Police dig up yard, but don't find missing Delco mom

Investigators dug up this yard on Lafayette Avenue in Collingdale but found no remains. Search dogs also failed.
Investigators dug up this yard on Lafayette Avenue in Collingdale but found no remains. Search dogs also failed. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff)
Posted: June 26, 2013

Delaware County investigators on Tuesday dug up the yard of Melissa Ortiz-Rodriguez in their continuing search for the Collingdale woman, who has been missing for more than two months.

After investigators spent more than two hours at the scene, no human remains were found. The search involved a dozen or more county detectives and a team of police dogs.

"Melissa's body is not anywhere on this property," Collingdale Police Chief Robert Adams said. The case is classified as a missing person investigation, he said.

Ortiz-Rodriguez, 30, had planned to travel to Newark, N.J., on April 19 for a weekend visit with friends but didn't show up. Her estranged husband, Jose Rodriguez, reported her missing four days later after she failed to show up for a new job and to pick up their two daughters from school.

Ortiz-Rodriguez had discovered that her husband had another family in Ocean Township, N.J., when a bill for an infant car seat and bottles arrived at their home. When she confronted Rodriguez, he moved out.

Police have conducted searches of the neighborhood talking to residents.

During one search, neighbors told police that several weeks ago, about 12:30 a.m., they saw Jose Rodriguez digging in the yard. The neighbors said Rodriguez's behavior was "odd," according to court documents.

Police then enlisted the help of a dog trained in human-remains detection to walk near the home. The nine-year-old Labrador, Stache, twice "became aggressive and was interested in gaining entry" to the front of the home and the side yard. The dog did not show interest in any other homes on the street, according to court documents.

Based on the signal from the dog, investigators requested and served a search warrant to dig in the property.

Police have served a number of warrants in their quest to find the woman, including those for Jose Rodriguez's work and personal vehicles.

On Tuesday, neighbors and reporters gathered in front of the home as a dozen investigators worked under the hot sun. Four German shepherds from Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania were at the scene. At least two were brought onto the property to examine the search area.

Adams called the case frustrating for investigators who have "a couple hundred years of experience."

"They know what they are doing," he said.

The borough has enlisted the help of county detectives and the FBI in the search for Ortiz-Rodriguez.

Police said they removed a soil sample for further testing.

Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-313-8111, mschaefer@phillynews.com or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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