SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – It was a life changing event for Gilbert Arenaz.
He was 15-years-old living in Salt Lake City when his older sister, Rachelle, vanished.
“It’s been devastating,” said Arnez who is now in his fifties. “This is the worst crime that can happen to any family.”
And it happened to his family. In 1979, the young Arenaz was excited. He was entering his freshman year at West High School. His sister was a year ahead of him.
But that feeling of innocence turned quickly when Rachelle went missing in mid-September.
“After a a few weeks, a month it changes to worry and wonder where she’s at,” recalled Arenaz.
Rachelle disappeared after she left home against her mother’s wishes. The 16-year-old met her teen-age friend and left for parts unknown. The friend, Bridgette Garcia returned home but not Rachelle. Garcia’s stories changed constantly about where Rachelle had gone to.
“I asked (Garcia) ‘where is my sister?’ and she says ‘oh she stayed with these two guys,’” recalled Arenaz.
He shared that information with his mother Jolene Arenaz. She met with Garcia’s parents and their daughter.
“She gave me some conflicting stories which I understand because as a kid they would cover for each other,” said Jolene Arenaz.
The elder Arenaz went with Garcia to various locations but it was a dead end. The following week, Arenaz filed a missing person report with Salt Lake City police.
According to a 1978 police report, she Rachelle was listed as a 16-year-old runaway.”
To this date, that didn’t sit well with the mother.
“She was no wild child,” said Jolene Arenaz.
Meanwhile, Rachelle’s younger brother recalled those days. He said he was heartbroken, devastated and was taunted.
“We’d receive phone calls (and) they would say “help me, help me” which was odd because Rachelle hadn’t been found yet,” said Gilbert Arenaz.
In May 1980, two young horseback riders came across a grisly scene. They found a woman’s body in a ditch north of the Salt Lake airport. They notified their parents and the police were called.
According to the police report, the woman’s body was “nude” and “badly decomposed.” Crime scene forensics estimated the body had been there for a year.
“I turn on the news and I watched them pick up a black body bag and I thought ‘oh my gosh, oh my gosh,’” said Rachelle’s mother.
According to the police report, police searched the area for other clues but little was found.
They did discover an earring on the woman’s ear. Dental records proved it was Rachelle Arenaz and the family was notified.
“Obviously it changed my world,” said Gilbert Arenaz.
The years passed and the headlines of the discovery soon faded. Rachelle’s murder turned into a cold case.
“It’s life changing for me,” said Arenaz. “In fact, it becomes the pivotal moment in my life where I go into law enforcement.”
In 1988, Arenaz joined the Salt Lake City police department. He climbed up the ladder and eventually landed in the homicide unit.
“I know the pain my family is going through and I don’t want other families to do that,” said Gilbert. “So if I could help in any way, that was my goal.”
But as a homicide detective Arenaz now had his sister’s case file at his fingertips.
“I had thought all along my sister’s case was actively being investigated and that it just went cold,” said Arenaz. “But that’s not what I found out.”
Thursday Rachelle Arenaz’ story continues and her brother soon learned how police politics hindered the investigation.