PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — The killing of a man whose body was dumped near a vineyard near Decatur more than 25 years ago was never a mystery, the Van Buren County sheriff said on Wednesday. They identified the suspected killer almost immediately. It was just a matter of finding him.
On Wednesday, Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbott announced that detectives, working with the FBI, had arrested the suspect in Mexico.
Juan Luis Solis-Reyna was flown back to Michigan on Friday to be charged with open murder, felony firearm and flight to avoid prosecution in the death of Jose Cruz Armijo-Arreguin.
The sheriff said the Solis Reyna, then 25, and Armijo-Arreguin, 30, were acquaintances and were working at the time as migrant workers. He wouldn’t say how Armijo-Arreguin was killed.
The FBI said Solis-Reyna is a citizen of Mexico. It wasn’t clear if he was legally in the U.S. at the time of the killing.
The investigation started with a call around 6:30 a.m. April 24, 1995, from a payphone in Lawton. A woman reported the murder and then led deputies to the victim’s body, which had been dumped in the parking lot of a vineyard on 92nd Avenue on 36th Street in Decatur Township. The killing actually happened in the van the tipster was driving, Abbott said.
Deputies quickly identified Solis-Reyna as their suspect but said he took off, leaving Michigan. The car he was driving was found dumped along I-55 in Missouri a few days later.
Investigators — including Lt. Dave Walker, Detective Sharon VanDam and the sheriff himself, all of whom have been on the case since the day the killing happened — reopened the cold case in February 2019.
They worked with the FBI to track Solis-Reyna to Monterey, Mexico, about 100 miles from the Texas border, where the sheriff said the suspect had started a family with children. He said it looked like Solis-Reyna thought he had gotten away with murder.
“He was living a normal life,” Abbott said. “It appeared to the FBI and the Mexican authorities that was watching him that he was going on everyday business as if he got away with it.”
Armijo-Arreguin never got a chance to raise his four young children. His three daughters were in court as their father’s suspected killer was arraigned Wednesday afternoon with the aid of an interpreter.
“We can’t really say we have justice,” his daughter, Lizbette Armijo, said after the hearing. “But it’s a step, you know. It’s a step. It’s not going to bring him back.”
While the victim’s daughters are grateful, they wonder what took so long. Lizbette Armijo was 3 when her father died.
“I do have memories of him,” she said. “He was a very good father, very loving. He really was a very family-oriented person. He really loved all of us.”
Anna Armijo was 1.
“He (the suspect) lived his life; he had children and grandchildren, while I didn’t have a father,” she said. “I appreciate all the efforts they tried to bring him to justice, but it’s been so long. He had a whole life.”
The sheriff said the FBI used new technology to track Solis-Reyna. He wouldn’t provide details. An FBI spokeswoman said some of the tracking involved social media.
“A lot of the technology we use on the back end of law enforcement, we don’t put out to the general public just because we don’t want to educate criminals…” Abbott said. “There’s just technology in place that the FBI has experts in place to where they can locate people and watch them when people don’t even realize that. And it’s all legal … it’s not infringing on people’s rights, but that’s the technology that’s in place now that law enforcement utilized.”
He said such technology has been available for perhaps eight years.
The sheriff added his department is working on a couple of other cold cases that he hopes to soon make breaks in.
Solis-Reyna was denied bond. He’s expected back in court on Oct. 12 and Oct. 18 for hearings.
—News 8 digital executive producer Rachel Van Gilder contributed to this report.