Disappearance of Bethany Decker

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Coordinates: 38°59′36″N 77°29′06″W / 38.9934°N 77.4851°W / 38.9934; -77.4851

Bethany Decker
A Caucasian woman with shoulder length dark hair and brown eyes, lit from just above the frame, wearing a black and white striped top with a V-neck cut, looks at the camera with her head tilted slightly. Behind her is the interior of a restaurant.
Image of Decker distributed at the time of her disappearance in 2011
Born
Bethany Anne Littlejohn

(1989-05-13) May 13, 1989 (age 29)
DisappearedJanuary 29, 2011 (aged 21)
Ashburn, Virginia, United States
StatusMissing for 8 years and 21 days
ResidenceAshburn, Virginia, United States
CitizenshipAmerican
OccupationWaitress
Known forDisappearing while five months pregnant
Height4 ft 11 in (150 cm)
Weight130 lb (59 kg)
Spouse(s)Emile Decker
Children1

On January 29, 2011, Bethany Decker (born Bethany Anne Littlejohn;[1] May 13, 1989) left her husband's parents' home in Maryland and returned to her apartment in Ashburn, Virginia. Her boyfriend, Ronald Roldan, says he saw her there later that day. She has not been seen since.

While she did not show up at her job or classes she took at nearby George Mason University, her absence was not noted for another three weeks, since messages to her friends purportedly from her continued to be posted on her Facebook account.[1][2] After her family noted her absence otherwise, they found her car parked near her apartment. Apart from the Facebook posts, there had been no other evidence she had done anything since the day she was last seen. They reported her missing to Loudoun County police.

Decker was five months pregnant at the time of her disappearance. Extensive searches have found no trace of her or the child she might have given birth to. Roldan, who had a criminal record prior to the disappearance,[3] is considered a person of interest in the case. In 2015, he was arrested in North Carolina and charged with the attempted murder of another girlfriend after she survived several gunshot wounds he allegedly inflicted on her during an incident in 2014; he has not said anything about the Decker case. After she recovered, the victim claimed on the Dr. Phil show that he had made statements to her that might implicate him in Decker's disappearance.[4] The incident has also been the subject of a segment of the Investigation Discovery channel series Disappeared.[5] Roldan pled guilty to two lesser charges in 2016; after he serves his sentence, he will be deported to his native Bolivia.

Background[edit]

A native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Decker attended George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax after graduating high school. She majored in global and economic change[6] while working full-time. During her time there, she became pregnant by Emile Decker, an Army National Guardsman.[3] The two married in 2009; their son was born six months later. Decker was often deployed to Afghanistan with his unit for months at a time. During those times, his wife often left the boy with her in-laws in Columbia, Maryland, while she worked and attended classes.[3]

While working at a Centreville Italian restaurant, she met Ronald Roldan, a Bolivian immigrant[7] then around 30,[8] and began an extramarital affair with him.[9] By late 2010, there were strains in the Deckers' marriage; Bethany moved to a separate apartment in Ashburn, Virginia. The relationship with Roldan soon followed, and he moved in with her.[3] According to her family, she quickly found that he was abusive, possessive, and controlling. Several times a day, he demanded that she send him a picture of herself from her cellphone to show who she was with. Her parents began developing a plan to get her out of the relationship.[9] By the end of the year, she was pregnant.[3]

Disappearance[edit]

In January 2011, Decker came back from his deployment for a month-long leave. Near the end of that period, he and Bethany went on a vacation to Hawaii for a week. They returned on January 28 and spent the night at the Columbia, Maryland home of his parents, who were unaware of the couple's marital difficulties.[3]

The next morning, Emile saw her before she went back to the Ashburn apartment. Roldan said he saw her there later that afternoon. Since then no one else is known to have seen her. During that day, she called her employer to confirm her work schedule for the coming week, the last known contact she has had with anyone other than her husband or boyfriend.[9]

On February 2, Emile's leave ended and he returned to Afghanistan. Friends who came to see him off at the airport noted that unlike previous such occasions, Bethany was not there. They attributed her absence to the couple's marital problems.[1]

Investigation[edit]

Friends and family say Bethany did her best to keep in contact with them. But due to Bethany's busy life, balancing her classes in what was to be her final semester at GMU with a full-time job, they had gotten used to not hearing from her for several days at a time, so they were not worried as February 2011 began without any news from her.[10] However, later in the month several of her friends called her mother, Kim Nelson, saying that they had received messages from her via her Facebook account that did not seem to them to have come from Bethany.[2]

By February 19, not having heard from her daughter herself, Nelson asked her parents, who lived near Ashburn, to drive by and see if she was there. Bethany's Hyundai was still out front, but it was parked at an unusual angle, with one tire flat, and noticeably dusty. This was not the condition it had been in one week earlier, when the grandparents had last driven by. No one answered when they knocked on the door.[2]

When Bethany did not answer the door, her grandparents called Loudoun County police and reported her missing. Their investigation found that she had not used her bank accounts or cell phone since the last day she was seen, nor had she reported to work or attended her classes.[1]

Investigators at first focused on Emile and Roldan, since both of them might have had a motive to harm Bethany due to the love triangle they were involved in. With the help of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID), they were able to reach Emile at his remote post in Afghanistan and talk to him on the phone.[11] Later they were able to have him return to the U.S., where he spoke with police at length and took a lie detector test.[9]

Roldan had moved out of the apartment shortly after Decker's disappearance, since the lease had expired,[12] and gone to live with his mother in Centreville. He told police that he had just assumed that she had gone back to live with her family when she failed to return.[5] But investigators became more interested in him when they learned that he had a prior criminal record, including one arrest for identity theft and later convictions for public intoxication and destruction of property after a 2006 incident where he smashed a woman's car window. He also reportedly gave them inconsistent answers to questions about when he had seen the Hyundai parked outside the apartment.[3][13]

In March, police searched a field near the apartment complex.[14] They obtained a search warrant for Roldan's current residence,[10] specifying murder as the possible criminal offense on the affidavits. Among the items seized for forensic examination were several cell phones, a laptop computer and some documents.[3]

However, police were not able to develop any evidence from this material that might have helped them locate Bethany. Roldan later stopped cooperating with the investigation; he has subsequently been described by law enforcement as a person of interest.[13] Emile Decker later obtained a divorce from his missing wife. It has since been reported that he will no longer talk with investigators unless his lawyer, who says his client has nothing to hide, is also present.[9] No record was ever found suggesting that Bethany had given birth by her expected due date later that summer,[1] although Loudoun County police distributed to the public pictures of what she might look like near the end of a pregnancy.[12]

"We feel we have probably interviewed folks in this investigation already that probably have information that we would like to have and have been reluctant to hand that information over yet," county sheriff Steve Simpson told a local newspaper later in 2011. "So, we're hopeful that as the days go by that they'll realize that if they have information, no matter how insignificant they think it is, they will give it to us."[13]

A year later, Roldan made his only public statements on the case, through his attorney. "My client remains hopeful and prays daily that Bethany will come home," said Andi Geloo on his behalf. She said he had cooperated with investigators. "He has complete confidence they're working hard on the case."[15]

In late 2012 the Investigation Discovery channel series Disappeared visited the area to produce a segment on the case. Producers interviewed Bethany's friends and family, newspaper reporters who had covered the story, and law enforcement.[16] One of the journalists interviewed speculated that the show was interested in the case because Bethany was pregnant at the time of her disappearance, and involved in a love triangle, "so there are a couple of ways this could go." The episode aired at the end of November.[5]

On the third anniversary of Bethany's disappearance, Nelson challenged Roldan to take a lie detector test. "I would like to hear what happened," she told Washington-area news radio station WTOP-FM. "I'd like him to join the polygraph list like the rest of us did. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about." Geloo in response repeated that Roldan had answered all questions he was asked during the original investigation and was innocent of any crime that may have been committed.[17]

2014 Roldan arrest and trial[edit]

Roldan remained in northern Virginia for several years after Bethany's disappearance. In 2014 he began another relationship with Vickey Willoughby, a woman he met in a Manassas restaurant. She said that Roldan later grew controlling, and she attempted to flee the relationship by moving to Pinehurst, North Carolina a few months later, but he found out and followed her there.[18]

Their relationship turned violent. During an argument at the house in November, Willoughby pulled out a handgun she had hidden in the living room to protect herself. She was able to shoot Roldan twice, although he continued to struggle, and eventually gained control of the gun himself, shooting Willoughby three times, once in the head.[8]

Both survived, although Willoughby lost one of her eyes to the head wound. She was not charged since investigators believed she had been acting in self-defense; he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a female and discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling. After being released from the hospital, he was taken to Moore County jail[8] and held on $1 million bail.[18]

Detectives from Loudoun County visited Roldan in jail to ask if he was now interested in speaking with them about Bethany's disappearance again; he referred them to his attorney. In April 2015, he was additionally charged with attempted murder over the incident with Willoughby.[13][18] His attorney said he intended to plead not guilty to the charges. Shortly afterwards, Willoughby appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil devoted to the Decker case, and she said that Roldan had told her, during their fight the previous November, he could "make people disappear."[9]

In May 2016, after some of the evidence in the case had been suppressed, Roldan accepted a plea bargain from prosecutors. He pled guilty to two felony assault charges and was sentenced to six-to-eight years in prison. After his sentence is completed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin deportation proceedings against him.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Bethany Anne Decker". The Charley Project. April 6, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Bethany Decker: Military Wife Goes Missing While Husband Deployed Overseas". Crime Watch Daily. October 6, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Nancy Grace". CNN. March 10, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  4. ^ Massimo, Rick (March 31, 2015). "N.C. woman says she can implicate boyfriend in Bethany Decker disappearance". WTOP-FM. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Bethany is Gone". Investigation Discovery. November 26, 2012. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  6. ^ "No Leads For Missing Ashburn Woman". InsideNoVA.com. November 30, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Owens, Crystal (May 16, 2016). "Person of interest in missing Ashburn woman's case pleads guilty to shooting girlfriend". Loudoun Times Mirror. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Embrey, Tom (November 13, 2014). "Pinehurst Man Charged in Double Shooting". The Pilot. Pinehurst, NC. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Donelan, Jennifer (April 28, 2015). "Gone Without a Trace: Search for local pregnant mom missing for 4 years". WJLA-TV. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Owens, Crystal (March 7, 2011). "Investigators search field near missing Ashburn woman's home". Loudoun Times-Mirror. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  11. ^ Goldman, Russell (March 3, 2011). "Soldier Questioned After Pregnant Wife Disappears". ABC News. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  12. ^ a b Owens, Crystal (August 5, 2011). "Missing Ashburn woman due to give birth Sunday". Loudoun Times-Mirror. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d Owens, Crystal (April 1, 2015). "Person of interest in Bethany Decker disappearance charged with attempted murder in North Carolina". Loudoun Times-Mirror. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  14. ^ Owens, Crystal (March 24, 2011). "Investigators search home of missing woman's boyfriend". Loudoun Times-Mirror. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  15. ^ Augenstein, Neal (April 24, 2012). "Boyfriend of missing pregnant woman breaks silence". WTOP-FM. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  16. ^ Geddie, John (November 24, 2012). "Bethany Decker disappearance to be featured on Investigation Discovery". Loudoun Times-Mirror. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  17. ^ Augenstein, Neal (January 28, 2014). "Mother of missing Bethany Decker to boyfriend: Take the polygraph test". WTOP-FM. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  18. ^ a b c "Boyfriend of Missing Mother Now Accused of Attempted Murder in North Carolina". Centreville Independent. April 3, 2015. Archived from the original on February 4, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.

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