A body found in a field off Interstate 95 in Florida is believed to be that of Jalajhia Finklea, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe last seen getting into a rented car driving by Floridian Luis Zaragoza on October 20 — the day before her 18th birthday — in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Boston.com reports.
Zaragoza, 37, was shot and killed in a McDonald’s parking lot earlier this month in Crestview, Florida, as US Marshals and an Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputy tried to arrest him on warrants for kidnapping and larceny of a motor vehicle out of Massachusetts, according to the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office.
Detectives had been tracking Zaragoza, who also used the alias Luis Barbosa, since Finklea was reported missing. According to District Attorney Thomas Quinn III, they found surveillance footage showing the suspect traveling to Texas and back to Florida, but none of it showed the victim.
Quinn said that detectives quickly determined Zaragoza had left Massachusetts and traveled down the eastern seaboard to Florida in a car he rented at Logan International Airport. They learned that Finklea’s cell phone was last used to call Zaragoza not long before she was seen getting into his vehicle, and that phone was found on Route 140, about five miles away from where she was last seen. Investigators also determined that Zaragoza turned off his cell phone minutes after the victim got into his vehicle, turning it back almost two hours later when it was located in Rhode Island, the Cape Cod Times reported.
The Times also reported that Finklea was five months pregnant at the time of her disappearance and that Zaragoza had previously dated Finklea’s aunt.
Indian River County detectives have not positively identified the body they found in Fellsmere, about halfway down the east coast of Florida. An autopsy will confirm the identity and cause of death.
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[Featured image Jalajhia Finklea/Bristol County District Attorney’s Office]