UPDATE: Police reveal how missing North Carolina women likely died, confirm vehicle belonged to Paige Escalera
North Carolina police said Monday they had found two bodies inside a grey 2013 Dodge Dart matching the description of a vehicle belonging to one of two recently engaged women who haven’t been seen since April 15.
In a Facebook post, the Wilmington Police Department said the bodies were too badly decomposed for immediate identification and that “there will be no further details provided today.”
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Stephanie Mayorga, 27, and Paige Escalera, 25, were last seen in the north of Wilmington, not far from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington campus, at an apartment off South Kerr Avenue, on April 15 at around 10 p.m.
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The department said the car was found just after 3 p.m. on Monday “deep in the woods” off the intersection of Independence Blvd. and River Road, near the Cape Fear River in southwest Wilmington. Interim Police Chief Donnie Williams told WECT that the car was the same one Escalera and Mayorga were seen driving away in on April 15.
Escalera’s sister, Stevie Jenkins, told CrimeOnline that the two women had recently become engaged and had just moved into the apartment with another roommate. Jenkins said the roommate didn’t realize she didn’t have to wait 48 hours before reporting them missing, and so didn’t contact police for three days after they were last seen.
Jenkins told CrimeOnline that her sister’s disappearance has taken an extra toll on her because she had recently rekindled their relationship after 10 years.
“My sister and I have struggled with our relationship since we were teens. We drifted and haven’t been involved much with one another in 10 years,” Jenkins said. “However, for Christmas this year we got to visit with one another.”
“As we joked and reminisced about our younger days we would laugh so hard and it felt so good to have my sister back. I could tell she felt it too … and how happy we both were to share this moment. We talked about her visiting me in Kansas and continuing our rekindled friendship. I felt like a piece of my heart that was missing for so long was finally put back in place. I didn’t know how much I needed her in my life.”
Posted by Wilmington, NC Police Department on Monday, April 27, 2020
The head of the WPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, Captain Thomas Tilmon, indicated during a press conference on April 29 that information found on the women’s cellphones appeared to be normal, but the circumstances surrounding their disappearance seemed “unusual,” given that the women have not made contact with any friends or family and didn’t take any belongings with them.
“It is not unusual for persons of this age group to be spontaneous,” he said. “It was unusual that the roommates [Escalera and Mayorga] didn’t come back home and also that they had left all their property in the home.”
According to family members, Escalera left her phone in her apartment, while Mayorga’s phone has not been turned on since April 15.
Jenkins told CrimeOnline that no debit card transactions have happened since April 15, leading her to believe that the pair “are not traveling anywhere.”
Wilmington police said the investigation is ongoing, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Wilmington Police Department at (910)-343-3609.
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[Feature Photo: Stephanie Mayorga and Paige Escalera/Handout]