Episode 040: Rosa Delgado & Rosita Camacho

May 16, 2022

A mother and daughter disappeared while walking home from the store. Twenty-five years later, their family is still seeking answers. What happened to Rosa and Rosita?

Episode Media
Rosa “Rosita” Camacho, age 4
Rosa “Rosita” Camacho, age progressed (NCMEC)
Rosa Delgado
Julio J. Camacho (Hartford Police Department)
Federal agents searching former Camacho property in 2016 (Hartford Courant)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. While researching last week’s episode, I came across the case of a mother and daughter who went missing around the same time as Camden Sylvia and Michael Sullivan. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, this case wasn’t nearly as well covered as theirs. But I believe their story deserves to be told, and perhaps some measure of justice can be served. This episode involves children and includes graphic descriptions. Listener discretion is advised.

In 1992, 16-year-old Rosa Delgado was living with her family in Hartford, Connecticut. It was there that she met 32-year-old Julio Camacho, an officer with the Hartford Police Department. Julio would often drive past Rosa’s apartment while on patrol in the neighborhood, and it wasn’t long before the two began a sexual relationship. Rosa became pregnant, and on June 7th, 1993, she gave birth to a daughter, Rosa Marie Camacho, who the family nicknamed Rosita.

Only 17 at the time, Rosa needed support to raise her baby girl. She and Julio broke up shortly after Rosita’s birth, so Rosa moved in with her sister Antonia and applied for government assistance. The state of Connecticut ordered Julio to pay child support in the amount of $188 a week. But Julio didn’t feel like he should have to pay, and he would often fight with Rosa about it. The fact of the matter was that Julio was already paying child support for three other children – two from his first marriage, and one from an affair he had conducted with another woman he had met on patrol. During this time, Julio was also financially supporting his current wife’s children. Julio was adamant that he was not going to pay child support for Rosita too.

Thankfully, Rosa’s family was close and helped her take care of Rosita. Over the next few years, Rosita grew up in a large, loving family who doted on her. When Rosita was 3 years old, Rosa gave birth to another little girl she named Aleysha, and Rosita was excited to be a big sister.

On the afternoon of October 24, 1997, 21-year-old Rosa and 4-year-old Rosita left their apartment in Hartford around 4:45pm. Rosa left five-month-old Aleysha in the care of her sister Antonia, and said she would be back in a few minutes. With $10 in her pocket, Rosa walked the few blocks to JJ’s Groceries, just around the corner on Madison Avenue. There, she purchased diapers and milk, plus a few candies for Rosita. She chatted with the owner for a few moments before walking back in the direction of the apartment.

But Rosa and Rosita never made it home.

Antonia was immediately concerned when her sister didn’t return from the store. It was less than a mile away from their apartment, and with little Rosita in tow and a baby at home, Rosa wouldn’t have wanted to linger any longer than necessary.

Antonia called friends and relatives around the neighborhood, hoping that someone had spotted the pair. One of Rosa and Antonia’s sisters said that she had seen Rosa talking to Julio outside of his mother’s apartment on Carpenter Street, just a block away from JJ’s Groceries. But nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Rosa and Julio had stayed in contact over the years because of Rosita, and he often would come by the apartment to visit. It was completely normal for them to strike up a conversation when they saw each other.

Eventually, Antonia called the Hartford Police Department and filed a missing persons report for Rosa and Rosita. But unfortunately, detectives didn’t seem to be in a hurry to investigate. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-November – when Rosa’s family contacted a relative who worked as a police officer in another town – that the investigation finally picked up steam.

Rosa’s family was understandably frustrated. Antonia told the Hartford Courant, “For 3 weeks they don’t do nothing. They took the complaint and it stayed in the computer. My niece is missing. Everybody in the department knows she’s Julio’s daughter, but they let nothing go outside the department because he’s an officer.”

And Antonia had a point. Investigators didn’t even question Julio about Rosa and Rosita until November 19th, nearly a month after they disappeared. Even if he didn’t have anything to do with it, he was the last person to speak with them on October 24th. Police Lieutenant Joseph Conti told the Hartford Courant, “We’re not excluding anything. Wherever the investigation takes us, we’ll follow up. I don’t want to speculate at this point.”

Conti also told the Courant that the investigation had been hindered by a language barrier, saying that several of the Delgado sisters spoke only Spanish. But this seems like an excuse – Antonia speaks English very well, and several detectives in the department at the time spoke fluent Spanish. Surely this wasn’t such a large obstacle that it would take a month to get past.

Finally, on November 21st, the Hartford Police Department appealed to the public for help, asking for anyone with information to call in to the tip line.

While the search for the missing mother and daughter was going on, Julio was busy petitioning the court to cancel his child support order for Rosita. He claimed that he needed DNA testing to establish his paternity. However, he didn’t tell the court that Rosa and Rosita were missing at the time of this request, something he was well aware of.

Rosa’s family noticed something else that was strange. Julio would often visit the apartment to see Rosa and Rosita, and he called Rosa on the phone regularly. But after October 24th, the visits and calls stopped. According to the family, once the mother and daughter vanished, Julio never reached out to see if they were okay or to ask if anyone had heard from them.

On November 26th, 180 miles away from Hartford, two men were out duck hunting on Columbia Lake in a remote area of western New Jersey when they stumbled upon the body of a woman floating among the reeds. They were shocked to discover that her head and hands had been removed. When authorities arrived at the scene, they were unable to identify the woman and simply named her, “The Lady of the Lake.”

At the time of the discovery, investigators had multiple unsolved disappearances that could have been connected to the Lady of the Lake, one of whom was Camden Sylvia, whose case we explored in last week’s episode. But one by one, investigators ruled out each possibility. The mutilated state of the body made it nearly impossible to identify the victim, and DNA technology was still developing at the time. Plus, multiple agencies from states across New England were attempting to work together to solve the mystery – something that is difficult even in the best case scenarios.

The location and history of the lake also complicated matters. Columbia Lake sits on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and feeds off the Delaware River as it flows alongside Interstate 80. Former New Jersey police lieutenant Eric Kranz told the Hartford Courant that Columbia Lake was a known dumping ground for out-of-state killers. “Every hunting season they find bodies in that corridor along Route 80. It’s just a favorite spot to dump them. When I heard about this case, I just got the feeling that it was going to end up being from out of state.”

It was also clear that whoever had dumped the body knew what they were doing and where they were going. Charles Pickett worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the late 1990s. He told reporters, “From what I know about the crime scene, they didn’t count on anyone finding the body, and if it was found, they didn’t count on anyone identifying it. They tried to cancel the body’s identity and cover their tracks.”

A year after the discovery, investigators were still trying to identify the remains. By September of 1998, authorities were fairly certain that the body belonged to Rosa Delgado – but DNA testing was slow, and the case continued to pop in and out of the public eye.

Rosa’s family was frustrated. Not only were they awaiting the results of further DNA testing to prove whether the body belonged to Rosa, but little Rosita still had not been found. The family was also disappointed with the way the investigation was going – they believed that the Hartford Police Department had mishandled the case from the beginning.

Then, in October of 1998, a twist – Julio Camacho resigned from the Hartford Police Department. According to his coworkers, he claimed he was leaving because his wife was sick and he needed to take care of her.

But behind the scenes, authorities had been investigating their fellow officer, digging into his financial records and trying to figure out what role, if any, he had played in the disappearance of Rosa and Rosita.

A month after the resignation, authorities raided Julio’s home in Cromwell, Connecticut, just south of Hartford. In the raid, police found a handmade hatchet, two sawed-off shotguns, and a wire garrote with a loop at the end. They observed that the items were incredibly clean – one officer stated in his report that the hatchet was so clean that it glistened in the sun. The wire was found under the seat of Julio’s car, which also seemed to have been cleaned. The lining of the trunk was missing and the metal bottom seemed to have been sanded down before being cleaned.

But that wasn’t all. Police also seized a map of New Jersey with handwritten notes tracing a route to the area near Columbia Lake. The circumstantial evidence was damning, but no arrest was made.

In May of 1999, DNA evidence finally confirmed what investigators knew – the Lady of the Lake was Rosa Delgado. Julio Camacho was officially named a suspect, but still, there was no arrest.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Julio would face charges – but not for Rosa’s murder. In a massive corruption investigation of the Hartford Police Department, it was revealed that five women had accused Julio Camacho of sexual assault during his time on the force. According to court documents, the women alleged that Julio – while on duty and in uniform – had handcuffed, abducted, and raped them in separate incidents between 1995 and 1997. In February of 2001, Julio took a deal in which he pleaded guilty to two of the assaults, and the prosecution would drop the other three. Julio Camacho was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

At this point, authorities intensified their efforts to find little Rosita. The state of Connecticut and the FBI offered a $100,000 reward for information, and billboards were placed strategically around Hartford. But years passed, and there was still no sign of the little girl.

In 2016, nearly two decades after Rosa’s murder, federal agents descended on the property in Cromwell that had once belonged to Julio Camacho. Although the original home had burned down in 2003, the new owners gave agents permission to search the property. For several days, investigators dug up the yard, bringing in excavators and dump trucks, sifting through dirt and cataloging items of interest. But what they found is anyone’s guess.

As of 2022, Rosa’s case remains unsolved, and little Rosita has never been found. Rosa’s sister Anna Marie and her husband Oscar took in baby Aleysha after her mother’s death and raised her as their own. She is now 25 and living in Hartford.

Rosita would be 29 years old this year. Her family still holds out hope that she is alive and well. You can view an age-progressed image of Rosita on the podcast website, bitesizedcrimepod.com. If you have any information about the death of Rosa Delgado or the disappearance of Rosita Camacho, please contact the Hartford Police Department at (860) 757-4000.