Episode 047: Veronica Reyes-Diaz

July 4, 2022

A young mother tucks her children into bed and then vanishes into the night. Did she leave on her own, or was she the victim of a crime? Two years later, the question remains: What happened to Veronica?

Episode Media
Veronica Reyes-Diaz (NBC News)
Security image showing Veronica’s Chevy Yukon returning home at 1:45 on Saturday morning (Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office via Jackie Flores)
Francisco showing the inside of Veronica’s car and the red shirt he says she was wearing (Telemundo Tampa Bay)
Missing poster (MPSC)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a missing persons case from Florida, one that seems as if it should be easy to solve, but one with a frustrating lack of clues. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

In early 2020, 23-year-old Veronica Reyes-Diaz was living in Dover, Florida, a small unincorporated area outside of Tampa. Veronica and her husband Francisco lived in the Valrico Hills Mobile Home Community with their three young sons, Ricardo, Noah, and Josue.

Veronica had a big personality. She’s been described by friends and family as smart, fun, determined, and loud. Standing at just 4’9” tall, Veronica was small but mighty.

Veronica was also strong and brave. She had been through her fair share of struggles. Her parents, Tina and Fidencio, had divorced when she was young, and although they worked hard to co-parent Veronica and her sister, Veronica struggled with the new family dynamic.

In her teen years, Veronica had been in some rough relationships with guys her age. When she was 18, she gave birth to Ricardo; a year later, Noah came along. Veronica eventually left the boys’ father and started working at a local Taco Bell to make ends meet. With the support of her family, Veronica was able to get on her feet and raise her sons in a stable environment. She also had dreams of going back to school and getting her GED.

In 2017, Veronica met Francisco Reyes Diaz. He had a steady job in construction, and he seemed to make Veronica happy. In June of 2018, their son Josue was born. Francisco and Veronica married in December, and started making plans for Francisco to officially adopt the two older boys.

Early on in their relationship, Francisco encouraged Veronica to leave her job and stay at home with the kids. This transition was difficult for Veronica, but she adored her children and absolutely loved being a mom. Her Facebook account is filled with pictures of the boys, many of which are decorated with hearts and sweet phrases such as “My Life, My World, My Everything”.

As much as Veronica loved her kids, the life of a stay-at-home mom was wearing on her. And her relationship with Francisco was not as happy as it seemed on the outside. According to her family, Francisco was very controlling of his wife. He didn’t like for Veronica to spend time outside of the house, preferring that she stayed at home with the kids. And on the rare occasion she did go out, Francisco would text and call incessantly until she returned.

But Veronica was insistent that she needed time for herself in order to be a better wife and mom. So on Friday, January 17, 2020, she had plans to meet up with friends and get dinner in Tampa.

Around 4:00 that afternoon, Veronica took four-year-old Noah and five-year-old Ricardo to her sister’s house in Plant City, about 15 minutes away. She then drove back to her house in Dover, where her friend Mariah picked her up. Veronica said goodbye to Francisco, who was staying home with baby Josue, then headed into the city for a night on the town.

Veronica and Mariah picked up another friend on the way, and the three of them enjoyed a fun evening of food and conversation. But after a while, Francisco began calling and texting, asking when Veronica was coming home. Finally, Veronica and her friends left the restaurant around 12:30am and headed back to Dover.

Mariah dropped Veronica off at her house around 1:15am. Veronica then got in her car and drove to Plant City to pick up the boys. It’s not clear why the boys didn’t just spend the night at her sister’s house, but whatever the reason, Veronica picked them up around 1:30 and was back home by 1:45. She tucked the boys into bed and kissed them goodnight.

After that, no one knows what happened to Veronica. Or if they do, they’re not talking.

The rest of the story has been pieced together from Francisco’s conversations with investigators, family interviews with news outlets and podcasts, and information released from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. I will try to lay out the timeline as best I can based on the information available.

According to Francisco, he awoke around 6:30 on Saturday morning. The children were in bed, but Veronica was not. He asked the older boys where mommy was, and they said they didn’t know, but they remembered that she went outside. Francisco saw that Veronica’s red Chevy Yukon was parked in its usual spot. The keys were in the ignition, and her purse and wallet were on the seat. He spotted a red flowered shirt on the floorboard. Her cell phone was not in the car.

Francisco found the whole thing strange, but wasn’t really alarmed at first. Veronica had obviously made it back home the night before because she had picked up the kids and put them in bed. Francisco was so unworried that he didn’t even contact Veronica’s family until the next day.

According to Veronica’s father Fidencio, Francisco texted him around 3:30 on Sunday afternoon to ask if Veronica was with him. Fidencio was surprised – he hadn’t seen Veronica in days. He immediately sent Veronica a message on Facebook, asking if she was okay. He didn’t get a response. He called around to the rest of the family, but none of them had seen Veronica either.

Veronica’s mom Tina reached out to Mariah, since Veronica had been with her on Friday night. Mariah sent Veronica a Facebook message, and she actually got a response – a short message saying, “Don’t worry, I’m okay.”

But the family was not comforted by this. Veronica was not known for her short messages. Fidencio told The Vanished podcast that “Veronica doesn’t just let you know little things. If something’s wrong with her, she’ll give you a full paragraph, you know, why she did this or why she did that. And that’s the way she’s always been.”

In spite of everything, the family tried not to panic. But as the hours passed and all of their texts and calls went unanswered, they knew something was very wrong. By Monday, her phone was going straight to voicemail, which meant she had either turned it off or the battery was dead. The family decided that they couldn’t wait any longer; they told Francisco to call the police and report Veronica missing.

An officer arrived at the home and spoke with the family. Francisco gave them the timeline of events on January 17th and 18th. Security video from a neighbor’s house confirmed that Veronica was dropped off by Mariah at 1:15am, left in her red SUV, then arrived back home at 1:45am. Around 3am, the video showed a person coming out on the front porch of the house, but it was impossible to tell who it was in the dark. Francisco said that he was asleep when Veronica got home and didn’t realize she was missing until he woke up around 6:30. He also told police that it didn’t really surprise him that she was gone – he said she often left for days at a time when she needed a break.

However, the family disputed this. Veronica had only ever left once, back in December, when she and Francisco had a big fight. Veronica had gone to her aunt’s house to cool off, and she had let her family know where she was. She didn’t have a pattern of leaving, and she would never leave her children behind like this. Plus, why would she have walked away in the dead of night with only her cell phone when her car was right there with the keys in the ignition? It didn’t make sense.

Also, Veronica had multiple appointments lined up in the week following her disappearance, everything from taking the boys to a playdate with their cousins to a scheduled court date to finalize Francisco’s adoption of Ricardo and Noah. It wouldn’t make sense for Veronica to up and leave right then, especially without telling anyone.

For the next few days, search teams scoured the area. The family put up signs with Veronica’s face and went on the local news to spread the word. But as time passed and no more clues were uncovered, the searches started to fizzle out.

Unfortunately, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic complicated matters even further. Eventually, investigators told the family that because Veronica was an adult and because there wasn’t any clear evidence of foul play, they didn’t consider her to be in danger. Her case was classified as a missing persons case; it would stay open and active, but there wouldn’t be many resources devoted to finding Veronica.

Undeterred, Veronica’s family took matters into their own hands. Fidencio got a hold of Veronica’s laptop and was able to trace her movements using her Google account. Fidencio told The Vanished podcast that according to the Google data, Veronica’s cell phone was located at her house from 1:45 on Saturday morning all the way to 11:35 on Monday morning. Then, the location data shows the phone leaving the house and moving around town until it was shut off at 9:45pm. Investigators have not addressed this finding, but it seems like an important piece of the puzzle. If Veronica supposedly took her phone with her when she disappeared, why was it still at her house all weekend, and where is it now?

In the early days of the investigation, the family seemed to lean towards the possibility that Veronica may have been taken by someone who intended to traffic her. According to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2020 Florida had the third-highest rate of trafficking cases in the United States, with the Tampa area being a known hotspot. Fidencio told Fox 13 News, “With all these guys going around picking up girls around here for sex trafficking, that’s the only thing I can think of.” He reiterated that Veronica would never willingly leave her children.

As time went on, the family started to move away from the trafficking theory and focus on Francisco. To be clear, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has stated that Francisco is not a suspect, but based on their statements to reporters, Veronica’s family seems to think that Francisco knows more than he’s saying.

The camera showed Veronica arriving home at 1:45 on Saturday morning. Everything after that is solely based on Francisco’s version of events. According to the family, Francisco seemed reluctant to cooperate with the search for Veronica, and Fidencio has stated that Francisco actually went fishing that Saturday and was gone for hours. He didn’t let the family know that Veronica was missing until Sunday afternoon, and he even took the kids to lunch before going to the police station to make his report.

I usually try not to speculate on this podcast, preferring to stick to the facts. But while researching this case, I came across something strange. I’m probably not the only one to put this together, but it does seem significant, so bear with me for a moment.

In September of 2020, Veronica’s family did an interview with a YouTuber named iCkEdMeL. In the interview, Fidencio talks about the day that Veronica was reported missing. According to him, Francisco went to the police station on Monday around 3pm. However, Fidencio then says, “He left here at 11 something, took the boys to get something to eat at McDonald’s or whatever, and then they went over there to report her missing.”

In March of 2021, Fidencio went on The Vanished podcast. In that interview, he talked about the Google location data that I mentioned before. According to that data, Veronica’s phone left the house on Monday at 11:35am, right about the time Francisco supposedly left the house to go report her missing.

Again, I don’t like to speculate, but I can’t help but wonder if this is the key to the phone conundrum. What if Veronica’s cell phone really was at the house all weekend? What if she didn’t take it with her – wherever she went? If Fidencio is correct about this timeline, it seems like an awfully big coincidence that Francisco and the phone left the house at the same time.

Also, keep in mind that pretty much everything we know about Veronica’s disappearance comes directly from Francisco, even the details about what items were left in the SUV. Francisco said that the red flowered shirt he found in the car was the one that Veronica had been wearing that night, but Veronica’s sister and her friends all said that she was wearing something completely different – a white and gray long-sleeved shirt. Fidencio has stated that by Monday, all of the stuff in the car had been put away, so Francisco is the only one who actually saw the true state of Veronica’s vehicle on January 18th. In fact, police didn’t order a forensic examination of the car and house until July of 2020, six months after Veronica disappeared. By that time, everything had been cleaned out, and according to the family, Francisco had painted the walls and ordered new furniture.

Although the family clearly seems to suspect that Francisco had something to do with Veronica’s disappearance, the fact remains that there is no physical evidence connecting him to a crime, nor is there any direct proof that Veronica was a victim of a crime. However, Veronica has now been missing for over two years. None of her accounts have been accessed, and she has not contacted any family members or friends during that time. Her family doesn’t want to lose hope, but they are also desperate for closure.

Fidencio told WTSP News, “It’s sad but… life has to go on. But it’s always on my mind where she’s at, what happened to her. I’m to the point I just want closure, I want something.”

Currently, Francisco has custody of Ricardo, Noah, and Josue. Veronica’s family has worked hard to maintain a positive relationship with him so they can continue to spend time with the children. They have said that Francisco is a good father and supports the children financially, but it is still hard for them to see the boys grow up without the mother who loved them so dearly. According to Fidencio, the boys ask about their mother every day, wondering where she is and when she’s coming home. “As a grandparent, what am I supposed to tell them? They think grandpa’s a hero, and this time I’m not.”

Veronica Reyes-Diaz was 23 years old at the time of her disappearance. She has dark brown hair that she had recently dyed burgundy. She is four feet nine inches tall and weighs approximately 150 pounds. She has pierced ears and a mole by the corner of her left eye. She was last seen in the early morning hours of January 18, 2020, wearing a gray and white long-sleeved crop top, jeans, and blue sandals.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Veronica Reyes-Diaz, please contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200. There is a $1,000 reward being offered for information leading to her recovery.

Please share Veronica’s story on social media. You never know who it may reach.