Sheriff's Office suspects foul play in Bluffton woman's disappearance

rlurye@islandpacket.comDecember 11, 2013 

Margarita Gonzalez-Almazan and Osman Galicia-Escobedo

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Foul play is suspected in the disappearance of a 47-year-old Bluffton woman after officers located her boyfriend's car in Savannah, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office reported Wednesday.

On Friday, investigators were told a 2001 Dodge Stratus belonging to 40-year-old Osman Galicia-Escobedo of Bluffton had been found by Savannah authorities abandoned on a rural road near Keller's Flea Market on the city's west side.

Galicia-Escobedo is a person of interest and is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Margarita Gonzalez-Almazan, 47, last seen at a family party she hosted the evening of Nov. 30, according to a news release.

The Sheriff's Office checked the vehicle for forensic evidence before impounding it.

On the evening of Dec. 2, deputies tracked Gonzalez-Almazan's cellphone to the Chechessee River bridge on S.C. 170 in Okatie, but a search of the area by K-9 units and marine- and beach-patrol boats turned up no other evidence.

Officers also have found the earrings Gonzalez-Almazan wore to the party, her daughter, Dayra Manrique, said Wednesday.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner would not comment further on the investigation.

Manrique first noticed something wrong with her mother the day before she disappeared.

She should not have had to coax her mother to join the party Gonzalez-Almazan had insisted on throwing at the Shady Glen community center.

Birthdays were important to Gonzalez-Almazan, and it was her grandson's sixth.

"He's not always going to be 6," Gonzalez-Almazan had told her 23-year-old daughter.

But on the afternoon of Nov. 30, Gonzalez-Almazan arrived late and idled in the driveway with Galicia-Escobedo, until Manrique went and prodded them into coming inside. In recent weeks, the couple's cloying affection for each other had been replaced by bitter arguments, Manrique said.

The rest of the night, Gonzalez-Almazan smiled and laughed, but Manrique was sure that knots of worry were just beneath the surface.

"Something just wasn't right," Manrique said. "Faking it, you know. Being happy, but she was faking it."

Still, Manrique was not prepared to find only a locked bedroom door Dec. 1, when she drove to Shady Glen and walked up her mother's rose bush-lined driveway and into the living room warmed by family portraits and prints of palmetto trees. The pair had agreed to pick at leftovers from the party.

Her mother did not come home Dec. 1, did not meet her friend of 15 years for their weekly coffee the next morning, and did not pick up her 6-year-old grandson from school that afternoon.

The slow drip of information has turned Manrique's sadness into frustration, she said. She spends long hours with her two brothers in the home the men shared with Gonzalez-Almazan.

"We are trying to stay unified," said her son, 28-year-old Jonathan Manrique.

They have also started to organize the many friends and relatives who have grown attached to Gonzalez-Almazan over the nearly two decades she has lived in Bluffton. One night, the community prayed for her safe return at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton. On Tuesday, they began papering the region with posters.

Most of the time, though, their efforts seem inadequate, Manrique said.

"We don't know where to look for her," she said. "Nobody says anything."

On Dec. 7, another birthday came and went -- that of Manrique's boyfriend. Over a solemn dinner out, the family shared thoughts of the cookout Gonzalez-Almazan had been planning, Jonathan Manrique said.

"It didn't feel right to celebrate."

Video: Family of missing Bluffton woman looks to community for clues (2:37)

Jonathan Manrique and his sister, Dayra Manrique, both of Bluffton, talk about their mother Ded. 11, 2013, at their mother's home. Their mother, Margarita Gonzalez-Almazan, 47, of Bluffton has been missing since Dec. 1. She was last seen with her boyfriend, Osman Galicia-Escobedo, at a family party that she hosted at the Shady Glen community center.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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