Episode 080: Jose Guerrero

May 15, 2023

When a young father doesn’t return home as promised, his family is determined to find the truth: What happened to Jose?

Episode Media
Jose Abelino Guerrero (Daily Voice)
Jose Guerrero (Prince William County PD)
Jose and Sheila with their daughter (WUSA9)
Jose’s black Hyundai Sonata left on Bel Air Road in Woodbridge (WUSA9)
Map of locations; Jose was killed on Lost Canyon Court, then transported to Adelphi, MD (Google Maps)
Distance between Jose’s apartment on Lynn Street, where he was killed on Lost Canyon Court, and where his car was left on Bel Air Road (Google Maps)
Olvin Daniel Argueta Ramirez (Prince William County PD)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you the case of a young man who never came home and a family who was determined to find him no matter what. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

On December 21, 2022, 20-year-old Jose Abelino Guerrero and his girlfriend Sheila Perez were getting ready to go out for the night. They had plans to drive around their hometown of Woodbridge, Virginia, and look at Christmas lights together. The winter weather was mild that evening, perfect for going ice skating after their drive. Jose’s mother Andrea was coming over to babysit their 10-month-old daughter Avery while Jose and Sheila enjoyed their night out.

Around 8:00, Jose told Sheila that he was going to run out and would be back in about 5 or 10 minutes. He didn’t say what he was doing, but Sheila didn’t think anything of it. Their apartment complex was right off busy Route 1, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for them to pop out for a quick errand now and then.

But ten minutes passed, then twenty, and there was no sign of Jose. Sheila tried calling his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. She then called Andrea, who was on her way over to their apartment, but she hadn’t heard from Jose either. Sheila texted a few of Jose’s friends, but again, no one knew where Jose was.

Sheila started tracking Jose’s phone, hoping to pinpoint his location. Maybe that would give her some insight into what was going on. Had he gotten caught up at the convenience store, or perhaps decided to run a few extra errands while he was out?

But at 8:40pm, Sheila watched in surprise as Jose’s phone turned off. This was definitely cause for alarm – Jose always left his phone on, especially when he was out of the house. Add that to the numerous unanswered calls and texts, and Sheila knew that something was very wrong.

Sheila called the Prince William County Police Department and filed a missing persons report. She told them that Jose’s phone had shown his location as being near Route 1 in Woodbridge right before it turned off. Police took the report, but they didn’t start an investigation. First Sergeant Jonathan Perok later told NBC news that this was normal procedure. “At the time that he was reported missing, there was nothing to indicate that he was in trouble or anything like that. He is an adult. He was entered into the system as missing.”

That was obviously not good enough for Jose’s family. They knew he would never leave without an explanation, and he would never abandon Sheila and Avery. They decided to do their own investigation. They drove all around Woodbridge, asking people if they had seen Jose, looking for any sign of him.

Then, on December 23rd, two days after Jose disappeared, the family got a break. Sheila’s stepmother was driving along Bel Air Road in Woodbridge when she spotted Jose’s black Hyundai Sonata parked along the curb. The family immediately rushed to the location and called the police. This was big news – if Jose’s car was close by, just one mile from his apartment, surely he was close too.

But that hope was quickly dampened when police told the family that they had found blood in the backseat of Jose’s car. According to Sheila, it was “a big amount” and police were officially opening an investigation.

Jose’s case was upgraded to an endangered missing persons case. Sergeant Perok told WUSA9 that they had additional information that led to this decision. “I don’t want to get into specific investigative details in this because if there is foul play we’re going to have a case that we would have to prosecute down the road potentially. So, giving or releasing those investigative details might be a little premature at the moment.” But Sergeant Perok did say that they believed Jose was in danger and they were going to be working around the clock to find him.

On December 24th, the Prince William County Police Department released a missing persons bulletin asking anyone with information to come forward. They included a picture of Jose and a description of what he had last been seen wearing: a blue sweater, jeans, and black shoes.

While police took possession of Jose’s car for forensic examination, Jose’s family was left waiting for answers. Christmas came and went, a somber occasion, their first without Jose. Andrea told NBC4, “There was no Christmas for us; we were grieving for my son. His daughter spent her first Christmas without her dad. It’s not fair, somebody needs to speak up.”

The family continued to search for Jose, not satisfied with leaving it up to the police. Using the tracking data from Jose’s phone, they tried to retrace his steps on the night he disappeared. At one point, Jose’s phone had been near Neabsco Regional Park, about two and half miles south of where his car had been found. There, in the parking lot, they found what appeared to be a trail of blood leading into the woods. Of course, they didn’t have any proof that it was connected to Jose, but it was certainly unsettling, especially in light of the blood left in his car. They called the police and reported their findings, and investigators arrived to process the scene. But again, the family had to wait for answers.

And though the waiting was agony, they were not giving up. Andrea told NBC4, “We’re not sleeping. We’re not eating. We’re up late. We’re up early… He would never do anything to anybody. He would give up anything for anybody.”

The family began organizing their own search parties, determined to scour every inch of Woodbridge. Every day, they explored parks and trails, searching for any sign of Jose. They walked for hours and reported even the smallest clues to police.

Prince William County police were conducting their own searches as well, setting up a mobile command station down the street from where Jose’s car was found. But the family was frustrated that police had waited days to start searching. As Andrea said to WUSA9, “Why did you wait so long? We told you he was in trouble, we told you from the beginning.”

However, police claimed that those in Jose’s circle weren’t forthcoming with information. Sergeant Perok responded to WUSA9’s inquiries, stating, “We have since worked this case nonstop through the weekend and currently. We’ve conducted numerous searches, and have followed up on multiple leads that have not yielded his location. What we need right now is information and cooperation which we have not fully been getting from those connected to Jose.”

But Jose’s family was providing police with plenty of information and had been asking for support since the very beginning. Police hadn’t started searching in earnest until 48 hours after Jose was reported missing, and the family had been doing the bulk of the legwork in the case.

In fact, Jose’s sister Maribel had begun a social media campaign to find answers in her brother’s disappearance. Early in the investigation, Maribel posted on Instagram that the family was offering a $1000 reward for information. She also said that they knew who Jose had been with the night he vanished – someone named Olvin Ramirez. Maribel alleged that Jose and Olvin had been messaging each other on December 21st, and she believed they had met up that night. But according to Maribel, when the family reached out to Olvin, he deleted all of his messages to Jose and blocked his number.

Of course, the family passed this information on to the police, and according to Sergeant Perok, they followed up on every lead. “We are looking for any known associates Jose has. Whether they lead nowhere or to his location, we’re not ruling anything out.”

But as the days and weeks passed, Jose’s family grew increasingly desperate for answers. On December 31st, family and friends gathered together for a candlelight vigil. Sheila told WUSA9 that the past ten days had been “like a nightmare that you want to go away.”

She also renewed the family’s call for help. “If you have any information that may help us, please speak up. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Please, we really need your help.”

As the new year dawned, Jose’s family kept up the search. They returned to Neabsco Park, where Andrea said they found more blood. In a different park, they found a discarded BB gun. There was no way for them to definitively connect it to Jose, but they reported it all the same.

Search teams also began searching local waterways, taking kayaks down the Occoquan River, which fed directly into the Potomac. But nothing led them to Jose.

On January 11th, family and friends gathered in Woodbridge again, hugging and praying, lighting candles for Jose’s safe return. The large showing of support brought Andrea to tears. “It shows he’s not a bad person, he’s loving. He’s a loving guy.”

Sheila also expressed her gratitude for the support. “There are no words that can explain how these past few weeks have been, not knowing where he is or not having any answers from police… I hope that he listens to me, that God listens to us, and gives us some type of sign or leads us to [Jose] in any way possible.”

Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin also attended the vigil and pledged that the county board would support the family in their search. “We are listening and we are here. We want to do whatever we can to help… I’ve been talking to the police almost daily about this issue, looking to see if there are any new leads.”

According to police, there really wasn’t much happening in the case. In an email to DC News Now, a police spokesperson wrote, “We’ve followed up on some leads and conducted a few searches. Nothing has resulted in anything of note.”

But just 8 days later, Prince William County Police announced that they had two suspects in custody, and they had found the body of Jose Guerrero.

On January 19, 2023, police executed a search warrant on Matthews Drive in Woodbridge. They arrested 19-year-old Olvin Argueta Ramirez and a 17-year-old male who was not identified due to his age. According to the press release, investigators discovered that Jose had arranged to meet up with the two other men in a parking lot to engage in a “narcotics transaction.” What Jose didn’t know was that the two men were planning to rob him.

During the course of the transaction, the three men began to argue, which turned into a physical altercation. Olvin and his companion stabbed Jose multiple times, over and over until he was unconscious. Then they put Jose in the back of his own car and drove him to a second location until they were sure he was dead. When Jose eventually succumbed to his injuries, the men drove him across state lines into Prince George’s County, Maryland, and dumped his body in a wooded area. Then they drove back to Virginia, leaving Jose’s car on Bel Air Road, just a few blocks away from where they were later arrested.

Prince William County Police worked with law enforcement in Maryland to recover Jose’s body. They were also able to recover the murder weapon and “additional items of evidence.” Jose’s body was transported to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy.

Jose’s family was heartbroken by the news. They had held out hope for so long, only to have those hopes dashed in a single moment. Andrea spoke tearfully to WUSA9, saying, “They have destroyed a part of us. He had a life ahead of him.”

Olvin Argueta Ramirez and his 17-year-old co-conspirator were both charged with first-degree murder and robbery. They were held without bond, but two months later, on March 24th, the 17-year-old suspect was unexpectedly released. According to Andrea, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office told the family that there wasn’t enough evidence to keep him in custody.

The family was understandably outraged. Andrea told WUSA9, “My heart dropped. They’re letting a murderer walk the streets. I’m in fear and others should be in fear too.”

But the family wasn’t going to let this setback stop them from getting justice. On April 11th, they gathered outside the Prince William County Courthouse, wearing matching shirts with Jose’s face and holding signs that said “Justice for Jose Guerrero Jr.” Inside the courthouse, Olvin Argueta Ramirez stood before the judge and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. His case is scheduled to go before a grand jury at the end of May.

Victoria Paxton, a friend of the family, spoke to reporters on their behalf. “This poor young man was killed for $70… We want justice, it’s what’s right, it’s what’s deserved.”

Jose Guerrero did not deserve to be killed in a parking lot dispute, no matter why he was there. He deserved to live a long, happy life with his loving family, raising his young daughter and watching her grow up. As we wait for justice in this case, I’d like to close with words from Jose’s family.

“[Jose] was a kind soul and was the absolute best father, son, brother, grandson, nephew and friend a person could ask for. [He] lit up the room with his smile and lived for his baby girl Avery, whom he worked hard to provide a best life for… Jose “Jr.” will be very missed and forever will be in our hearts!”