BELL GARDENS, Calif. (AP) â€” The California woman who says she was kidnapped by her mother’s boyfriend a decade ago appeared happy at her birthday party last month, but became more distant and private after reuniting with her mother, a neighbor said.
“She was different with us after that. She was more serious, more distant,” Maria Azucena Reyes said Thursday.
The woman’s story of being drugged, kidnapped and forced to marry her alleged captor began to emerge Monday, when she went to a police station in working-class Bell Gardens and accused the man of domestic violence. During that conversation, officers learned of her connection to a 2004 missing-persons case in Santa Ana, about 20 miles away.
Santa Ana police said they interviewed both Isidro Garcia, 41, and the woman and said they concluded that he had kidnapped her after a fight with her mother, who was his girlfriend at the time.
After holding her captive, Garcia moved at least four times and gave her multiple fake identities to hide her from family and authorities, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
Garcia was charged Thursday with five felonies, including rape and kidnapping to commit a sexual offense. He remained jailed on $1 million bail.
The woman, whom police did not identify, told investigators she often thought about escaping but fear paralyzed her. She came to the United States illegally in 2004, spoke no English at the time, and said Garcia used that to isolate her, telling her that if she contacted authorities, she would be deported.
The woman also claimed that Garcia beat her when she twice tried to escape.
“I couldn’t do nothing. I did what he wants. I don’t have life these 10 years,” the woman told KABC-TV on Wednesday night. The station didn’t identify her because she’s an alleged victim of sexual abuse.
The woman told investigators that she was too scared to go to authorities until she was recently reunited with her mother, police said.
But Garcia’s lawyer contended that the woman lied about being abused because the couple is separating.
His client never brutalized the woman or kept her from leaving, Charles Frisco said.
“People have problems, people break up and sometimes get very belligerent during the divorce process, the separation process, and say things that aren’t true,” Frisco said.
Police said Garcia forced the woman to marry in 2007 and fathered a daughter with her who is now 3.
In April, the woman got in touch with her mother after finding her sister on Facebook, according to Bertagna.
The mother showed the daughter old news articles to prove that she had gone to the police and filed a missing-persons report, Bertagna said.
“The mother was able to show her that she was, in fact, looking for her,” Bertagna said.
When reached by phone, the woman’s mother told The Associated Press that police told her not to speak with any media.
On Mother’s Day, the woman posted a photo on Facebook of herself “after almost 10 years of not seeing my mom and my little sister.” ”I love them,” she wrote of another photo of the reunion.
Her Facebook page, confirmed as hers by neighbors, portrayed a happy family; on May 1, she updated her profile picture to include a family shot at a park. She frequently posted about the health of her young daughter, who suffered allergies and some fevers. Neighbors said she called Garcia “mi amor,” or “my love,” and was trying to conceive again.
“People say he was controlling, but I don’t see him (as) smart enough to do that,” neighbor Lourdes Hernandez said. “On the contrary, she used to manage the money. … He wasn’t that smart. She was.”
Reyes said Garcia drove his wife to see her mother in Anaheim in subsequent visits after the reunion.
The criminal charges all date to a three-month period in 2004 around the time she went missing.
If the case goes to trial, prosecutors will have to convince a jury that the man neighbors saw as a hard-working, church-going man was an abusive rapist.
Garcia and the woman both worked for a janitorial company cleaning a building that houses some offices of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Neighbors said he also held a second job and collected recyclables to earn extra money. They said he recently bought his wife a minivan.
Even the woman agreed that Garcia appeared to be devoted.
“He worked hard for me and my daughter and he bought everything I want,” she said. “But I didn’t want that. I need love of my family, not things.”
Prosecutors said it doesn’t matter that the woman seemed these days to be a happy, loving wife and mother who never said a word about being held captive.
“Over the course of many, many years, her freedoms may have increased, but she was still mentally his captive,” said Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for Orange County’s district attorney. “I’m sure the neighbors are stating what they saw, but what was going on privately in the home was different. This was prolonged and extended emotional, physical and sexual abuse.”
Other neighbors said they sensed not all was well.
“He was always watching, you know, when she was outside, he was looking through the window,” said neighbor Maribel Garcia, who used to babysit the woman’s baby. “She would just look at him up and then she would go right back in.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus and Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, Raquel Maria Dillon in Santa Ana, Justin Pritchard and Alicia Chang in Los Angeles, and Edwin Tamara in Bell Gardens; and researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York.