Laura Ayala

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Above Images: Laura, circa 2002

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: March 10, 2002 from Houston, Texas
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date Of Birth: October 29, 1988
  • Age: 13 years old
  • Height and Weight: 4'0, 90 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Hispanic female. Black hair, brown eyes. Laura has brown highlights in her hair. She wore a full set of orthodontic braces on her teeth at the time of her March 2002 disappearance. She speaks fluent English and Spanish. Laura has a scar on her upper right arm. Her ears are pierced. Some agencies may list Laura's hair color as brown with blonde highlights.
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: A blue and white checkered dress and probably no socks or shoes.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Laura resided in an apartment complex in the 7930 block of Serita Street in Houston, Texas. She asked her mother for money to purchase a newspaper for a school assignment during the evening hours of March 10, 2002. Laura departed from her home at approximately 10:15 p.m. and walked to the Broadway Convenience Store, which is less than 100 feet behind her residence. The store is housed inside the Conoco gas station in the 2600 block of Broadway Street. An employee told authorities that Laura arrived at the store alone and bought a newspaper, then left shortly afterwards. She has never been heard from again.

    Laura's mother became concerned when her daughter failed to return home and walked to the store herself. She reported Laura as a missing child shortly thereafter. Laura's shoes and her newspaper were discovered scattered inside a parking lot between her apartment complex and the gas station later that evening. An extensive search of the area produced no clues as to her whereabouts.

    Witnesses reported observing a full-size, mid-1980s red/maroon cargo van near the store around the time of Laura's disappearance. The vehicle was two-tone and had a large-sized white or light-colored stripe painted along its center and had a gray-colored bumper. The sliding door on the right side of the van had a window; witnesses said that the window behind the door may have been missing and plywood concealed its opening. It was apparently a work-related vehicle and appeared to be faded and in worn condition. Additional reports stated that the van had rear windows, but may have been missing its side windows. A photo of a similar vehicle is posted below this case summary.

    A resident near Broadway Street reported seeing the van at approximately 10:00 p.m. on the night of Laura's disappearance. The witness did not contact law enforcement officials until April 2002, one month after Laura vanished. The individual said that he did not realize the information may have been vital to the case at the time. The witness said that the van's sliding door was open and reported observing an unidentified Hispanic or Caucasian male near the scene. The vehicle was parked in the same lot where Laura's shoes and newspaper were discovered.

    Investigators announced their desire to question Martin Marmulejo in April 2002. Marmulejo was employed as a plumber at the Conoco gas station in March 2002. His photo is posted below this case summary. Authorities said that Marmulejo's partner departed from the business during the evening of March 10, but Marmulejo remained at the store until 10:00 p.m. Investigators located his partner shortly after Laura disappeared, but they have not been able to find Marmulejo. He is described as being of Hispanic descent, with curly black hair and brown eyes. Marmulejo is 5'11 and weighs 240 pounds. He had a thick moustache in March 2002. Marmulejo drove a red Ford Econoline van with Texas license plates LPNA7068 during the time he was employed in Houston. (Some agencies list Marmulejo's license plates as "NA7-068"). His vehicle is similar to the description of the van reportedly seen at the time Laura disappeared. Authorities stated that Marmulejo is not a suspect in her case, but investigators believe he may be a possible witness. Marmulejo was wanted for missing a court appearance and a deadly conduct charge in an unrelated case during the spring of 2002.

    In May 2002, investigators announced that Laura may have been taken by bus to the Reynosa, Mexico area. Authorities learned that an El Expreso Bus Company bus departed from Houston between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. on March 13, three days after Laura was reported missing. There were 13 passengers aboard the bus, which was headed to the Rio Grande Valley region in southern Texas. The driver told officials that an adult male and female were among the first group of passengers. The couple was traveling with a young girl fitting Laura's description. Company records indicated that the adults were listed as Virginia Ramirez and Julio Barrios. The girl was named Laura A. The employee who sold the couple's tickets at the Main Street terminal in Houston did not remember details about the individuals. Only the first initial of the girl's last name and several other passengers' last names were recorded on the receipts.

    Barrios is described as being in his mid-40s with graying dark hair and brown eyes. He was approximately 5'8 and 160 pounds. Barrios was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. Ramirez is described as being in her mid-30s with wavy, shoulder-length hair. She is approximately 5'5 and 120 pounds. Ramirez was wearing a light blue dress. The unidentified girl was wearing a pink shirt and dark-colored jeans.

    The bus stopped in McAllen, Edinburg and Hidalgo, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley area. Records stated that Jose C. Lira, Saul Gonzalez, Jose Lira, Martha L. and Juliana L. disembarked in Hidalgo. Eunice Leija and Edith Leija exited in Edinburg. Javier Pacheco, Carolina Candanosa and Jesus Z. stopped in McAllen.

    A second bus from the Noreste line took the remaining passengers on to Mexico. The company confirmed that Ramirez, Barrios and the girl transferred to the 6:00 AM bus to Reynosa, Mexico on March 14. Records indicated that the couple began traveling separately once they arrived in Reynosa. Barrios went on to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and Ramirez traveled to Matamoros, Mexico.

    Authorities emphasized that the sighting of Laura was not confirmed. It is not clear if the couple was involved in her case. Officials hoped that they may uncover additional information by publicly announcing the sighting. Authorities and Laura's family members began concentrating their search efforts in the Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, Mexico areas after the bus information was released. No evidence related to her case was discovered.

    In February 2003, Laura's disappearance was linked to three men: Walter Alexander Sorto, 25; Edgardo Rafael Cubas, 24; and Eduardo Navarro, 16. Photographs of Sorto and Cubas are posted below this case summary. Police say Sorto and Cubas went on a crime spree of robberies, rapes and murders in the predominantly Hispanic east side of Houston. Navarro is charged with driving the getaway car.

    Blood found in a SUV belonging to Cubas's father was linked to Laura's DNA. Cubas admitted that he, Sorto, and Navarro occasionally borrowed the vehicle. Semen matching one of the suspects was also located in the car. Police, however, say there is insufficient evidence to file charges in Laura's case as of yet. Cubas and Sorto are already charged with capital murder in the deaths of two adult waitresses and a fifteen-year-old girl. Navarro faces the same charges but cannot face the death penalty due to his youth. The trio has been linked to six homicides, but has been charged in only three of them.

    Laura's favorite color is maroon and her favorite number is one. She is described as having a shy, reserved nature and is very organized. Laura enjoys journal-keeping and records her activities. Investigators believe that she may have been abducted by unknown person(s). Foul play is suspected in Laura's disappearance, which remains unsolved.

    Van Marmulejo
    Left: Van similar to vehicle reportedly seen at the time of Ayala's disappearance;
    Right: Marmulejo, circa 2002

    Sorto Cubas
    Left: Walter Alexander Sorto;
    Right: Edgardo Rafael Cubas

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Houston Police Department
    713-731-5223

    OR
    Houston CrimeStoppers
    713-222-8477

    OR
    Texas Department Of Public Safety
    800-346-3243

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    Source Information
    The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children
    America's Most Wanted
    The Polly Klaas Foundation
    Texas Department Of Public Safety
    KPRC-2
    KTRK-TV
    The Houston Chronicle

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