SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of one of the city’s most infamous unsolved crimes.
On Aug. 13, 1995, someone abducted 6-year-old Rosie Tapia from the child’s ground-level bedroom window at the old Hartland Apartments, 1616 W. Snow Queen Place (1675 South), took her across the street to the banks of the nearby Jordan River surplus canal, sexually assaulted her and then murdered her.
No one has ever been arrested in the case and no charges have been filed.
“My thoughts every year is that I want closure for my daughter, Rosie,” her mother, Lewine Tapia said Thursday. “It’s harder for me every year, especially now that I’ve lost another daughter. It just hurts so bad. I just want to find the person who took her, make them pay for what they did to her.”
On Thursday, Tapia reflected on the sad anniversary as she stood with members of the Utah Cold Case Coalition in front of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building.
The coalition, formed in 2017, is headed by Salt Lake attorney Karra Porter and is dedicated to solving Tapia’s murder.
“This is a sad day,” said Jason Jensen, a private investigator and coalition co-founder, who has been working on finding Rosie’s killer since before the coalition was formed.
Over the years, the coalition has presented new clues to the public in hopes that someone would step forward with the key piece of evidence to solve the quarter-century-old mystery. In 2019, members hoped that a Barbie might spark new leads. That same year, a new sketch of a possible suspect was also released. In 2017, the coalition announced it had new, promising leads into the investigation. The family has continued to hold press conferences to keep the case alive in the public eye.
Despite another year gone by with no arrests, Tapia said Thursday she believes they are getting closer.
“I was always hoping that through the years something would come up and we would solve her case. And I’ve still not given up hope that one day we will solve her case. And I just know that there’s somebody out there who knows something, but they don’t come forward to give us that information,” she said. “I’m really confident … that we’re going to find the person who took my daughter.”
The 25th anniversary of Rosie’s death is especially painful this year, she said, because her daughter Emilia “Emo” Elizondo died of natural causes in April at the age of 43. Elizondo was babysitting Rosie on the night that she disappeared.
“She lived her whole life with guilt. Not guilt of actual culpability, but she carried on her back the belief that if she would have slept in bed with her or let her sleep on the couch in the living room like Rosie wanted, or if she had left the lights on instead of turning them off, maybe, just maybe, this killer wouldn’t have had the nerve to go through the window,” Jensen said.
For a while, there was speculation that Elizondo knew more about what happened that night than she was telling. There were rumors that Elizondo invited people over to their home for a party or a get-together with friends that night, and that possibly one of those partygoers had something to do with Rosie’s abduction.
But Jensen said evidence has proven that to be false — and Elizondo reiterated that the rumors were false in an interview with police in recent months.
“That was one of the last things she made clear to me before she died. She had no reason to keep things secret on the investigation. ... She did not withhold any information that would have steered this case differently,” he said.
Tapia also talked to Elizondo in February while at lunch, and said she, too, does not believe there was a party that night.
She told me, ‘Mom, I don’t have a secret. I don’t know why they keep saying I have a secret.’ She goes, ‘If I had a secret I would tell you. I don’t have a secret.’ And she cried. She cried as she told me,” Tapia said. “I know deep down that if Emo had a secret, she would have told me. Or she would have told her sister or brother or somebody in the family what had happened.”
Tapia became emotional herself as she recounted how Elizondo was hospitalized before her death, but for the two weeks leading up to her passing she couldn’t see her.
“It just tore me apart that we have a family that is so close, (and) we didn’t get to say goodbye to her,” she said.
Also on Thursday, Porter used the anniversary to announce a new program by the coalition to help identify unidentified bodies in the Mountain West. The Rosie Tapia Identification Project, or R-TIP, will provide DNA testing and genetic genealogy to any law enforcement agency in the Mountain West who has an unidentified persons case, at no cost.
The goal, Porter said, is to help bring closure to families of missing loved ones.
“So there are people out there who are wondering what happened to their loved one and it turns out that the answer is in somebody’s evidence locker,” she said.
In Utah there are 32 cases of unidentified remains found in the Beehive State, Porter said. Two other western states have even more cases: Nevada with 301 and Colorado with 85. Idaho has 23 cases of unidentified remains, and Montana has 20.