When Larry Ely Murillo-Moncada’s parents last saw him on Nov. 28, 2009, he was running out of their house in Council Bluffs — barefoot into a snowstorm.
A missing persons report was filed. Calls were made to family friends. Flyers popped up around the southwestern Iowa town. But the efforts yielded little information on the whereabouts of the 25-year-old, the Daily Nonpareil reported.
He appeared to have vanished.
Now, almost a decade later, Murillo-Moncada’s family finally has some answers to their questions that have long surrounded the young man’s vexing disappearance. Where did he go? What happened to him?
The Council Bluffs Police Department announced last week that for all those years Murillo-Moncada had been less than a mile away from his home at a supermarket where he worked — trapped behind the store’s coolers.
“You don’t hear about these types of cases, people found in walls, especially in this area,” Sgt. Brandon Danielson told KETV, and ABC affiliate in Omaha. “We have missing persons all the time, but this is just unique.”
A day before Murillo-Moncada disappeared, his mother, Ana, told the Daily Nonpareil through an interpreter, her son had come home after a Thanksgiving shift at the supermarket and seemed disoriented.
She took him to the doctor’s office and he was prescribed an antidepressant, but the medication didn’t appear to help, the newspaper reported. The feeling of confusion persisted and Murillo-Moncada started to hear voices, Ana said. Then came the hallucinations.
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“He said somebody was following him, and he was scared,” said Maria Stockton, a friend of the family who served as the interpreter.
At 6:15 p.m. on that frigid November day, Murillo-Moncada rushed out the door wearing no shoes or socks, dressed only in a navy blue hoodie and light blue pants, according to the Daily Nonpareil. He left behind his keys and car, Danielson told the Des Moines Register.
Despite the combined efforts of his family and law enforcement officials, the case went cold until this year when workers arrived in January at the vacant No Frills Supermarkets grocery store.
The grocery store where Murillo-Moncada worked before he went missing shuttered in 2016, and a contractor had been called to remove its shelving units and coolers, police said in a statement last week.
In a roughly 18-inch gap between the wall and the coolers, the workers made a grisly discovery: a decaying body.
“This is the first time in my career that I’ve seen a body in this type of condition,” Danielson, who was assigned to the case back in 2009, told KPTM, a Fox affiliate in Omaha.
Though the body was too badly decomposed for a visual identification to be made, Danielson said he immediately thought that he may have found Murillo-Moncada.
Capt. Todd Weddum of the Council Bluffs Police Department told CNN that the clothes on the body matched what Murillo-Moncada was last seen wearing. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation used DNA from his parents to confirm that the remains were Murillo-Moncada.
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Investigators say they also now have an explanation for how Murillo-Moncada may have ended up behind the coolers.
The supermarket’s former employees told police that they often climbed on top of the coolers into an area used mostly for storage, according to the release. Murillo-Moncada went to the store after leaving his house and scaled the coolers before falling about 12 feet into the space between the units and the wall, Danielson told the Register. The coolers made so much noise that Murillo-Moncada’s cries for help were likely muffled, Danielson said.
“It’s so loud, there’s probably no way anyone heard him,” he said.
An autopsy indicated there were no signs of trauma, police said. The case is being closed and classified as an accidental death.
Danielson told KPTM that authorities did visit the store early in the investigation, but Murillo-Moncada’s boss said he didn’t know where his employee had gone and hadn’t seen him that day. The boss noted that Murillo-Moncada also wasn’t scheduled to work then.
But the police sergeant told KETV there was at least one person who suspected Murillo-Moncada had been in the store the whole time.
“The mother, she kind of had an idea that he had never left the No Frills,” Danielson said. “I don’t know how she came up with that idea.”