Local and federal law enforcement agencies are following up on several leads in an effort to capture an Indio fugitive who was charged three years ago Sunday with killing his 19-year-old stepdaughter with whom he is accused of being romantically involved for several years prior to her death.
Abraham Perez Romero, 44, who is believed to be in Mexico, is accused of killing Wendy Vargas, whose body was found on Dec. 14, 2017, in a bedroom inside her mother’s home in the 88000 block of Avenue 70 in the unincorporated community of Oasis near the Salton Sea.
A $5 million arrest warrant remains active for his capture.
“The (District Attorney’s Office) Fugitive Apprehension Team and the U.S. Marshals Service are continuing to work on this case and have several leads they are following up on in an effort to apprehend this defendant,” said John Hall, the public information officer for the District Attorney’s Office.
Romero was charged on Jan. 10, 2018, with one count each of murder and assault with a deadly weapon, along with a misdemeanor vandalism charge.
Investigators said at the time they believed the victim, who family members and friends identified as Wendy Perez, may have been killed with a cellphone charging cord.
Romero, who also goes by Jose Ramirez Arenas, is believed to have been involved in a romantic relationship with Vargas for more than three years, while still married to the victim’s mother.
Romero had helped raise his stepdaughter since she was 3 years old and also has a child with Vargas’ mother, who was 3 years old at the time of Perez’s death, according to an arrest warrant declaration prepared by Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Dickey.
The document states that Romero’s relationship with Vargas was revealed to his wife sometime in 2017, prompting her to kick Romero out, at which point he moved to Indio. Vargas left with him, though the two returned to the Oasis home on occasion, including the day of her death, according to the declaration.
Vargas’ mother told investigators she saw her daughter sleeping on a couch on Dec. 14, 2017, and Romero sleeping on the floor of the living room when she left for work in the morning. She left messages with her daughter throughout the day, demanding that Romero leave, but Vargas’ responses stopped abruptly at around noon, the declaration says.
When Vargas’ mother returned home after work, she found her daughter on the floor of the bedroom, “cold to the touch and not breathing,” with bruising on her arms and legs, Dickey wrote.
Investigators believe Romero fled to Mexico the same day.
A neighbor told investigators Romero drove away from his Indio home “at a high rate of speed” around 2 that afternoon. At 8 p.m., Romero approached a border agent and “requested to be deported to Mexico,” according to the declaration.
Romero was arrested and deported on Dec. 15 “and has been unable to be located to obtain a statement,” according to the declaration.
Investigators found his car at a gas station days later. Inside the vehicle, a two- to three-foot cellphone charging cord was found, which investigators believe may have been the murder weapon. The exterior surface and “tram-track looking lines” of the cord “were consistent with the victim’s injuries,” the declaration states.
In addition to being charged with Vargas’ murder, Romero was charged with assaulting his wife with a knife, as well as vandalizing a man’s car.
Court documents allege that Vargas’ mother was at her home with a male friend when Romero and Vargas began throwing things at the man’s vehicle, breaking the car’s windows. Vargas then broke one of the home’s windows, which Romero entered through, then allegedly began waving a kitchen knife at his wife and threatening to kill her friend.
Romero tried to leave with Vargas and his young daughter, but his wife was able to get the child back following a physical struggle, which left her and the toddler with unspecified injuries, according to court papers. Romero and Vargas allegedly then stole a surveillance camera from the home.
Romero was described as Hispanic, 6-feet-4 and weighing 220 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. His last known address in Indio was a house in the 44000 block of Warren Street.
He has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County, court records show.
Anybody with information on Romero’s whereabouts was urged to contact the District Attorney’s Office at 951-955-5400.