Santeria Priest Sought in 2009 Missing Person Investigation That Led to Backyard Human Remains

NBC Los Angeles

[with video]

By Jonathan Lloyd

A Santeria priest is suspected in the 2009 disappearance of a woman whose remains were found earlier this month in the backyard of a Southern California home.

The remains of Maria DelRefugio Chavez, 39, were found Aug. 7 behind a Valinda home in the 700 block of Elsberry Avenue, located in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. New information in the 2009 disappearance of the El Monte mother led authorities to pursue a search warrant to begin excavation in the home’s backyard.

Pablo Pinto Mata, who remains at large, was identified as a suspect in her disappearance, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Mata, known as a Santero who performed healing rituals in Montebello, also is wanted in connection with a sex assault involving a child, police said.

“Since the day that victim Chavez went missing, suspect Mata has been a person of interest,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Victor Lewandowski. “He is also wanted by the Montebello and West Covina police departments for multiple sex crime felonies, including rape and sex acts with minor children.”

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