By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In the unluckiest of cases, families and investigators conduct their own parallel investigations for decades — cops and coroners searching for clues to identify an unknown body; sons and daughters or mothers and fathers searching for a sign of what happened to their loved one — until fortune, and DNA, finally connect them.
That's what happened last year when a dismembered body discovered in 1985 was finally identified as Nilsa Padilla. (The case was described in the May 9, 2013 New Times cover story, "Memories of Murder.") Padilla's daughter said she had witnessed the killing when she was a child. But it took more than two decades for her horrific story to be taken seriously. When cops finally reopened the case, scientists tested the 27-year-old bones, and the results came back a match. Police are now looking for Padilla's killer.
Even that saga, however, seems simple compared with the fate of the bones that Mina Coleman's dogs discovered in Tamiami in 1997. At first, Coleman didn't think much of the find. She threw the bones on top of her carport to keep them away from the dogs and then forgot about them.
Eight months later, however, her father happened to be talking to Dr. Joe Davis, then the Miami-Dade medical examiner. Davis asked to look at the bones. When Coleman pulled one down, Davis immediately recognized it as a man's femur.
Cops used police dogs to search the adjacent woods. But after several days, all they could find were animal carcasses. It would be another year before the body would be found.
On April 27, 1999, two men were surveying an overgrown lot near Coleman's house when they spotted something strange: a noose dangling from a tree. Underneath it lay a human skull. This time, cops found the skeleton and confirmed it belonged to the same body as the bones Coleman's dogs had discovered.
Even with an entire skeleton, it would take 12 years for technology to catch up to the case. In the meantime, family members fruitlessly searched for signs of Victor Murgado. The handsome, mustached Cuban had paddled himself to Miami on a raft in September 1995. But he grew frustrated that he couldn't find a job. On January 17, 1996, Murgado left his wallet on the kitchen counter of his cramped trailer. He was last seen riding away on a black bicycle with chrome fenders.
On July 28, 2011, the University of North Texas lab finally matched a bone sample taken by Boyd to DNA taken from Murgado's family. The two parallel mysteries snapped together into one sad, seamless story. On that cool January day 15 years earlier, Murgado was pedaling along when he spotted a shady copse of Australian pine. He stopped his bicycle, walked across the soft carpet of fallen needles, and slung a rope around the bough of a solitary melaleuca tree. Then, in a fit of depression, he hanged himself.