Fugitive Santeria priest named as homicide suspect after bones found in backyard

Los Angeles Times

By HAILEY BRANSON-POTTS contact the reporter Crime Sexual Assault Homicide

A Santeria spiritual leader who performed healing rituals at a Montebello business was named Tuesday as the suspect in the disappearance and killing of a woman six years ago.

Maria Delrefugio Chavez’s skeletal remains were found Aug. 7, buried behind a house in the 700 block of Elsberry Avenue in unincorporated Valinda in the San Gabriel Valley. The El Monte woman had been missing since 2009.

Sheriff’s detectives said they believe Pablo Pinto Mata, 46, murdered Chavez.

Chavez got to know Mata when she patronized Los Angeles Import, a botanica he owned in the 2400 block of Whittier Boulevard, sheriff’s homicide Lt. Vic Lewandowski said.

Mata acted as Chavez’s spiritualist, and though he was already married and had a family, he fathered a daughter with Chavez, Lewandowski said. The daughter was 4 years old when Chavez was reported missing on May 7, 2009. The girl is now living with other family members, he said.

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