"That's when I knew Gloria was telling the truth," McCully says. He ordered the case reopened. And Theresa Torso's remains, kept for a quarter-century in the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's "bone room" — an air-conditioned closet stacked high with cardboard boxes full of skeletons — were brought out into the daylight for the first time since that April morning in 1985.

Gloria eagerly gave investigators her DNA. Suddenly she could imagine bringing her father to justice. "I want him caught alive," she says. "Right now he thinks he got away with it. I want to see him in court when the jury says he's guilty. I want to see his face when he realizes that he's fucked."

Her sister, however, wanted nothing to do with it. "What is catching him going to bring me now?" Bernisa says. "It's not going to bring my childhood back. It's not going to fix anything for me. It's just going to cause me more anger and pain."

Nilsa Padilla's torso, wrapped in a green trash bag, washed up on Virginia Key in 1985.
Courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department
Nilsa Padilla's torso, wrapped in a green trash bag, washed up on Virginia Key in 1985.
Nilsa Padilla holds baby Bernisa in a 1977 photo.
Courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department
Nilsa Padilla holds baby Bernisa in a 1977 photo.

But she gave detectives her DNA anyway. "I did it for Gloria," Bernisa says.

On March 9, 2012, the DNA results arrived from the laboratory at the University of North Texas. They were a match. (The other body found in the water in April 1985 has never been identified. Cops now believe it might have been a male friend of Nilsa Padilla's whom Nuñez killed the same night.)

"We were ecstatic," says Sandra Boyd, an investigator at the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner. "To hold onto these remains for 25 years and then all of a sudden get a match, all of us in the department jumped for joy."

New technology is finally cracking open some of the county's most vexing mysteries. "It's very tough to get DNA out of 25-year-old bones," Boyd says. "The results were remarkable."

But Gloria's elation over being able to bury her mother was undercut by a call from the Miami-Dade Police Department. Cops had issued an arrest warrant for her father. But it wouldn't be easy to catch him. Nuñez had been deported to Peru in 2004.

Gloria was furious. "He was still in the country when I first approached the detective," she says. "If she had believed me, my father would be in jail right now." Instead, Gloria was left to obsess over a single question: Now how are we going to catch him?

In fact, it wasn't even clear if Nuñez was still alive, Det. Jim Gallagher told her. Nuñez's Peruvian identification number had expired in 2010 and had never been renewed. "He's either living out in the jungle or he's long dead."


Bernisa Davis didn't want to dig up the memories of her mother's murder. She didn't want to sift through the fear and pain of living with a monster. She doesn't even care if that monster is caught. But she knows that by telling her story to New Times, she is finally speaking out. And that could be dangerous.

"We're the bait," she says of the Miami-Dade Police Department's plan to publicize her and her sister's story. "I think my father is still alive. And he's coming to get us."

Fourteen years after they last saw Nuñez, the wounds he inflicted upon the two sisters have largely healed. Both women have families and jobs. They live in the same city and speak nearly every day on the phone. But the sisterly bonds that were severed by abuse have yet to fully mend. And they are still bitterly divided over their mother's memory.

"Gloria forgives our mother," Bernisa says. "But I don't even want to hear her name."

Sitting in her shoebox apartment in north central Hollywood, Bernisa says that if she's angry with anyone, it's her mother, not Nuñez. "She picked a drunk and a drug addict," she says.

Much of Bernisa's bitterness has come in the past seven years, since she had her own daughter. She relented to her husband's requests for a child, only for them to divorce last year. "Living with someone else is being trapped," she says of her marriage. "I never wanted to have a kid. I saw my baby sister die in my hands. I didn't want to have a daughter die in my hands as well.

"But my daughter is my twin," she says, pointing to a photo of little Bernisa on the refrigerator. It is the only photo in the narrow one-bedroom apartment, which is dominated by a giant cardboard castle. The only other item on the bare white walls is a crucifix, hung above the castle turret like a morning star.

"I just want to take my daughter to the park, help her with her homework," Bernisa says, "the usual stuff that I never had."

Three miles west, near Florida's Turnpike, the walls in Gloria's apartment are covered with pictures and plaques. There is a mechanic's award for Milton and photos of Gloria's two sons. Like her sister, Gloria has overcome so many horrors that her proudest achievement is simply keeping those horrors from touching her own children.

"Half the people out there prostituting themselves or using drugs have not gone through the stuff that I've gone through," she says. "I didn't turn to drugs. I didn't turn to prostitution. I'm really proud of that. I'm a survivor."

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25 comments
hclarke1
hclarke1

This is kind of mindblowing. I remember vacationing in Miami that week in 1985 as a ten year old approaching eleven: and this was one of the sensational stories on the local news that week...those body parts floating all over Biscayne Bay.

CheckpointCharlie73
CheckpointCharlie73

So the point is that we need a "three strikes and you get Life in Prison" policy for all these derelicts and small time criminals. 

corkywedges
corkywedges

Wait, I'm confused. The headline said "recovered memories" but they were there all along. She went through years of therapy because no one believed her. That is not "recovered memories." 

The reason recovered memories are so undependable is because they are almost always constructed years and years after the event. Most good shrinks will tell you that we really don't forget when horrible things happen to us. This girl had those memories for years. She didn't suddenly remember them. 

lenny14
lenny14

The story is interstingly sad. We don't know the "back story" behind the people we meet every day. I do know the story of a woman who grew up, the only daughter of 6, who was repeatedly raped by her brothers for years. She does live on, however. I have talked with other people who survived family abuse, because I am one myself. When you go for treatment, you talk about how you yourself were motivated to do things the way they were done. You hopefully learn that you have to live with your own pain to survive, and you can. I hope the two sisters reconcile their past, and merge it with their future. 

georgieart
georgieart

Wow! If this isn't a survival story in it's truest form, I don't know what is. My hat comes off to these surviving sisters and I applaud them for doing their best in overcoming all obstacles regardless of the fears and issues that their experiences have left as a deep scar in their lives. It's hard to move forward when you have this constant movie playing in the files of your subconscious mind, but you learn to just put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

lnoproblema102
lnoproblema102

So, the tide was ..."hissing and spitting like a wild animal...". What sort of animal hisses and spits just like the tide? A Blue-Footed Booby, perhaps? A Flatworm? A Giant African Snail? A Poodle? The story has so many REAL horrors there isn't any need to tart it up with horrible writing. This "author" should stick to reporting on Elvis sightings...

run.randrand
run.randrand

EDNA--IS THIS Y-O-U TRYING TO REAPPEAR IN A CHEAP PUFF-OF-SMOKE".ARE YOU A KILLER COME-BACK --- ( Hahahahahahah!)--IN CRIME JOURNALISM???! --"BACK IN THE BRASS BOTTLE, EVIL DJINN"!!!--(somebody get the brass stopple before she gets out and does m-o-r-e community mayhem...!!!!).......

CMndz
CMndz

I first saw this story on America's Most Wanted over the summer. Just tragic. 


dwd762010
dwd762010

This is a very sad story, some of the statements are not correct tho. The writer should have interview all persons that are mentioned

Chris Cvnt
Chris Cvnt

the story is very tragic yes but the author deserves to take a journalism class, the writing is just awful.

Jon Achaval
Jon Achaval

Once more, outstanding reporting. This author deserves a Pulitzer.

Jimena Zeballos
Jimena Zeballos

really well written story. I hope that that cretin gets a horrible end for all the pain he has inflicted on them. My heart goes out to them.

Erin Barber
Erin Barber

Yes, it was beautifully written, But what a God-awful life these two young women had.. Horrific. So sad.

Anthony Pinzone
Anthony Pinzone

Wow that is a wild story... best of luck to those girls and their families.

Bernisa
Bernisa

@corkywedges This is Bernisa you are correct our memories never had forgotten, and DCF never checked up on the address on my Birth Cert. to see if they could of return us with our family since my birth father was still living at that address on my Birth Cert til i was 16 year old waiting for me to return one day.

Since during aroung the beginning beinging put into DCF or HRS system and I didn't speak much english but instead I had Drew so many picture of what had happen to my mom and they still didn't do anything about it.

CheckpointCharlie73
CheckpointCharlie73

@corkywedges You are correct. What the story should have said is that DCF workers never investigated or documented the claims of these girls, and that the detectives they first met also did not care enough to check. In other words, "Incompetent Workers Ignore Pleas from Orphans."

MikeMillerMiami
MikeMillerMiami

@dwd762010 Like what? The only person mentioned in the story who was not interviewed at length is Jorge Walter Nunez, the suspected murderer. 

run.randrand
run.randrand

@Jon Achaval  LIKE EDNA BUCHANAN-SMITH?????!!!!--GOOOOD FORBID! "MY LOOK-ALIKE EVIL TWIN'S" BUST AND WANTED POSTERS STILL ADORN A POLICE CLOSET DOWNTOWN BECAUSE SHE "JUST ACCEPTED AS FACT EVERYTHING HER COP FRIENDS TOLD HER"...AT--A FEW FOLKS EXPENSE, OF COURSE...!

Msanthropod
Msanthropod

If you haven't written a true crime book, you definitely should. Top notch writing!

dwd762010
dwd762010

I am David Davis Bernisa's ex husband. There are several inaccuarys in the story. You did not do any fact checking on your part to make sure what you printed was correct. I was not a orphan nor did I force Bernisa to have children.Both comment hurt my family members The purpose of this post is not to take away from the pain both ladies went threw. But to correct you Mike Miller

MikeMillerMiami
MikeMillerMiami

@dwd762010 David, my apologies for the error about your parents. It has been fixed online and we will run a correction in next week's paper.

 
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