Episode 056: Jalajhia Finklea

September 26, 2022

A young indigenous woman goes missing on the eve of her 18th birthday, sparking a multi-state manhunt down the eastern seaboard.

Episode Media
Jalajhia Finklea (Instagram)
Jalajhia Finklea (Instagram)
Jalajhia performing in New York City in September 2020 (Instagram)
Luis Robert Zaragoza Barboza (Facebook)
Crime scene taped off at the Florida McDonald’s where Luis was killed by police (NWF Daily News)
Area off I-95 where Jalajhia’s body was found (Indian River County Sheriff’s Office)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you the story of a young indigenous woman who vanished on the eve of her 18th birthday. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Jalajhia Finklea grew up on Cape Cod in the town of Mashpee, Massachusetts. A member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Jalajhia loved her indigenous culture and took great pride in her heritage. She grew up surrounded by music and dance, and it inspired her to pursue her own career in the arts.

From a very young age, Jalajhia loved to sing, and soon she started writing her own songs, inspired by 90s hip hop artists like Biggie and Tupac. She liked to go live on Facebook, singing covers of her favorite songs, showcasing her vocal talents. In her teens, Jalajhia started booking gigs around New England, performing under the stage name DrippyLay. She was starting to make a name for herself, recording her own music and doing interviews with local talk shows. She had a bright future, and she had the drive to see it through.

In the fall of 2020, 17-year-old Jalajhia was living in New Bedford, Massachusetts, going to school and continuing to work on her music. She was looking forward to her 18th birthday, which was right around the corner. Things seemed to be going well for the high school senior, but sadly, it wouldn’t last.

On October 20th, Jalajhia underwent the first part of a medical procedure at a clinic in Boston; the second part was scheduled for the next day. Jalajhia spent the afternoon recovering under the watchful eye of her mother Amanda. Shortly before 5pm, Amanda left the apartment to go pick up Jalajhia’s prescription from the pharmacy. When she returned a half hour later, Jalajhia was gone.

At first, Amanda didn’t think too much of it. Jalajhia’s birthday was the next day; she had probably gone out with friends to celebrate. But by the next morning, Jalajhia hadn’t returned. She wasn’t answering her texts, and calls were going straight to voicemail. Then, the clinic called – Jalajhia had missed her appointment for the second part of the medical procedure. If she didn’t complete the procedure, her life could be at risk.

Amanda called the New Bedford Police Department and reported Jalajhia missing. Right away, investigators reached out to Jalajhia’s family and friends in an attempt to figure out her last movements. From what they gathered, Jalajhia had texted a friend shortly after 5pm on October 20th, saying that she was meeting up with a man named Luis Barboza.

Investigators began looking for a connection between Jalajhia and Luis. They quickly discovered that his full name was Luis Robert Zaragoza Barboza. He was 36 years old, and he wasn’t unknown to the family. He had dated Jalajhia’s aunt Tia for several years, and he had known Jalajhia since she was a child. As far as the family knew, Luis and Jalajhia weren’t in a relationship, but the twenty-year age difference was a concern. Why was a man in his 30s hanging out with a teenage girl?

The family held out hope that Jalajhia would show up in a day or two, but soon, a week had passed and there was no sign of her. Jalajhia had missed a critical medical procedure and her 18th birthday celebration; she had also missed her little brother’s birthday, and she hadn’t even called to talk to him. Jalajhia had taken off on her own before, but never for very long, and she always checked in with her family.

On October 28th, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe announced a $1000 reward for information leading to Jalajhia’s safe return. Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell stated that they were committed to bringing attention to Jalajhia’s case and asking federal agencies to investigate under Savanna’s Act, which directed the Department of Justice to develop protocols addressing missing or murdered Native Americans.

Cromwell also drew attention to the epidemic of missing indigenous women in the United States. “Sadly, the growing number of missing indigenous women across the country do not receive the attention that our caucasian neighbors receive. The numbers are staggering. Our women are abducted at a rate 10 times higher than other ethnicities. We have to work harder to bring attention to Jalajhia and we do need your help.”

Jalajhia’s aunt Tia told Boston 25 News that as the days passed, the family worried more and more about Jalajhia’s safety. “We’re very concerned. We’re just trying to take every measure we can to get her home. We at least want to just hear something from him, from her, it’s not normal that she doesn’t reach out to any of us.”

On October 29th, the day after the reward was announced, Luis uploaded several videos and pictures to his Twitter account. One video showed Jalajhia at a tattoo parlor, another was a screen recording of Luis and Jalajhia on FaceTime; both were posted without audio. The pictures showed the pair at a restaurant, then in an elevator. Luis also posted screenshots of text messages between himself and Jalajhia that seem to indicate that they were in a relationship.

Jalajhia’s family was not comforted by this supposed proof of life. According to them, the pictures and videos were months old, and in one of the screenshots, you can clearly see the latest text was sent on January 27th, nine months earlier. Also, Luis hadn’t been active on Twitter in over four years, and now he had tweeted six times in the span of two minutes. It was obvious that Luis was trying to send a message: Jalajhia is fine, leave it alone.

But her family knew she wasn’t fine. Tia told Boston 25 News, “I’m obviously fearing for the worst. It’s been a while. Honestly, if he has my niece and she’s OK, then why wouldn’t he show her face? Why wouldn’t he let her call somebody or reach out? I just don’t understand why he is playing games on his end and not letting her speak out for herself.”

Then, a week later, there was devastating news: Luis Barboza had been killed in a shoot-out with police.

According to news reports, US Marshals attempted to arrest Luis at a McDonald’s in Crestview, Florida, when he pulled out a handgun and shot at the officers. They returned fire, and Luis was struck. He died at the scene.

Jalajhia was nowhere to be found.

In the aftermath of Luis’ death, new details emerged in the case, bringing a renewed urgency in the search for Jalajhia Finklea. The biggest news was that, at the time of her disappearance, Jalajhia was five months pregnant.

According to the arrest warrant, investigators learned early on that Luis had rented a 2020 Hyundai Elantra from Logan International Airport in Boston shortly before he and Jalajhia disappeared together. On October 20th, Jalajhia called Luis shortly after 5pm, after her mother had left to pick up her prescription. Not long after, neighborhood security cameras captured Luis pulling up to the apartment and parking around the corner. At 5:21, Jalajhia left the building wearing loose-fitting clothing and house slippers. She got into the passenger seat of the rental car, which sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes before pulling away with Jalajhia inside.

Within half an hour, Luis’ cell phone had been turned off and Jalajhia’s had been discarded on the side of the road. It was later found in the grass alongside Route 140 in New Bedford, just a few miles away from her apartment.

An hour later, Luis’ phone was on again. It pinged near Hopkins, Rhode Island, as the rental car traveled south on Interstate 95. From there, investigators tracked Luis using cell phone data and license plate readers. He continued to travel south to New Jersey, where he spent the night in a rest area near Woodbridge. The next morning, he headed north again into New York, where his vehicle was captured on camera as it passed through the Lincoln Tunnel. Then, he turned around and headed back south, stopping again at the Woodbridge rest area before continuing on towards Washington DC.

I find it strange that Luis would drive an hour in the opposite direction and then immediately turn around. My first thought is that he headed north on I-95 by accident, realized his mistake when he hit New York, then corrected his course. On the other hand, this seems like a difficult mistake to make, since most rest areas only have on-ramp access to one side of the interstate. Did he have a specific purpose for heading back up into New York? Whatever his reasoning, Luis was soon headed down the eastern seaboard to Florida.

On October 23rd, Luis was spotted at a McDonald’s in Jacksonville, where he ordered what authorities referred to as “a small meal with one drink.” This only intensified investigators’ concern for Jalajhia’s well-being. So far, none of the surveillance videos or traffic cameras had captured the young woman. It appeared that Luis had arrived in Florida alone.

A week later, Luis left Florida and drove to Texas, where authorities got a hit on his license plate in Houston on October 30th. But three days later, he was back in Florida, and the authorities were on his trail.

Because Luis had crossed state lines, police asked the US Marshals Service for help tracking him down. They obtained an arrest warrant charging him with kidnapping and grand larceny. In the warrant application, they laid out the case against Luis, stating, “Detectives have probable cause to believe that Finklea has been kidnapped by Barboza without lawful authority, being forcibly or secretly confined or imprisoned against her will. There is great concern that her life and safety are in danger as her whereabouts are unknown.”

On November 4th, US Marshals spotted Luis in Crestview, Florida. They began surveilling him, and the next morning, they attempted to arrest him at the McDonald’s. Luis died in the confrontation, and Jalajhia’s family lost a little bit of hope.

But investigators were still determined to find Jalajhia, even though she could be anywhere from Massachusetts to Florida to Texas. They began searching any location where Luis had stopped on his road trip south, hoping to find something that would point them in the right direction.

Eventually, the Massachusetts State Police were able to get full access to Luis’ cell phone. A forensic analysis uncovered a note written on the phone, in which Luis explained what had happened on the evening of October 20th. He wrote about his struggle with depression, and how he had “snapped” before killing Jalajhia in his car. He then included directions to where her body could be found.

On November 25, 2020, officers from the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office recovered the remains of Jalajhia Finklea. She had been left in a field in Fellsmere, Florida, just yards away from Interstate 95. An autopsy would later reveal that she had been shot twice in the head.

We may never know the true extent of what Jalajhia experienced at the hands of Luis Barboza. But we do know that she did not deserve her fate. She didn’t deserve to be manipulated by a man two decades her senior, forced to make life-altering decisions before she even reached adulthood. Her light was snuffed out far too soon, and her family was left without justice.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive or dangerous relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788. Calls are free and confidential.