Missing Camden woman found slain, family questions police response

Fatima Perez
Fatima Perez
Posted: May 16, 2014

Fatima Perez's family knew something was wrong when she didn't call Monday afternoon - as she did every day - to make sure someone had picked up her 7-year-old son, Dennis, from school.

They reported her missing that afternoon to Camden County police, fearing that Perez, a 41-year-old mother from Nicaragua who works two jobs and had never gone missing before, was in danger.

The police, Perez's family said, suggested that she had an unseen drug addiction. Or that she willfully left town with her landscaper, who was believed to be driving her from her Camden home to Delanco so she could buy a car. Neither was true, they said.

Police called it a missing-person case.

"There isn't anything at this time that indicates otherwise," Sgt. Julio Rios said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Perez was found dead in a shallow grave in Monroe Township. Police said she had been kidnapped, as her family feared, before she was asphyxiated somewhere in Camden County.

Two men were detained in connection with her death but had not been charged Wednesday. Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk declined to say whether they were the same men whose identities police had released to the public Tuesday but said, "We're no longer looking for them."

The two whose names police released are Carlos Alicea-Antonetti, 36, Perez's landscaper, and Ramon A. Ortiz, 57, who worked with Alicea-Antonetti.

Perez's family members, in interviews Tuesday and Wednesday, said that they had insisted to police she was in danger but that officers were initially slow to react.

"We were kind of frustrated with the police at first," said Alex Dickerson, 31, of Camden, who is engaged to Perez's sister. The family, Dickerson said, had to ask police multiple times to check her bank statements to see whether someone had used her credit cards.

The family also did investigative work, pulling up Perez's cellphone records online and driving to the Hot Spot, a Camden restaurant to which a call from her phone was placed. An employee told them a man had placed an order through the phone and picked it up Monday morning.

That information - and the fact that Perez never called to ensure her son was picked up from school later in the day - led Perez's family to believe she was in peril.

On Tuesday, nearly 24 hours after Perez's family reported her missing, police said they weren't sure she was in danger.

However, Faulk said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that his office had assigned a detective to the case within six hours of Perez's being reported missing.

By Wednesday morning, as the search continued, frustration mounted from the family about the investigation.

"We want to know what's going on, but they're not saying anything to us," said Perez's sister, Jessy Pena, 31, shortly before learning about Perez's death from police. "We all feel helpless."

Police Chief Scott Thomson defended the investigation before walking to Perez's home in the 400 block of North 41st Street to talk to her relatives.

"We investigated this as aggressively as possible," he said. Later, after the news conference, Thomson said he completely understood the family's feeling of helplessness.

Asked why police had said the day before that nothing indicated Perez's disappearance was more than a missing persons case, Thomson said not all information can be revealed during open investigations. He declined to say when police determined foul play was involved.

Perez's body was found around 11 a.m. near Clayton Road between Corkery and Tuckahoe Roads.

A motive has not been established, but Perez's family said she had $8,000 in cash when she disappeared. They said that she planned to use the money to buy a black Toyota RAV4 in Delanco, and that Alicea-Antonetti was to drive her there.

Alicea-Antonetti did Perez's landscaping for about two years, and there didn't appear to be any problems, her family said.

They described Perez as a kind, hardworking woman who mostly kept to herself. She worked two jobs weekdays to support her two children - helping take care of an elderly woman in the mornings, and then cleaning the offices of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in Mount Laurel with her sister in the afternoon.

"She works so much that we hardly see her," family friend Ruben Acevedo, 46, of Camden, said.

Pink flowers stood behind a green garden fence at Perez's house Wednesday as family and friends gathered to mourn. Earlier, they had printed dozens of "Missing Person" fliers, with a picture of Perez in a red dress taken on her 40th birthday.

Now there was no longer a need for them.

"To hear something like this, it's crazy," Acevedo said. "Who would want to hurt somebody like that? It doesn't make any sense."


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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