UPDATE: The Hamptons mom who vanished last month was found dead Saturday in some woods close to her home, authorities say.
Southampton police say a hunter discovered the body of Lilia Aucapina hanging on a low branch in a wooded area in Sagaponack that cops and K-9 units searched after she was reported missing.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, Aucapina’s husband, Carlos, was a prime suspect in the beloved housekeeper’s disappearance. Sgt. Lisa Costa said in a statement, however, that cops are still investigating Aucapina’s death but it’s “not believed to be criminal in nature.”
The day Lilia vanished, Carlos Aucapina, 50, confronted her and a male friend in a Wainscott parking lot and accused her of infidelity, relatives told
The Daily Beast. The Aucapinas had been living separately and were going through a divorce. As part of the proceedings, a judge issued Lilia an order of protection.
Police arrested Carlos, a local contractor, twice since the parking lot encounter on charges that he violated the restraining order.
Carlos’ attorney, Colin Astarita, previously indicated Lilia may have harmed herself. The morning she disappeared, she sent a text message to her kids that said, “Remember I’ll always love you,” he said.
“It’s hard for everyone,” Carlos’s sister, Blanca, told The Daily Beast on Sunday. “I would never expect something like this to happen.”
A source close to Lilia's family said they are waiting for a cause of death from the medical examiner and "are not ruling anything out yet." "We don't trust no one at this time—no one," the friend told The Daily Beast. "We need results."
Friends and Hamptons residents are questioning how Lilia was suddenly discovered close to home despite multiple sweeps of the area.
"They went through there more than twice," the source said. "We walked around and nothing. It doesn't make sense."
From the outside, Lilia Aucapina had it all.
Two months before she vanished, the Hamptons house cleaner and her 14-year-old daughter cooked for pediatric cancer patients. Friends said the mother devoted her life to helping others and taught her kids to do the same.
Aucapina and her husband, Carlos, emigrated from Ecuador two decades ago. They lived in a big house with a swimming pool in Sagaponak—home to one of the country’s wealthiest ZIP Codes. Online listings show the home rented for $20,000 a month in the summer.
Their son is in college, set on becoming a doctor. Their daughter won awards for becoming the area’s youngest volunteer at age 8.
But beneath the surface, their American Dream was falling apart. In early October, a judge issued an order of protection as part of the couple’s divorce proceedings. Aucapina went missing days later, after Carlos and her brother confronted her and a younger male friend in a parking lot, accusing them of a having an affair.
Carlos Aucapina and Lilia’s brother, Carlos Parra, could not be reached for comment on the parking lot incident, though it was confirmed by Aucapina’s attorney.
Authorities, who say they have few leads, haven’t provided many details on Lilia “Esperanza” Aucapina’s disappearance. Local searches, which included K-9 units, all-terrain vehicles, and police helicopters, have ceased.
“We haven’t ruled anyone or anything out at this point,” Southampton Town Police Lt. Susan Ralph told The Daily Beast last week.
“If anyone has any information whatsoever, we’d really like to be contacted,” Ralph added. “It’s not just a missing person. This is someone’s family member. This is a mother, a daughter, a sister… hopefully [we can] bring this to a successful conclusion.”
Relatives have been equally mum and declined multiple interview requests. “We don’t know what happened… she just vanished,” Lilia’s niece, Maria Duchi, told reporters at an Oct. 21 press conference—the family’s only time speaking publicly.
“We just don’t believe that she would walk away from her kids, but… we just don’t know,” Duchi said, according to the East Hampton Star. “We believe that she’s safe, that she’s alive. We just have faith.”
The missing-person case was sparked after Carlos Aucapina confronted Lilia and a male friend, identified as Angel Tejeda, outside the Meeting House Lane Medical Practice on Montauk Highway the morning of Oct. 10, court records show.
It’s unclear how Carlos Aucapina, a local contractor, knew his wife’s car was in the medical office’s parking lot that Saturday morning.
Tejeda, who acquaintances say is in his late twenties or early thirties, called police after the husband arrived with Lilia’s brother, Carlos Parra.
The mysterious friend told police Lilia had spent the night with him. She parked her car in the medical center lot, which is a short walk from his home. He said he recently became close with the woman and that her husband, who was jealous, had confronted him in the past, the Star reported.
While Tejeda said Lilia “had no involvement in the altercation,” he told police her brother went after him during the incident.
Parra “started saying bad stuff to Lilia, and he was trying to start a fight with me,” Tejeda said, according to the report. When Tejeda called the cops, both Lilia’s husband and brother left.
Not long after, East Hampton police arrested Carlos Aucapina for allegedly violating the order of protection. Then, days later, Southampton officers arrested him for driving past his wife’s house. Carlos’s attorney, Colin Astarita, said his client is forced to pass his former residence because he moved next door.
Aucapina was twice released on $10,000 bail in the cases, and cops had confiscated his truck and work tools.
Astarita said the Suffolk County family court judge presiding over the couple’s divorce agreed that Carlos could live in the neighboring rental home, and that the order of protection was agreed upon by both sides. He claimed there is no history of violence or threats of violence between the couple.
When asked why the Aucapinas were splitting, Astarita said, “There may have been allegations of infidelity on her part,” and that Lilia wanted the divorce.
The lawyer said he planned to petition the court to allow Carlos to move back home and care for his 14-year-old daughter.
“He has offered police to take a lie detector test,” Astarita told The Daily Beast. “Since we got him out [of jail], he’s been very interested in assisting the police in any way possible. He’s been compiling phone records, bank records… to see if that would help them.”
Detectives appear to be trailing Carlos Aucapina as the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance, according to interviews with family, friends, and his attorney.
A source close to Lilia and her family, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, told The Daily Beast the couple was having problems for more than 14 years.
“[Lilia] has tried to make it work, but he just wouldn’t care or change,” the insider said. “We are witnesses of all this. Carlos Aucapina never cared, but now that he is in trouble, now he acts like he cared.”
The source said Carlos Aucapina “stalked” her when she left the house. Before Lilia Aucapina went missing, Carlos allegedly went to her friends to ask for intel on the “other guy” and asked if Lilia was “being unfaithful.”
“He was harassing her and is a very insecure person,” the family friend told The Daily Beast. “She has tried to divorce him in the past, and he uses the church to get her to go back to him. Carlos hurt her emotionally, and sometimes physically and spiritually.”
The friend said Lilia had enough—leading to the divorce proceedings last month.
“They have been separated before,” the source said. “She has tried to get away from him, but she kept going back for her kids. They mean the world to her. She would have never left those kids. Never!”
But there is also a possibility that Lilia Aucapina harmed herself, according to Carlos’s lawyer. Lilia’s car was found in her driveway. The morning she disappeared, a text message from her phone was sent to her children that said, “Remember I’ll always love you,” Astarita said.
Last Thursday—almost three weeks since Lilia went missing—Daily Beast reporters saw detectives outside the couple’s home. They spoke to a man in a white pickup truck for a pool cleaning business for several minutes before the vehicle drove off.
“This is getting the full attention of detectives involved,” Astarita said. “These are excellent detectives from Southampton, East Hampton, state police… That kind of manpower and not the slightest lead is a mystery.”
The case has also gripped residents of the Hamptons, where the population has dwindled since summer’s end and where missing-person flyers with Lilia’s photo are draped on storefronts and lamp posts.
Post office employees in Sagaponak said Carlos Aucapina came in several times last week to check his post office box. During one visit, he started proclaiming his innocence, without being prompted.
“His eyes were bloodshot,” one worker said, adding that he was repeating, “I didn’t do it.”
“He was very cryptic, kept turning his head,” the staffer continued. “He said, ‘The cops are all over me. The brother is like a bulldog, won’t stop coming after me.’”
“I don’t know what kind of shit she’s into,” Aucapina allegedly told workers of his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Cops believe Lilia Aucapina—described as 5-foot-3, 130 pounds and dressed in a ponytail, blue jeans, brown boots, and black leather jacket—was last seen at the medical office lot around 9 a.m. Her 21-year-old son, who goes to school in upstate New York, reported her missing at 9:20 p.m, the Star reported.
Authorities also said tipsters reported sightings of a woman matching Lilia’s description the day she vanished. The woman was walking along Montauk Highway as far west as Water Mill, cops said.
Sources with knowledge of the case told The Daily Beast detectives investigated security footage at Panera Bread in Bridgehampton, where she was also supposedly spotted around the time she went missing.
The pastor of Lilia’s church, Ministerio Restauración a las Naciones in Southampton, said he last spoke to her the day before she vanished—and that she was supposed to return to the church that night. She never did.
Lilia Aucapina was also scheduled to clean the church the Saturday she disappeared. She never showed up. “Our hope, our faith, is that she’s still alive somewhere,” the minister, Hoover Ariza, told The Daily Beast.
Still, Ariza offered one glimpse into Lilia’s alleged relationship with the younger Tejeda: Tejeda’s mother is supposedly Lilia’s friend.
The Daily Beast contacted a man identified as Tejeda by the church and the Aucapina family. At first, the man said, “I don’t know her well,” and claimed he’d only spoken to Lilia for a “couple months.” He later denied he was Angel Tejeda, then blocked a Daily Beast reporter on Facebook.
Meanwhile, when a reporter knocked on his door, the same man said Angel Tejeda was not home.
On Facebook, the man also appears to use a fake last name. He is a Guatemala native and appears to have moved to East Hampton in recent years. His profile features several photos of the Beatles, psychedelic artwork, and marijuana references, including one image that says “I <3 weed.”
Under the favorite quotes section, the man wrote, “Weed :) jajajajajaja.” One image shows an off-the-charts speedometer with the word “Horny.”
Lilia, who went by her maiden name on Facebook, liked several of Angel’s social media posts since June. They are no longer “friends,” however, on social media.
In June, Lilia posted an image in Spanish, that when translated said, “Do not be afraid of change. It could be that you lose a good thing... but it can also be that you get something better.”
Carlos’s sister Blanca Aucapina said her brother was trying to fix his marriage but believed Lilia was secretly dating someone new.
The morning of the parking lot encounter, Carlos called Lilia’s brother to prove “she has a new boyfriend,” Blanca told The Daily Beast. He waited to approach Lilia and Tejeda until Carlos Parra arrived, she said.
“They were a happy family,” Blanca added. “Everyone knows they went to church every single Sunday. They were a good family. Wherever she is, if she is happy, we want to know. The community, everyone who knows her is worried.”
Christina Oliverio—who runs a community service group called Kids Stock The House— said she’s known Lilia and her children for about five years.
The charity focuses on fundraising for New Hyde Park’s Ronald McDonald House, which is a residence for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, and their families. Oliverio said the Aucapinas are familiar faces there.
Oliverio last saw Lilia in August, when she and her daughter joined a group of volunteers cooking a gourmet meal for 100 families.
Lilia has often driven the roughly two-hour trek from East Hampton to New Hyde Park for the group—even in snowstorms. “She’s driven to us in blizzards, she was that devoted and dedicated,” Oliverio told The Daily Beast.
The Hamptons housekeeper is especially close to her kids, too.
Lilia’s son was so inspired by his mother that he wrote his college essay about Ecuador and their family roots. “She made him go to Ecuador so he could get a feel for how different life is there,” Oliverio said. “He described the conditions, whether it was poverty or difficult times. She wanted him to appreciate it here.”
“I’m just hoping that prayers will bring her safely back,” the heartbroken friend added. “It’s kind of like you’re stuck now. The waiting is very hard, the not knowing.”