Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Murder of Alma Mendez

source: NWI Times

The fall of 2007 was a tough time for Alma Mendez. The then-38-year-old woman had been dealing with the aftermath of her mother's brain aneurysm, which had occurred just months earlier. Additionally, Alma had separated from her husband of 19 years in early October. Despite these tough times, Alma remained a positive and dedicated mother to her three children. She also never deviated from her daily routine of jogging in the Sauk Trail Woods Forest Preserve near her home in Chicago Heights, Illinois. 

The afternoon of October 28th, 2007 was no exception to this routine. As usual, Alma drove her car to the preserve and began jogging on the trail. This time, though, Alma never returned home. Her family members reported her missing that evening. 

Police found Alma's car parked at the preserve. This indicated the likelihood that Alma either never left the area or was taken from the area by force. Searches were immediately launched in the preserve. Two days later, on October 30th, a searcher found Alma's body in the lake near the trail. An autopsy later confirmed that Alma's throat had been slit. She had also suffered several blunt force injuries.

 Alma's death was subsequently labeled a homicide. The news of her death was inevitably devastating for her family members - and it also caused panic amongst locals in the area who now feared that a predator was on the loose. However, detectives believe that Alma's death was not random, and that she may have been targeted. 

Many questions remain, such as who? And why? The information revealed throughout the investigation brings forth a few different theories. 


Daily jogs at Sauk Trail.

Sauk Trail. (source: Forest Preserves of Cook County)

Sauk Trail provided Alma with a scenic view during her daily exercise. According to her sisters, Alma loved jogging along this trail by the lake. Since this jog was part of her daily routine, it can be theorized that Alma's killer knew she'd be at the trail at the time of their encounter. 

It's possible that this person is another frequenter of the trail who had seen Alma there during her daily jogs. However, according to the Cook County Sheriff's Office, Alma usually went running during the early morning hours - but on the day of her murder, she went later in the day.

It's also possible that Alma's killer followed her there or knew she was there after recognizing her car in the parking lot. If this is the case, it supports detectives' beliefs that Alma was targeted - possibly by someone she knew. 

Phone calls before Alma's disappearance.

Several different reports on Alma's case reference phone calls that she made shortly before her disappearance and murder. On November 1st, 2007, Cardinal News reported that Alma "was last heard from on Sunday at about 2 p.m. when she left a friend a voicemail saying she had something important to talk about."

It's unknown what Alma wanted to talk about with said friend, therefore it is unknown if it has anything to do with Alma's murder. Several other reports note another phone call that Alma made that day to one of her sisters. According to the sister, Alma was actually on the phone with her as she began her jog at the trail. 

There was reportedly no cause for alarm during that phone call, as Alma was in good spirits. The phone call did not end abruptly, nor did it give her sister any reason to worry. This information indicates that Alma clearly did not suspect that anything sinister was awaiting her during her jog. 

Witness information.

According to Alma's sisters, witnesses saw something unusual on the trail that day: a truck. While the trail may be large enough for a car, it's known as a walking/running/trail - which is why the vehicle stuck out. Alma's sisters were reportedly told that the truck had a direct link to Alma's murder.

In 2011, Alma's sister Maria Lopez told CBS 2 News that detectives said Alma was run over first, then attacked, before her body was placed in the water. It's not believed that Alma was accidentally struck by the vehicle. 

It appears that detectives have corroborated the witnesses' statements about seeing the truck on the trail - but it is unknown if the vehicle has ever been identified or located.

The separation.

As previously mentioned, Alma and her husband separated in early October 2007 - just weeks before her murder. This inevitably raises suspicions about the husband, who was likely aware of Alma's jogging routine. Early reports on Alma's case state that the husband has been questioned. 

It's unclear if police are suspicious of Alma's estranged husband - but he has not been publicly labeled as a person of interest or suspect in the case.


Based on the above information about this case, there are a few theories:

  • Theory 1: The killer was a stalker or predator, possibly unknown to Alma. Since detectives believe Alma was targeted, it seems less likely that Alma was killed by a random predator who spotted her in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is, however, possible that Alma was killed by a predator who had been stalking her.

    Maybe this person first spotted Alma on her daily jogs at the trail - or maybe this person knew of her from elsewhere. It should be noted that there are no known reports of Alma being fearful of a stalker or anything of the like around the time of her murder. Still, it's possible that she was targeted by someone unknown to her.

  • Theory 2: Alma's husband is the killer. There are many reasons that one might suspect Alma's husband. The two separated just weeks before the murder. Many reports state that the two were estranged. It's possible that Alma and her estranged husband were about to face a nasty divorce and custody battle. If so, this may provide motive for the husband. 

    All of this is speculation - as the husband has not been charged with anything related to Alma's murder. However, it appears he has not been publicly ruled out either.

  • Theory 3: The killer is someone else known to Alma. It's possible that Alma was murdered by someone else she knew - but if so, it's unclear who or why. As previously noted, there are not any known reports of Alma being worried about or troubled by any sort of third party/person. Still - detectives may have information about this that the public may not know. 

    The phone call that Alma made to her friend, stating that she had "something she wanted to talk about" may hold a clue here. Maybe Alma wanted to talk to her friend about a person she was having trouble with, maybe she wanted to talk about her troubled marriage, or maybe it was something else altogether. At this time, this information is unknown.

Where the case stands today.

Despite having some workable theories, Alma's murder remains unsolved. Years have passed without any news on her case.

Alma's murder has been labeled as a cold case by the Cook County Sheriff's Office. There is a monetary reward for anyone with information that could help solve the case. If you have any information that could help the investigation, please submit a tip.

Cardinal News
CBS News
The Chicago Tribune
Cook County Sheriff's Office
Daily Herald

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