OCEAN CITY – Five years after a Virginia man was apparently murdered in his family’s Ocean City condominium, one of the prime suspects has since been deported to his native El Salvador after serving his sentence on a related theft conviction, while a second remains at large as local detectives continue to work the investigation.
Eduardo Masoller, then 52, of Springfield, Va., was reported missing by his family on Feb. 3, 2005 just three days after he and his crew arrived in the resort area for a contracting job. Ocean City police detectives, accompanied by family members, went to Masoller’s condominium on 68th Street and discovered a large knife on the floor as well as a significant amount of blood evidence throughout the unit, the most significant of which was a large pool in one of the unit’s bedrooms.
In June 2005, five months after the disappearance was first reported, a Worcester County Circuit Court judge ruled favorably on a petition to declare Masoller officially deceased, turning the missing persons case into a homicide investigation. Five years later, the victim’s remains have never been found despite an exhaustive search throughout the resort area and across the Lower Shore
While the case remains open and police detectives still chase leads and other tidbits of information, the trail has run cold and one of the prime suspects held for nearly five years on a related auto theft conviction has been deported.
“The case remains open and any piece of information that comes in, no matter how remote, is being followed up on,” said Ocean City Police Public Information Officer Mike Levy. “The detectives are not going to stop investigating this and they are doing everything they can.”
From the beginning, the investigation centered around two main suspects, both of whom were part of Masoller’s contracting crew and were among the last known to see him alive. One of the suspects, Jose Damian Hernandez, was convicted in September 2005 on a theft charge related to the victim’s stolen vehicle, which was later recovered, along with Hernandez, in Columbus, Ohio. Hernandez was sentenced to five years in jail, which would have ended in September 2010, but with credit for the time he served awaiting trial, he has since been released and has been deported to his native El Salvador.
Despite an overwhelming amount of largely circumstantial evidence, state prosecutors could not find reason to hold Hernandez any longer after he completed his sentence on the theft charge and were left with no choice but to allow the prime suspect to be released and later deported.
“I am unaware of any new charges to file against him,” said Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd this week. “There is not probable cause to charge him in the missing person case.”
While disheartened somewhat by Hernandez’s release, police officials realize there was little other than the circumstantial to charge him with Masoller’s assumed murder.
“We understand there is little more to be done from a prosecution standpoint because you can’t bring a guy to trial without sufficient evidence,” said Levy. “You only get one chance and you have to do it right the first time.”
Meanwhile, the other main suspect, known to OCPD detectives for a long time only as “Beto,” remains at large and could provide a vital piece of missing information in the case. In 2006, resort detectives learned the true identity of “Beto” and are actively seeking the suspect. Beto has been identified as Jose Roberto Orellana Romero, 33, with no fixed address. Romero’s most recent address available is in Columbus, Ohio, where Hernandez was ultimately arrested on the theft charges, but resort detectives believe he could have fled to his native El Salvador.
“There are a couple of big problems with this case,” said Levy. “For one, the primary suspects are illegal immigrants and it’s difficult to find information on them. Also, and more importantly, we have never found the remains. It’s unfortunate because this is a great family, and we’re doing everything we can to give them peace and closure, but we keeping hitting brick walls and we have to chip away at them little by little.”
Levy said yesterday OCPD detectives continue to work any and all leads in the case and could soon solicit the help of the nationally televised series “America’s Most Wanted” to help locate Romero and/or provide any other information regarding the case.
“We’re trying to get ‘America’s Most Wanted’ involved in this,” he said. “Somebody out there somewhere knows about this and might be encouraged to come forward with evidence that might help us resolve this.”
In the meantime, the OCPD continues to urge local residents to come forward with any information. In the years since the crime, investigators have conducted exhaustive searches of the remote areas near Ocean City but have been unable to locate the body. For the past three-plus years, investigators have solicited the public’s help in locating Masoller’s remains. They are hoping someone involved in hunting, hiking or other related outdoor activities may have seen something in a remote area of the woods or fields around the resort area they may have previously discounted as trash or miscellaneous debris.
Masoller and his co-workers, Hernandez and “Beto,” now known as Romero, arrived in Ocean City on Jan. 31, 2005 with the victim’s work van and a rented U-Haul truck both filled with tools. Witnesses placed Masoller and Hernandez at the Bull on the Beach restaurant on 94th Street on the evening of Jan. 31, the last time investigators believe Masoller was seen alive.
After being notified by family that he was missing, police entered Masoller’s unit and noticed a kitchen knife on the floor near a sliding glass door. Further investigation revealed a “significant” amount of blood evidence throughout the unit, the most substantial of which was a large pool of blood on the floor in one of the bedrooms. All of the bedding and linens, as well as a large mattress from a Fouton bed were missing from the apartment.
The first real break in the case came when Masoller’s van, and Hernandez, turned up in Columbus, Ohio. Evidence shows Hernandez and Romero gassed up the van at the 7-Eleven in Ocean Pines early in the morning on Feb. 2, 2005 and a trail of credit card slips forged with Masoller’s signature showed Hernandez and the van making their way to Masoller’s Virginia home, where Hernandez returned the credit card to the victim’s family, stating Masoller had given him the card to use to get back to Virginia to get more workers. Hernandez later pawned Masoller’s tools at a Virginia pawnshop before being caught with the missing man’s van in Columbus, Ohio.
Anyone with information regarding the case or the location of the remains is urged to contact the OCPD Criminal Investigation Division at 410-723-6604.