Online dating gone wrong: The murder of Pamela Butler
In 2022, online dating is more popular than ever. In our modern, fast paced and high tech world, the internet can be a great place to meet someone new. Many relationships and even marriages have come about as a result of online dating — but it can also go horribly wrong. This is the solved disappearance of Pamela Butler.
Pamela Butler was born around 1962. Friends and family members described her as outgoing, funny and always willing to help people. Pamela was also very organized and liked cleanliness, always keeping her home in tip top shape. She was also extremely vigilant about personal safety, surrounding her home with an alarm system, floodlights and multiple security cameras. There wasn’t any particular event in her past that made her so safety conscious. It was just her personality (though living alone in a big city likely contributed).
Pamela earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology and a master’s in public administration. By 2008, the 47-year-old lived in Washington D.C. and worked as a computer specialist for the EPA. Between income from her job and real estate investments, she was able to live pretty comfortably.
But Pamela, who had been divorced in the mid 1990’s, wanted someone to share her life with. In late 2008, she met 44-year-old Jose Rodriguez-Cruz on eHarmony.
Jose had grown up in Puerto Rico and joined the Army when he was 17. He claimed he was honorably discharged, though the exact details of his discharge aren’t clear. When he met Pamela, he lived in nearby Alexandria and they hit it off pretty quickly.
Pamela’s family liked him too. Her nephew lived with her during the time she and Jose were dating and said, from all his observations, their relationship was pretty normal. Her other loved ones said similar things.
But Pamela was under a lot of stress by this point. Due to the 2008 recession, the value of one of her real estate investments properties had fallen quite a bit. Jose would later say that Pamela was extremely distressed about bills and other financial issues.
On Thursday, February 12, 2009, Pamela called her mom, Thelma Butler, and said she and Jose wanted to take her out to dinner the following Saturday for Valentine’s Day. Later that evening, security footage at Pamela’s house showed both she and Jose going inside. She was seen again on the footage that night when she went out to check her mail, then went right back inside. That was the last time she was seen coming out of the house.
According to Jose’s initial story, Pamela broke up with him the next day. He said he was completely taken aback by this because she never gave him a reason for the breakup or any indication in the previous days or weeks that she’d even wanted to. At her request, he got his stuff and left the house, claiming that was the last time he saw her. Over the course of that weekend, he reportedly re-entered her home multiple times, claiming he was retrieving the rest of his things.
Pamela didn’t show up for the Valentine’s Day dinner with her mom that Saturday. At first, Thelma Butler wasn’t too worried, figuring her daughter just wanted space. But when Pamela failed to show for another family dinner a few days later, Thelma and Pamela’s brother, Derrick, went to her house to see what was going on.
Right away, they noticed several red flags. The doors were locked but the alarm system was off. One of the windows in the house was unlocked and the blinds on that window were up — something her family claimed she’d never do because it would allow people to see inside her house.
And there were several other odd things. Pamela’s bedsheets had been taken from her bed and her wallet, car keys and purse were missing — though both of her cars were still in the driveway. There were also real estate files on the floor, very uncharacteristic of Pamela’s ‘clean freak’ personality. Thelma Butler called the police.
Jose Rodriguez-Cruz was suspected of being involved from pretty early on. Early articles covering the case said he had a ‘history of violence against women.’ One source said he’d threatened one of his female bosses, but other didn’t give any specifics. Still, he was the last person to see Pamela alive — and if they really had broken up like he claimed, he also had a motive.
Police searched Jose’s apartment, seized his car and some of his other belongings and questioned him. Jose maintained his innocence and said nothing would be found that showed he was responsible.
Pamela’s brother, Derrick, also pressed Jose for answers. Jose told Derrick that Pamela had broken up with him because he wanted to stay in touch with his ex-girlfriend’s daughter and Pamela didn’t like that. Derrick was skeptical of this because Pamela liked kids.
But despite everyone’s suspicions, there wasn’t much that could be done. Other than the red flags and things out of place, not much else was found in Pamela’s home and subsequent searches in the area also turned up no new clues. With no body and very little evidence, Pamela’s case soon went cold. In 2016, she was declared legally dead by a judge.
Around July of 2017, the case was looked at again with fresh eyes. Led by Detective Michael Fulton, police did a deep dive into Jose’s past, which included more allegations of domestic violence. It’s not clear just what they found, but it was apparently enough. In late September of 2017, Jose Rodriguez-Cruz was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He initially continued to maintain his innocence, but eventually confessed to strangling Pamela and slipping her body out of the house through a rear window. Derrick Butler believes Jose killed Pamela because she broke up with him and he couldn’t handle it. Her family also thinks he slipped her body through a first floor window out of view of the security cameras.
In early October, Jose pled guilty to second degree murder. He would get a 12 year sentence with five years probation; in exchange, he had to make a “good faith effort,” according to NBC Washington, to lead investigators to her remains.
Jose led police to the median of I-95 in Stafford County, Virginia. On December 8, 2017, Pamela’s partial remains were found near the road. The next day, it was announced that investigators would not be searching for the rest of her body. Due to construction and drainage on the road, it was thought that digging any further would be too risky. It was also likely that the construction had destroyed or moved her remains from their original spot, making them that much more difficult to locate and recover.
But there is an epilogue of sorts here. While looking for Pamela’s remains in Virginia, investigators were told about a set of unidentified remains that had been found on the same stretch of road in 1991. In 2018, these remains were positively identified as those of Jose’s first wife.
Marta Rodriguez was 28 years old when she was last seen at a bus stop in Alexandria, Virginia in April 1989. She and Jose were estranged when she went missing, and he’d been arrested a few weeks earlier after she claimed he assaulted her. The charges were dropped when Marta failed to show up for a court date to testify against him; she went missing a week later. Her case was closed in 2000 when a woman with her name was located in Florida. However, this was actually the sister of Jose’s second wife; she had been posing as Marta, presumably at Jose’s request. Years later, when Jose had Thanksgiving dinner with Pamela Butler’s family, he told them that his first wife had gone missing but had later been found. They didn’t assume anything nefarious about it at the time.
In 2019, Jose was charged with first degree murder in Marta’s death. He pled guilty to second degree murder in 2020, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2021.