For almost twenty years, Rebeca Pena’s family anxiously waited for authorities to track down whoever was responsible for murdering the 26-year-old, before stuffing her body into a weighted suitcase and dumping it in a Miami canal.
On Tuesday, that day finally arrived when authorities arrested Pena’s ex-boyfriend, 45-year-old Berkley Calvin Curtis Jr., for her 2001 death. Pena was last seen on April 11, 2001, after participating as an extra on the set of the 2001 Muhammad Ali biopic. Five days later, her body was discovered by boaters in a floating suitcase—which also had a pair of 25-pound weights and a magazine—in the Biscayne River Canal.
Curtis was being held at Broward County Jail on Wednesday but was expected to be transferred to a jail in Miami-Dade.
“With this news of the arrest of this person, the pain will be less because justice has been served,” Rafael Pena, her father, told CBS Miami. “But the emptiness is still there and won’t go away. Every day we don’t see her here, we cry a little. But we’re satisfied with the life we gave her. I tell everyone, enjoy life with your children, and forgive them, because you don’t know what may happen one day.”
According to Curtis’ arrest warrant, obtained by The Daily Beast, the mother-of-one was last seen leaving the set of Will Smith’s upcoming film, Ali, at around 2:15 a.m. in her white Honda Civic. Her car was later found at her Miramar home.
At the time, she had complained to friends and family that her ex-boyfriend, Curtis, had been “stalking” her and she had filed a protection order against him in Broward County.
“According to Ms. Pena’s father, Ms. Pena was afraid of Curtis and was concerned that he would harm her,” the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said. “Conversations with the victim’s sister, Francis Pena, informed investigators that Curtis had been physically abusive to her sister in the past, citing an incident in November of 1998, where Curtis became violent, choking Rebeca Pena and requiring police intervention. Other confrontative incidents were mentioned, including one mentioned by McPherson Magloire, Rebeca Pena’s boyfriend.”
One of those incidents, according to the warrant, occurred just hours before Pena’s disappearance when Curtis followed her and Magloire to their apartment. Pena also had reported numerous incidents of domestic violence.
After she was reported missing, Miami police visited the home she once shared with Curtis and noticed weights on the patio that were later identified as those in the suitcase.
Then, on April 16, 2001, three men found a suitcase floating in the Biscayne Canal underneath the I-95 overpass. When they pulled it out, they saw blood and immediately waved down police. In addition to the weights, police found a magazine addressed to a Maryland home that Pena once shared with Curtis.
“Based on her condition, we believe she was killed on the day she went missing,” Miami-Dade Police Homicide Detective David Denmark previously said.
The warrant states that authorities tried to interview Curtis but he had obtained an attorney and refused to cooperate. Then, a month after Pena’s death, Curtis’ girlfriend at the time, Wavedo-Jo Wynter, told police she and the 45-year-old went to bed early on the night of the crime—and that the only time he’d left was to go to the grocery store for a few minutes earlier that evening.
Without sufficient evidence and with Wynter’s story making it impossible to arrest Curtis, the case went cold for about 12 years—until police again reached out to Wynter, who now shared a child with Curtis. This time, the warrant states, she changed her story, admitting Curtis had left the apartment for several hours the night of the murder.
After determining that Curtis “no longer had an alibi,” an affidavit states authorities were finally able to make an arrest. Forensic evidence concluded that the weighted plates at his home matched those in the suitcase, and the attorney’s office said there was more evidence, including GPS records, that proved Curtis committed the crime.
“An unsolved homicide gnaws at the heart of every parent and every family member left behind,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. “Each survivor waits for the day that the killer of their loved one is brought to justice. For the Pena family, we believe that day has finally arrived. I want to commend the Miami-Dade Police Department for their hard work and commitment toward bringing the accused killer of Rebeca Pena to justice.”
It is not immediately clear if Curtis has retained an attorney. His former lawyer, however, told The Miami Herald that when he represented Curtis, “my guy had an alibi” and there wasn’t “anything connecting him” to the murder.