Rebeca Peña's Remains Were Found in a Suitcase, After Two Decades the Father of Her Child Is Charged With Her Murder

Fatim Hemraj

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Rebeca Peña’s dream was to see herself on the big screen. “I’m going to be an actress” she would tell her mother, Juana Peña. According to Rebeca’s family, the 26-year-old was ambitious and dedicated — she was determined to make a name for herself. Unfortunately, the young hard-working single mother’s life would be cut short.

It was April 11, 2001, at 2:15 in the morning and Rebeca had just finished filming. She was playing an extra in Will Smith’s movie ‘Ali.’ A witness claimed to see Rebecca walking towards the direction of her vehicle upon leaving the set.

Juana tried to call her daughter the next morning but it was left unanswered. Rebeca’s mother along with her father Rafael and her brother Jorge found it odd when they didn’t hear from Rebeca for the next few days considering they were quite a tight-knit family who kept in touch regularly. A missing persons report was filed and authorities immediately began an investigation.

Rebeca’s white Honda Civic was found parked right outside of her apartment building, but Rebeca was nowhere to be found.

Rebecca’s family immediately pointed the finger at Rebeca’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her three-year-old daughter, Berkley Calvin Curtis Jr.

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It would be an understatement to say Rebeca and Berkley’s relationship was destructive and volatile. Berkley was abusive and would try to control Rebeca’s every move. After seven years of enduring the toxic relationship, Rebeca left Berkley and moved out, but he began to stalk and harrass her.

Rebeca quickly filed a restraining order and a domestic violence suit against him. In the suit, Rebeca testified Berkley had threatened to kill her multiple times during the course of their relationship, even keeping a gun in their apartment to intimidate her.

Rebeca’s family told authorities she had confided in them many times she was terrified of Berkley who was abusive towards her, and she feared for her life. Rebecca and Berkley’s old neighbours in Maryland corroborated her family's claims, reporting they would often hear heated arguments coming from the couple's unit. According to them, Berkley’s fits of rage and profanity-laden screams directed at Rebeca were a regular occurrence.

Five days after Rebeca went missing, on April 16, 2001, three young men came across a suitcase floating in the Biscayne Canal and phoned 911. When the authorities opened the suitcase, they found Rebeca’s heavily decomposed remains inside with two 25 lb weights on top. One of the pockets in the suitcase contained a magazine. A label on the cover showed it was addressed and shipped to an apartment in Maryland — the same one Berkley used to share with Rebeca, where neighbours reported hearing the couples’ fights.

Rebeca’s own previous testimony combined with the statements from her family members and old neighbours led investigators to look at Berkley as the main and only suspect. Berkley immediately acquired an attorney. Meanwhile, authorities retained a warrant to Berkely’s home where they found the same type of weights contained in the suitcase.

Investigators theorized Berkley had killed Rebeca in her apartment when she arrived home on April 11, stashed her body in the suitcase and then dumped it in the canal with weights so it would sink. Unfortunately, Rebeca’s remains were so badly decomposed, a cause of death could not be determined.

Although Berkley had a motive, he had an alibi.

When investigators interviewed his current girlfriend, she claimed Berkley was with her at their home during the time Rebeca went missing, with the exception of only twenty minutes when he went to a store nearby. Due to Berkley’s girlfriend's statement, prosecutors were forced to drop any charges against him.

The case went cold until 2014 when Berkley’s girlfriend was interviewed again regarding the day Rebecca went missing. This time, there was a slight difference in her statement, that would reignite the entire investigation. She stated that on the night Rebeca went missing, Berkley had left their home for a few hours, not twenty minutes as she had originally said.

This new information completely eviscerated Berkley of an alibi. According to investigators, the new timeline could have easily placed Berkley at the scene of the crime as they had originally thought.

In addition, investigators found text messages from Berkley to a female friend in which he wrote he could, “kill someone again.” Rebeca’s sister also told investigators of an incident in 1998 where Berkley choked the mother of his child and the police were called to the home.

After almost two decades, investigators finally had a solid case against Berkley. He had a violent history against Rebeca, no alibi and an undeniable motive.

After almost two decades, investigators finally had a solid case against Berkley. He had a violent history against Rebeca, no alibi and an undeniable motive.

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On December 15, 2020, Berkley, now 46-years-old, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder for the death of his ex-girlfriend Rebeca Peña.

After nearly two decades, Rebeca’s father Rafael finally received the call that his daughter’s killer had been arrested, 

With this news of the arrest of this person, the pain will be less because justice has been served. I tell everyone, enjoy life with your children, and forgive them because you don’t know what may happen one day.

Sources: Daily Mail UK, CBS Miami, CBS 12, The Daily Beast, Miami Herald

Originally published on Medium by the author.

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