We have moments when we laugh,” Villalobos said in a phone interview from her restaurant in Mission, Texas. “Nothing has changed in her home in McAllen.”