Episode 022: Miya Marcano

January 3, 2022

When a young woman misses her flight home, her family is concerned. How could she have disappeared in broad daylight?

Episode Media
Miya Marcano (Orange County Sheriff’s Office)
Miya with her father (Instagram)
Armando Manuel Caballero (Orange County Sheriff’s Office)
An individual believed to be Caballero removing a pink blanket and backpack from from his car the day after Miya disappeared (WESH 2)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case that I have followed from the beginning, the story of a young woman who deserved better than what she got. This episode discusses sensitive topics and includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

Nineteen-year-old Miya Marcano was living and working in Orlando, Florida. A sophomore at Valencia College, Miya was enjoying her independence. She lived in Arden Villas, a luxury apartment complex just minutes from the campus of the University of Central Florida. Miya worked in the leasing office of the complex, earning money for her college tuition.

In late September of 2021, Miya was looking forward to her upcoming trip to see her family in Ft. Lauderdale. Miami Carnival was approaching, and Miya was excited to celebrate her Caribbean heritage during the multi-day event.

On Friday, September 24, Miya finished her shift in the leasing office and headed to her apartment around 5pm. She needed to pick up her luggage and then catch an Uber to the airport for her flight to Ft. Lauderdale later that evening. But Miya never checked in for her flight, never boarded the plane.

When Miya’s parents realized that she had missed her flight and they couldn’t get in touch with her, they immediately became concerned. It wasn’t like their daughter to not reply to their messages or answer her phone, especially when she was traveling. Around 9:30 on Friday night, Miya’s mother, Yma, called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and asked for an officer to do a welfare check at Miya’s apartment.

Deputy Samir Paulino was dispatched to Arden Villas, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Miya’s apartment door was locked, and no one responded when he called out. When he phoned Yma to update her on the situation, she let him know that Miya’s roommate was on her way to the apartment and would let him in.

Once inside, Deputy Paulino asked Miya’s roommate if she had any information about her friend’s whereabouts. The roommate said that all she knew was that Miya was supposed to be flying to Ft. Lauderdale that night. She also said that nothing seemed out of place in the apartment.

Miya’s bedroom door was locked, which wasn’t unusual, since she typically locked her door when she was out. Deputy Paulino walked around to the outside of the apartment complex to see if he could peer inside Miya’s bedroom window. He noticed that the window was not locked, so he pushed it all the way open to take a closer look at the room. Again, he didn’t notice anything strange about the scene, but Miya’s roommate did. When she joined Deputy Paulino at the window, she told him that Miya’s father had secured the window months ago to prevent anyone from opening it from the outside. Unless Miya had unscrewed the locks, which was unlikely, they shouldn’t have been able to open the window more than a few inches.

Eventually the pair were able to get inside Miya’s room. Her roommate immediately spotted several things that were unusual. First, Miya’s bed was unmade, and several pieces of jewelry were on the floor, including the gold necklace that she wore every day. Miya was known for being exceptionally tidy, and she wouldn’t have left for vacation without cleaning her room or making her bed. The roommate also noticed that a backpack next to Miya’s desk was packed for travel; it most likely was the bag she was planning to take to Ft. Lauderdale. Clearly she wouldn’t have left that behind on purpose. Something else she wouldn’t leave behind – her favorite teddy bear. It always traveled with her, but now it sat inside Miya’s closet, rather than its usual spot on her bed.

While all of these things were certainly strange, there were two oddities that stood out the most. One: a small piece of furniture was propped up against the bedroom door, almost as if someone had placed it there to prevent the door from being opened. And two: there was a small patch of dried blood on Miya’s pillow.

Based on this information, Deputy Paulino filed a missing persons report for Miya Marcano.

Meanwhile, Miya’s family was making the three-hour drive from Ft. Lauderdale to Orlando. When they arrived, they descended on Miya’s apartment and began their own search. Underneath the blue rug in her room, they uncovered something they didn’t expect – a rusty yellow box cutter. They immediately called Deputy Paulino back to the scene, where he bagged the box cutter for evidence.

Deputy Paulino began asking about Miya’s friends and relationships. Had she been seeing anyone? Was there anyone in the area who she had recently befriended? One name kept popping up: Armando Manuel Caballero.

Twenty-seven-year-old Armando was a maintenance worker at Arden Villas. He and Miya often crossed paths at work, so Deputy Paulino felt he was worth talking to. Lucky for him, Armando showed up at Arden Villas in the early morning hours of September 25th. He let Deputy Paulino into the clubhouse and leasing office, but neither location turned up any clues to Miya’s whereabouts.

When questioned about his relationship with Miya, Armando admitted that he had asked Miya out a few times, but she had turned him down. They had stayed friends, but didn’t talk outside of work. He said he had seen Miya around 3pm on Friday, a few hours before her shift ended. When he heard on Saturday morning that Miya was missing, he had driven back to Arden Villas to see what was going on.

But Miya’s family had a different story for the deputy. According to them, Armando had been stalking Miya, sending her money via CashApp and professing his love to her over and over again, saying he would give up his life savings to be with her. One family member said that she had seen the texts Armando sent, that he seemed to be obsessed with Miya. Plus, he hadn’t just shown up at the apartment complex at random – the family said they had spotted Armando driving around Arden Villas well before he met up with the deputy.

Ultimately, Deputy Paulino didn’t feel he had enough information to detain Armando, so the questioning ended there. But a few hours later, officers from a neighboring police department were at Armando’s apartment in Winter Park. Someone from Miya’s family had called in a tip, saying they had cell phone video of Armando removing several items from his car: a backpack, gloves, and a pink blanket that looked a lot like one belonging to Miya.

Although the officers couldn’t search the apartment without a warrant, Armando granted access to Miya’s family, saying he had nothing to hide. Ultimately, the search turned up nothing of value, and they had to leave.

The next 48 hours were a whirlwind of activity. At 3pm on Saturday, Armando left his apartment in his silver Ford Fusion. By 5:45, Orange County detectives had secured the apartment and were writing a search warrant to submit to a judge. At 6pm, the sheriff’s office released an official missing persons bulletin for Miya Marcano, asking the public to call the tip line with any information.

At 1:30 in the morning on Sunday, September 26th, officers executed a search warrant at Armando’s apartment, but Armando was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, search teams were out in force all day, with helicopters flying over Arden Villas, focusing on a wooded area behind the apartment complex. As the sun went down on the second day of Miya’s disappearance, her friends and family members gathered at Arden Villas for a prayer vigil, asking the community for support in finding Miya.

On Monday, September 27th, Orange County Sheriff John Mina announced that 27-year-old Armando Manuel Caballero had been found dead from an apparent suicide. The news was devastating for Miya’s family. Armando was the only person of interest in the case, the only person who could have told them where to find Miya. And now he was gone.

During the press conference, Sheriff Mina revealed new details from the investigation, including an updated timeline of Miya’s disappearance.

In the hours before she vanished, a maintenance-issued keyfob had been used to enter Miya’s apartment two times: once at 2:14pm and again at 4:30pm. As a maintenance worker at Arden Villas, Armando would have access to a master key fob that would allow him to enter any apartment in the complex.

Sheriff Mina also revealed that an arrest warrant for burglary had been issued for Armando shortly after they discovered the unauthorized key fob entries. They had been actively searching for him throughout the weekend, but Armando had eluded them until his body was found in a storage garage on Monday morning. It appeared that he had been dead for several days, most likely having taken his own life sometime on Saturday evening after the family searched his apartment. Armando’s car was discovered not far from the storage garage and was taken in for processing.

Sheriff Mina emphasized the fact that although the prime suspect was dead, Miya was still missing. “Her disappearance is suspicious and our detectives and family members obviously suspect foul play.” He once again urged anyone with information to call the tip line, particularly anyone who may have seen Armando or his silver Ford Fusion on Friday or Saturday.

Over the next five days, the search for Miya continued in earnest. On Tuesday, teams scoured the woods near the Sabal Park apartments where Armando was found dead, an area that included several walking trails and small ponds. Volunteers handed out flyers with Miya’s picture and details about her case.

On Wednesday, the search moved back to Arden Villas, expanding to a 30-mile radius that included wooded areas and waterways. On Thursday, residents received notices that law enforcement would be searching all garages and storage units in the complex. Sheriff Mina announced that the search would continue in the neighboring counties of Volusia and Seminole.

On Friday, Sheriff Mina stated that over 175 personnel from multiple agencies were assisting in the search, including dive teams, search dogs, drones, and helicopters. Plus, the FBI was providing technology assistance. “Hundreds of sworn and civilian personnel here at the sheriff’s office and beyond have been working around the clock to employ all the resources at our disposal to find Miya.”

Sadly, the search came to an end on Saturday, October 2nd. In an emotional press conference, Sheriff Mina announced that a body believed to be that of Miya Marcano was found near Tymber Skan apartments in Orange County. A purse found nearby held Miya’s identification. Although the medical examiner would still have to confirm the identity of the remains, Sheriff Mina said he was “very certain” they had found Miya.

Over the next few weeks, as Miya’s family mourned and the community grappled with such a tragic end to her case, more details emerged from the investigation.

Detectives believe that Armando entered Miya’s apartment with his maintenance key in the early afternoon on Friday, September 24th. He removed the locks from the window in Miya’s bedroom so it could be opened fully. He then returned to her apartment at 4:30 and hid in her room, waiting for her to return from her shift at the leasing office. When she did, Armando attacked her, locking her bedroom door from the inside and taking her out through the window.

It’s unclear what happened over the next two hours, but at 7pm, Armando called in a fake maintenance request, then contacted the Arden Villas office staff to let him into the gate, presumably to give himself an alibi. At 7:16, he used Miya’s key fob to swipe the exterior lock at her apartment, but he did not enter. Twenty minutes later, his cell phone data shows that he left the complex and drove to Tymber Skan apartments where he left Miya’s body around 8:30pm. Just an hour later, Miya’s mom called the police to report her missing.

Miya’s remains were officially identified through dental records, but the medical examiner wouldn’t release the autopsy results until December 29th, three months after her disappearance. Because her body had been exposed to the elements for an entire week, very little evidence remained. According to the report, there was black duct tape binding both of her wrists behind her back and binding her ankles. There was also duct tape around her neck, but due to the state of decomposition, the medical examiner stated that the tape could have initially been covering her nose or mouth.

The report concluded with the medical examiner’s opinion about Miya’s cause of death. “The manner in which she was found, with multiple restraints and her disposition in an abandoned area of an apartment complex, indicates some type of assault, but because of the lack of any identifiable soft tissue injuries due to advanced decomposition, the cause of death is a homicide by undetermined means.”

A memorial service for Miya was held on October 14th in Ft. Lauderdale. Hundreds of family members and friends packed the church to say farewell to the young woman who was so beloved by many.

In the months following Miya’s death, her family continued to push for justice and change. They filed a lawsuit against Arden Villas, accusing the company of negligence. In the court filings, the family alleged that Miya and her fellow employees were not made aware of Armando’s criminal background or history of harassing women, nor were they aware that maintenance workers like Armando could access any apartment at any time. They also claim that Miya complained about Armando to the apartment manager, but that nothing was done, and that the lack of security cameras as well as the lax policies and procedures at the apartment complex all contributed to Miya’s death. The lawsuit is ongoing, and while they deny ignoring complaints from Miya and other employees, Arden Villas has begun taking steps to reevaluate their policies and increase onsite security measures.

Miya’s family also started a foundation in Miya’s name, dedicated to supporting families of missing persons and educating communities on ways to protect one another. They launched the Miya Marcano Foundation Safe and Secure Accreditation Program, in which apartment complexes can receive security evaluations and training by professional experts in the field.

In November, Florida lawmakers filed Miya’s Law, a bi-partison bill that aims to change expectations for residential security. If passed into law, the bill would require criminal and sexual-offender background checks for apartment complex employees in the state of Florida. Also, apartment management would be required to give tenants 24 hours’ notice before workers could enter their apartments.

Miya Marcano’s death was tragic, but preventable. She did not deserve to be stalked and attacked by a man who refused to take no for an answer. She deserved to be listened to and protected by those around her. She deserved to feel safe at her job and in her home.

If you or someone you know is experiencing unwanted attention or stalking behavior, please reach out for help. You can call or text the VictimConnect Resource Center at 1-855-484-2846 to receive free, confidential support and information.