June 26th she asked a friend if she could move in with her she was suppose to move in with her grandma on July 1st but never did
July 18 apartment manager called police on a fowl smelling oder near Maria’s apartment. There was a garbage bag found with Maria’s remains it was in-between two palm trees.
Friends and family described Maria as hard-working, independent, and very trusting, even with people she didn’t know well. Maria dreamed of learning to fly an airplane, and she celebrated her Jamaican heritage by dancing in Miami’s Carnival parade. She also had a gift for making her friends laugh. Despite having to move out on her own during high school, Maria remained enrolled at Coconut Creek High and supported herself with a job at McDonalds. She graduated with honors in 2002 and was offered a scholarship to Duke University where she hoped to study medicine and become a pediatrician.. Maria’s father Howard was so proud of the example Maria had set for her two younger sisters that he bought her a used BMW. But Maria postponed her college studies in order to remain with her boyfriend, who had not been accepted to any colleges where Maria applied. Six months before her disappearance, Maria’s boyfriend drained her savings and took off with the rent check for their Coral Springs apartment, leaving Maria broke and at risk of eviction. Desperate for cash, Maria applied for a job at Gold Rush, a notorious Miami strip club which attracted A-list celebrities and a wealthy clientele. [NOTE: Gold Rush was eventually rebranded as an “adult cabaret” and is now very different from when Maria worked there.] Maria’s best friend and neighbor, Stephaine Michaels, also got a job at Gold Rush tending bar. Stephaine warned Maria not to befriend the men she met at the club.
Maria told her father that she started at Gold Rush as a waitress, but by June 2003 Maria was dancing under the stage name “Dynasty”. She wanted to get out of the financial hole she was in and start college; her apartment lease was set to expire, and she hoped to save money by moving in with her grandmother, but that fell through. On June 26 a school friend agreed to let Maria move in with her family, but the friend didn’t hear from Maria again.
June 27, 2003
Maria was scheduled to work the 4 a.m. shift at Gold Rush. At 1:47 a.m. she made a purchase at the Coral Springs Walmart and returned to her apartment. There are varying accounts of her last known conversation:
- According to the Boca Raton police website, Maria last spoke on the phone with her brother around 1:30 a.m. and told him she planned to go to work; this was never reported anywhere else and a brother isn’t mentioned in news coverage
- According to Stephaine, who was in New York on June 27, Maria phoned Stephaine either before or around 2:00 a.m. and said she was hanging out with a guy she met at Gold Rush, or hanging out in Miami drinking with a guy she met, or going to hang out with some friends in Miami (Stephaine has been quoted differently in various outlets); a second call came from Maria’s phone at either 2:15 a.m. or one hour after their first conversation (again, Stephaine has been quoted differently) but it went to Stephaine’s voicemail – Maria did not leave a message. [NOTE: given the time stamp on the Walmart purchase, it’s unlikely that Maria had made it down to Miami by 2:00 a.m., so I suspect Maria told Stephaine either she was planning to meet someone in Miami before her 4:00 a.m. shift, or someone from Miami was coming up to Coral Springs]
Maria did not arrive to her morning shift. For two days, Stephaine left messages that weren’t returned. Stephaine was so worried by Maria’s silence that she phoned Maria’s father and other people to ask them to check on Maria. No one was available. When Stephaine returned to Coral Springs on June 29 she called the police, who entered Maria’s apartment through a window. They discovered the purchases Maria had made at Walmart, moldy dishes sitting in the sink, hair appliances still plugged in, and a phone charger on the counter…. but no Maria. There was no sign of forced entry and no signs of struggle. According to Stephaine, Maria wouldn’t leave for any length of time without her phone charger, and she was too neat to leave dirty dishes. Besides, Maria’s car was parked out front with the Walmart receipt still inside. And there was something else: an ashtray in Maria’s apartment was full of cigarette butts. Maria didn’t smoke.
On June 30, a missing person report was filed with the Coral Springs police. Stephaine, along with Maria’s friends and family, printed thousands of fliers and canvassed the areas where Maria lived and worked. But no one had seen Maria.
Almost three weeks later, human remains were discovered in a trash bag at 665 Jeffery Street in Boca Raton, about forty minutes north of Coral Springs. A t-shirt and necklace found with the remains matched ones that belonged to Maria, and a scar on the skull matched an injury from Maria’s childhood. But police believed the remains had been in that bag since at least July 3rd, and the advanced decomposition of the body made it impossible for quick identification. On July 31, a DNA lab confirmed the remains were Maria.
On August 9th, hundreds of Maria’s family, friends, coworkers, former classmates and teachers gathered at San Isidro Catholic Church to attend Maria’s funeral. Her sisters were in shock. No one could believe this had happened to Maria.
While friends and family grieved, police from four separate law enforcement agencies tried to piece together Maria’s final days and hours. It was possible that Maria was alive as late as July 3rd – what transpired between June 27 and July 3, and who was she with? Did someone follow Maria home from the Walmart, or possibly stalk her from the strip club? Or did she open her door to someone she knew? How did she die? And who disposed of her remains all the way up in Boca Raton? Why did they dump the bag on a residential property where it would be easily found? Had the bag been moved from another location?
Investigators soon discovered that while many people knew some parts of Maria’s life, there wasn’t one person who had the full picture. Stephaine probably knew the most, and over the ensuing weeks she gave police as much information as she could. Stephaine was also instrumental in getting Maria’s story out to the media. And she told the police about “Rey Rey”.
27 year-old Rene “Rey Rey” Zelaya Sanabria was a customer at Gold Rush and either socialized with Maria or dated Maria (reports vary) during the weeks leading up to her disappearance. A convicted rapist with a long rap sheet, it was rumored that Rene sometimes pimped out girlfriends. He spoke with police on the phone but would not discuss Maria and declined to be interviewed in person. Rene was already in violation of his probation, and by the time of Maria’s funeral he was a fugitive. Maria’s father claimed police had evidence of Rene’s involvement in Maria’s death; police would only state that Rene’s criminal history was a concern and they needed to speak with him. Rene was eventually arrested for other offenses, but whatever evidence police had in Maria’s case it didn’t result in charges against Rene. The investigation stalled, and in 2010 Maria’s file was handed to the Boca Raton police department’s newly formed cold case unit. As of March 2020, no further suspects or leads have been announced.
Police have never released what evidence they have, but the apartment and car were both processed as crime scenes, so if there was any hair, fingerprints, etc. police should have collected it… albeit a few days after the fact.
Could someone could of had her in the bag in the back of there trunk for weeks before dumping her?
One statement said that Rey Rey was a pimp and a violent man
It is a very odd choice of location, especially since Florida has so many prime dumping spots where a body could go undetected for some time. The townhouse on Jeffery Street sits on a block of multi-family and single family dwellings, just east of Federal Highway. Federal Highway is a commercial route through Boca Raton lined with strip malls, so there is quite a bit of traffic along there. Shops, restaurants, offices, gas stations, etc. edit: Jeffery dead ends a short way east at the intracoastal waterway, where the real estate gets much pricier.
I also wonder about how long the bag could have been there. This was summer in Florida and the temps are usually in the 90s with very high humidity – it doesn’t take long for the smell of decomp to become overwhelming. Makes me suspicious that it would take until July 18 to discover the bag.
Maria’s father lost his job a few months after her death; he eventually returned to North Carolina with Maria’s younger sisters. Rene has spent the ensuing years in and out of prison on various charges; he is now in federal custody and faces up to ten years for failing to comply with the sex offender registry. In 2013, ten years after Maria’s death, Stephaine reached out again to the media: “Stop looking at who Maria was at the time of her death, she was more than that … She was a nineteen year-old with family, with friends, with hopes and dreams.”
A flowering tree blooms near the mausoleum where Maria’s remains are interred. She would be 36 this year. Friends said she’d have made a wonderful pediatrician.
Maria Patrice Jackson was 5’6” and 120 pounds. She was found wearing a dark blue t-shirt with “BMW Kid” printed on the front and knotted at the back, and a green, red and black Jamaican style beaded necklace. Maria had piercings in her tongue, nose, and belly. She drove a green 1990 BMW. Police are seeking help from anyone with information about Maria’s death, or anyone who may have seen Maria or her car on or after June 27, 2003.
If you have information about this case, please contact Detective Mynor Cruz of the Boca Raton police: 561-338-1320
Or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers: 800-458-TIPS