SANTA ANA, Calif. — A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent has been indicted in California on a federal kidnapping charge in the 2016 disappearance of his wife, who authorities believe is dead.
Eddy Reyes, 35, of Covina, is accused of abducting Claudia Sanchez Reyes, 21, on May 6, 2016, as she left work for the day. According to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, Claudia Reyes has not been seen since.
The couple lived in Santa Ana at the time of Claudia Reyes’ disappearance, though they’d lived apart for a while due to marital issues. They reconciled shortly before she vanished, authorities said.
Eddy Reyes was taken into custody April 15. A federal grand jury indicted him Wednesday on the kidnapping charge, which carries a sentence of either life without parole or the death penalty.
Claudia Reyes, a native of El Salvador, came to the U.S. in 2014, three years after meeting Eddy Reyes while he was visiting the Central American nation.
A criminal complaint alleges that Eddy Reyes had a history of domestic violence prior to his wife’s disappearance. Claudia Reyes’ co-workers at an El Pollo Loco restaurant in Garden Grove told authorities that they’d heard her end of a phone argument with Eddy Reyes the day she vanished, which was a Friday.
“Reyes persuaded Claudia he would take her out dancing that night, over Claudia’s objection that her clothes were packed for a move,” according to an affidavit in the case. “When she left work that night, Claudia told a co-worker that Reyes was waiting outside and that she did not want to go out dancing because they had to move to their new apartment in Anaheim and her clothes were already packed.”
The couple and their 4-year-old son, identified in court records only as E., were due to move in two days, wrote Farshid Hashempour, a Santa Ana police detective working with the FBI. The boy had been left with Eddy Reyes’ mother, Maria Orellana, while Claudia Reyes worked that day.
Claudia Reyes’ co-workers told police that “clubbing” was not in her nature, and that Eddy Reyes had previously refused to take her dancing because of his own jealousy issues, the affidavit states.
Federal authorities allege that instead of taking his wife dancing, Eddy Reyes took her to his mother’s house, where Claudia Reyes was murdered. Her body has never been found.
“While Claudia and her son were seen on surveillance video leaving the couple’s apartment building the morning of May 6 as she left for work, she was never seen again on the video,” according to the document.
That included the next afternoon, when cellphone records show her phone, along with Reyes’ phone, went from Orellana’s home to the couple’s apartment.
“The only trace of Claudia found since that night was a drop of her blood in the SUV Reyes had rented, and the scent of a dead body in the back seat and rear storage area of the SUV, detected by a cadaver dog,” Hashempour alleges.
The blood was found near the overhead light in the SUV. Crime scene investigators also found trash bags in the cargo area of the vehicle, including one that had been fashioned into a makeshift apron.
“Based on my training and experience, an apron fashioned out of a trash bag could be used to keep a person’s clothing clean while committing a violent act likely to result in blood spatter,” the detective wrote.
It was unclear if any blood was found on the plastic bag.
CSI personnel who processed the couple’s apartment at Bush Terrace found evidence of blood in both the kitchen and bathroom sinks, the records show. An insufficient amount of DNA for testing was collected in swabs of the kitchen sink.
Analysis of the blood found in the bathroom sink indicated that Claudia Reyes could not be excluded as a contributor to the sample.
Eddy Reyes remarried in 2017.
A history of violence and abuse
According to Hashempour, Eddy Reyes’ physical and mental abuse of his wife began nearly from the moment they met in 2011. Reyes was 25 on that trip to El Salvador, and Claudia Sanchez was 16.
After they met, Eddy Reyes made several trips to El Salvador, where he had sex with the teen. She soon became pregnant with their son.
“He subsequently married Claudia in El Salvador and brought her and their son, E., to the United States in 2014,” the detective wrote.
In the months before her disappearance, Eddy Reyes made multiple threats against his wife, including stating that he would kill her before he allowed her to be with another man. At one point, he allegedly paid a stranger — a “sign-twirler” for a business near El Pollo Loco — to steal Claudia Reyes’ cellphone while she sat at a bus stop after work.
“Reyes told a co-worker, whom he also asked to steal the phone, that the phone had incriminating evidence about him that could ruin his career,” the court document alleges.
Eddy Reyes’ sister-in-law told police that he’d told her Claudia Reyes had recorded him on her phone admitting to the spousal abuse.
Eddy Reyes later asked the sign-twirler to plant cocaine on his wife, authorities learned. The man, who did steal the phone from Claudia Reyes, refused to get involved with the cocaine, authorities said.
According to Hashempour, Eddy Reyes sometimes hid his wife and son’s identification documents so she could not return to El Salvador and take their son with her. In April 2016, just three weeks before she vanished, he also withdrew her application for residency in the U.S.
During her fateful last shift at El Pollo Loco, Claudia Reyes’ co-workers recalled that she seemed anxious and distracted, the detective wrote. Eddy Reyes showed up in a rented silver Hyundai Santa Fe that he’d falsely told his wife he purchased for her.
The next day, Claudia Reyes did not show up for work. Before her shift began, a co-worker received a text from Claudia’s cellphone asking her to tell the boss Claudia would be out sick for a few days.
“The co-worker thought the text was strange because it was sent to her instead of the boss, as was usually done, and referred to the boss as ‘patrona,’” court records say. “According to the boss, who saw the text, and the co-worker, Claudia never used that word when referring to the boss, and instead used the word ‘jefa.’”
Her supervisor, Maria Elena Ayala, became concerned and tried to call Claudia Reyes multiple times, but got no response. Ayala also tried calling Eddy Reyes, but he didn’t answer his phone, either.
That same day, Claudia Reyes’ mother, Rosa Ponce, received texts in El Salvador from her daughter’s phone that said Claudia had been “sleeping around” and had met a new man, described as “an American with blue eyes.” The messages said that Claudia Reyes no longer loved her husband and son and that she was going to New York by bus to be with the man.
Other friends and family members also received the text messages, including a lawyer Claudia Reyes had hired that January because she was tired of her husband’s abuse, Hashempour wrote. She was seeking a divorce and custody of her son.
The messages to the office of attorney Daniel March asked that March be told “his services were no longer needed.”
Read the entire criminal complaint in Eddy Reyes’ federal case below.
“Repeated pleas from her mother for Claudia to respond were never answered,” the affidavit states. “The persons who received the texts regarded them as suspicious and out of character for Claudia, whom they described as devoted to, and overprotective of, her son.”
Those who knew her said she’d never leave the boy. A co-worker recalled for police an incident a couple of months prior to Claudia Reyes’ disappearance when she’d gone to her mother-in-law’s home to see her son, who had been with his father for several days.
She stood outside and cried because her estranged husband and his mother would not let her see E., the co-worker said.
Claudia Reyes disappeared two days before Mother’s Day.
Eddy Reyes reported his wife missing on May 11, five days after she left work for the last time.
When Santa Ana police detectives tried to get his help with their probe, however, Reyes was uncooperative and said he would not speak to them without his attorney.
“When the investigator explained she was only responding to the missing person report he filed, Reyes became upset, told the investigator she would hear from his lawyer, and hung up,” Hashempour wrote.
Conflicting stories and minute physical evidence
During a subsequent interview at his lawyer’s office, Eddy Reyes told the missing persons detective that he’d last seen his wife the night of May 7 when he dropped her off at a Santa Ana McDonald’s, where she planned to meet friends to go “clubbing.”
When he told the investigators where the McDonald’s was, however, they responded that there was not a McDonald’s at that address in Santa Ana.
In addition, cellphone records from both Eddy Reyes’ phone and the phone belonging to Claudia Reyes showed neither had gone anywhere near a McDonald’s restaurant on May 7, court records show.
Eddy Reyes told police that when his wife didn’t come home, he left on a previously planned Mother’s Day outing with his son, his own mother and his half-brother. They took the rented SUV to the area of the Salton Sea, about 150 miles away, he said.
Claudia Reyes’ co-workers said the missing woman had never mentioned the family planning a Mother’s Day outing.
According to the court records, Claudia Reyes’ mother told detectives, who traveled to El Salvador to speak to her, that her daughter had a terrible relationship with Eddy Reyes and his mother, Orellana.
Ponce said her daughter had told her about a death threat made by Orellana, who believed Claudia Reyes was not good enough for her son, the document states. Like her son, Orellana had allegedly been physically abusive, and Claudia Reyes would sometimes call her mother, crying about the way her husband and mother-in-law treated her.
“Rosa said that on one occasion, Maria Orellana told Claudia that they (presumably referring to Reyes and herself) could kill her and take her child from her,” the detective wrote.
Claudia Reyes also told her mother that Orellana did not like 4-year-old E., which made Claudia hesitant to leave the boy with his grandmother. On the day she disappeared, Claudia Reyes had tried unsuccessfully to find a neighbor to babysit her son so she wouldn’t have to leave him at her mother-in-law’s home.
One neighbor told investigators that she had sometimes bought food for Claudia Reyes and her son because Eddy Reyes would not provide food for them.
A co-worker of Claudia Reyes, identified only as W-1 in the affidavit, went to police May 12 to report his colleague missing. At that time, he explained that he was concerned because Claudia was a victim of domestic violence, the court records say.
He later admitted that he’d had a sexual relationship with Claudia Reyes while she was separated from her husband. It ended shortly before Reyes’ reconciliation with her husband and her subsequent disappearance.
“W-1 knew that Claudia had obtained a restraining order against Reyes, which W1 said Reyes would continually violate by showing up to Claudia’s work with flowers and going to their apartment in Santa Ana,” the document states.
The affidavit also outlines about half a dozen times that Claudia Reyes called police seeking help during arguments with her husband.
On May 17, detectives spoke to Octavio Plata, the apartment manager at Bush Terrace, who told the investigators he was aware of the restraining order Claudia Reyes had against her husband.
Plata also told them about a prior incident in which a fire inspection was done in each unit of the apartment building. He knocked on the door to Apartment 107, where the Reyes family lived, and got no answer.
“Thinking nobody was at home, Plata opened the door to the apartment and found Claudia and E. sitting on the couch,” the affidavit states. “When Plata asked Claudia why she did not answer the door, Claudia said that Reyes would not allow her to answer the door when he was not home.”
Plata told police he was surprised to see Eddy Reyes with his wife and son on May 6, the day Claudia Reyes vanished. He said he next saw Eddy Reyes on May 15, when Reyes moved all the family’s belongings from the unit.
Reyes also turned the apartment key in later than anticipated, the manager said, giving the excuse that he’d been out of town for a work obligation. One of the days he claimed to be out of town was May 7 — the same day he’d told detectives he dropped his wife off at the McDonald’s in Santa Ana.
Eddy Reyes’ Customs and Border Patrol supervisor said he’d had no reason to be out of town on the dates he’d given his landlord, the affidavit states.
Plata told police that Reyes, upon asking for his security deposit and learning that his wife’s name would be on the check, got “visibly upset and told (him) that Claudia would not be returning.” To cash a joint check, Reyes would have needed his wife’s signature.
While the detectives were at the empty apartment on May 17, Reyes showed up with cleaning supplies but was refused entry into the apartment. That was when crime scene personnel combed through the unit for evidence.
On May 21, investigators followed Reyes to a grocery store more than 35 miles from home, where he bought two 11-pound bags of laundry detergent. One of the bags was found two days later, empty, in the trash outside Reyes’ mother’s home.
Detectives searched the Hyundai Santa Fe with a K-9 unit from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office that same day, Hashempour wrote. The dog, Abby, was trained to detect human remains.
Abby alerted to the back seat and rear passenger compartment of the SUV, court records show.
Suspicion and leads
The detective wrote that Eddy Reyes was so suspicious of his wife in the months before she vanished that he hired a colleague at Customs and Border Protection to follow her.
“I don’t want to sound desperate, but I kind of am since this woman wants to ruin my life and career,” one text from Reyes to the co-worker read, according to court records. “I really need your help on this one, sir.”
That colleague, Alex Cruz, told authorities that Reyes suspected Claudia Reyes of cheating. He gave Cruz his wife’s schedule and the schedule of the buses she took to and from work.
“On one occasion, Cruz was outside the El Pollo Loco where Claudia worked when Reyes called him and asked if Claudia was flirting with anyone,” the affidavit states. “When Cruz said there was no sign of flirting, Reyes questioned whether Cruz was even at the El Pollo Loco.
“Cruz sent Reyes a photo to confirm he was outside the restaurant. Reyes then asked if Cruz was flirting with Claudia.”
Eddy Reyes later asked Cruz to install cameras in the Reyes apartment, but Cruz refused. He also asked Cruz to forcibly take his wife’s cellphone from her, and Cruz declined to do that, as well.
That appears to be when Reyes paid the sign-twirler to steal Claudia Reyes’ phone.
Cruz told police he later learned that Eddy Reyes had hired a second person to follow his wife, as well. Reyes had also asked Cruz to help him get his wife deported, telling him that her conditional visa to remain in the country had expired.
A Customs and Border Protection officer called the police with a tip in June 2017, more than a year after Claudia Reyes went missing. The man told Hashempour that he should talk to some of Eddy Reyes’ current and former colleagues.
One such colleague told of a time Reyes called him late one night, asking to borrow his truck. The colleague refused but thought the request was suspicious.
Other co-workers remembered Reyes exploding in anger during phone arguments with his wife. One woman said Reyes had asked if she and her grown son, who had previous ties to a street gang, would be willing to beat the man he suspected of sleeping with Claudia Reyes.
A third colleague remembered that days after Claudia Reyes vanished, Eddy Reyes came to work with back pain. He told her he’d “helped a friend move in the middle of the night.”
Hashempour wrote that a new Facebook account in Claudia Reyes’ name was created days before her disappearance. Her previous account, under her maiden name, contained photos of herself and her son, with just a single photo of her husband.
In contrast, the new account was filled with images of the family together, including a photo taken in the rented Santa Fe.
“Based on these facts, and the stark difference between the content of the two accounts, I believe Reyes created the new Claudia Reyes account in preparation of kidnapping and killing Claudia,” the detective wrote. “Controlling her Facebook account would allow Reyes to monitor any efforts of co-workers, friends, or her lawyer to contact Claudia at the time of the kidnapping and in the hours and days that followed, (and) to support his story that Claudia had left Reyes and their son for another man.”
A judge last month ordered that Eddy Reyes remain in custody pending trial.