Episode 110: Liz Barraza

March 25, 2024

When a young woman is gunned down in her own front yard, a community rallies to find the truth. Who killed Liz Barraza?

Episode Media
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Barraza (Facebook)
Liz in her Biker Scout costume (WhoKilledLizBarraza.com)
Liz and Sergio Barraza with their dog, Diesel (HCSO)
Scene of Liz’s shooting (Click2Houston)
Truck driven by Liz’s killer, possibly a Nissan Frontier 4×4 with PRO-4X sticker (ABC13)
Friends and family gathered at Liz’s vigil (ABC13)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a mysterious case that definitely has the potential to be solved with the right piece of information. This episode includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

Elizabeth Marie Nuelle was born in Illinois in 1989, the youngest child of Bob and Rosemary Nuelle. The family moved around a few times during Liz’s childhood, eventually settling in East Texas. In 2008, Liz graduated from Klein Collins High School on the outskirts of Houston. After completing her freshman year at Stephen F. Austin State University, she transferred to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville to study psychology. That’s where she met Sergio Barraza.

Liz and Sergio hit it off immediately. They had a similar sense of humor, and they both loved Harry Potter and Star Wars. They had movie marathons and created elaborate costumes for renaissance fairs. Two years into their relationship, they adopted an adorable dachshund puppy they named Diesel. Liz and Sergio were happy and in love.

In February of 2014, the happy couple got married. Liz got a job working as a data reporter for the Rosen Group, and Sergio worked as a crew chief for his father’s business installing flooring. They started saving up money, and in 2016, they were able to buy their dream home in the Houston suburb of Tomball. Liz made a joyous post on her Facebook page with a picture of her and Sergio in front of their new house, huge grins on both of their faces.

When the couple wasn’t working, they were busy volunteering in their community. Liz worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Peter Mayhew Foundation, which was founded by the actor who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars films. Liz and Sergio were also members of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars fan club that uses cosplay to raise money for charity, specifically focusing on children’s causes. Liz and Sergio spent many hours visiting local hospitals dressed in costume – Liz as a Biker Scout and Sergio as a Stormtrooper – bringing smiles to children’s faces. Liz eventually became an Event Coordinator for their local branch, planning charity events and organizing volunteers. She got so much joy from this work, and her passion for helping others was an inspiration to her fellow Star Wars fans.

As their five year wedding anniversary approached in 2019, Liz and Sergio planned to celebrate with a trip to Orlando, Florida. They excitedly bought their tickets to Disney World and Universal Studios, getting their costumes ready and deciding which sites to visit first. A few days before their trip, Liz wanted to have a small garage sale so they could get some extra money for souvenirs. Because it was kind of a last-minute decision, she didn’t post about the sale on social media, but she and Sergio put up a few signs the night before – one at the entrance of their neighborhood and one on the main road. They weren’t expecting a huge turnout, but they figured they’d get enough customers to make a little cash.

Liz and Sergio woke up early on the morning of Friday, January 25. Sergio had to work that day, but Liz had taken the day off so she could start the garage sale early. Shortly after 6, Liz drove down to the local Starbucks to get coffee; when she returned, she and Sergio started setting up for the sale in the driveway. They worked for about half an hour until Sergio had to leave for work. Sergio told Liz to set the security alarm in case anything happened while she was home alone. Then they exchanged “I love you’s” and Sergio drove off in his white work van.

Four minutes later, gunshots pierced the quiet morning air.

Within seconds, a call came in to 911. A neighbor across the street from the Barraza home had heard the shots and looked out his window. He saw a black truck speed down the street. Less than a minute into the 911 call, he told the dispatcher that he saw the black truck pass by again.

By this time, more neighbors had called for help. The Barraza’s next door neighbor had heard the gunshots, and when she looked out her window, she saw someone lying in the driveway. Her husband went outside to see what was happening and soon came running back into the house, telling her to call the police. While on the phone with the dispatcher, the neighbor saw police cars pulling up to the house.

Harris County constables discovered 29-year-old Liz Barraza lying motionless in her driveway, covered in blood from what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds. Miraculously, she was still breathing, and paramedics worked quickly to stabilize her. They called for a life flight helicopter and cleared the street for it to land.

Constables secured the scene and instructed neighbors to pull their security footage. When they entered the Barraza home to clear it, they set off the security alarm that Liz had enabled. As was protocol, the alarm company called Liz’s cell phone, but when she didn’t answer, they called her mom, who was listed as the emergency contact for the residence.

When Bob and Rosemary heard that the alarm had gone off and Liz wasn’t answering her phone, they knew something was very wrong. They immediately got in their car and drove to Liz and Sergio’s house.

At the same time, Sergio had gotten an alert on his phone from the security camera that they had at their front door. When he pulled up the app, he was shocked to see police cars and yellow caution tape in front of his house. He quickly rewound the video and listened in horror as the gunshots rang out. Sergio used the speaker function on the camera to call out to the constables walking in front of the house and asked if Liz was okay. All they would tell him was that he needed to come home right away.

Shortly after Liz was life flighted away from the scene, her parents and Sergio arrived just minutes apart, where they were informed that Liz had been shot and was on her way to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Shocked by this news, they wanted to rush to the hospital right away, but police wanted to talk to Sergio, and Bob and Rosemary didn’t want to leave his side.

Sergio immediately handed his phone over to a constable to show them the footage from the security camera. Another constable pulled Sergio aside and let him sit in the back of his patrol car. Through tears, Sergio told the constable what he remembered about that morning before he left for work. He had told Liz to set the alarm, they had said “I love you”, and he had driven away secure in the knowledge that he would see his wife that evening. He told the constable that Liz had $100 cash in a small lockbox, hardly an enticing amount for a robber. He also said that when he looked at the security footage, he had seen a black truck drive by in the moments after Liz was shot.

The constable asked Sergio if Liz had any enemies, anyone who would want to hurt her. Sergio said that there was someone in the 501st Legion who Liz had recently had tension with, but he didn’t think that person could have done something so awful.

Sergio asked several times if he could go see Liz, but the constable redirected him. He said that when detectives arrived, they would want to talk to Sergio and ask him more questions. He assured Sergio that Liz was in good hands and that their primary goal was to find whoever did this.

After about twenty minutes of talking to the constable, Sergio encouraged Bob and Rosemary to head to the hospital, telling them that he would be alright and would follow behind as soon as he could. They shared an emotional hug, and Liz’s parents started the hour-long drive to Houston.

At the hospital, Bob and Rosemary met up with Liz’s older brother Robert and his wife. The family spoke with a doctor about Liz’s condition, and eventually – after she was moved to the Shock Trauma Intensive Care Unit – they were allowed to see her. They knew it could be for the last time.

Once Sergio arrived at the hospital, the family made the difficult decision to say goodbye to Liz. Her condition was so severe that the doctors would not be able to save her. But it would still be a long road. Liz was an organ donor, and there were certain steps that had to be taken. For the next 24 hours, family and friends – including members of the 501st Legion – stood vigil by Liz’s bedside, taking turns holding her hand so that she would not be alone, even for a minute.

On Saturday, January 26th, nearly 36 hours after being brutally gunned down in her own driveway, Liz Barraza passed away, surrounded by her family.

On February 2nd, a vigil was held in the front yard of Liz and Sergio’s home. Over a hundred friends and family members gathered to remember Liz and share their grief. In an emotional statement, Sergio said, “She didn’t deserve this, she deserved to live a long and happy life. I’m so glad that one of the last things I got to do was kiss her goodbye and tell her I love her.”

Instead of candlelight, those who gathered lifted their wands and lightsabers to the sky, a fitting tribute to the woman who loved all things Star Wars and Harry Potter, who used her love of cosplay to bring joy to others. Bob spoke to the crowd through tears, saying, “My daughter, Liz, spent her life healing and spreading love and cheer to all of those around her, even total strangers… We lost a daughter and a sister and a wife, a friend, a truly inspirational young woman.”

As Liz’s loved ones mourned her loss, investigators were hard at work tracking down her killer. Nothing had been taken from the crime scene, not even the cash box, so it didn’t appear that robbery was the motive. Their biggest lead was the black truck that was seen passing by the Barraza home just seconds after the shooting.

Using surveillance video from homes in the neighborhood and local businesses, investigators were able to piece together a detailed timeline of events, making it clear that this had been a targeted attack.

The black truck is first seen in the neighborhood at approximately 2:00 in the morning on Friday the 25th. Cameras captured it passing in front of Liz and Sergio’s house on Cedar Walk Drive, possibly scoping out the situation.

Four hours later, at 6:08am, Liz leaves the house to get coffee. She returns 8 minutes later, making a silly face for the camera as she enters the house.

At 6:17, Liz and Sergio start bringing items out to the driveway for the garage sale. They go in and out of the house multiple times over the next 30 minutes.

At 6:47, the black truck is seen turning off Kuykendahl Road onto Princeton Place Drive. It pulls into the parking lot of Goddard School, which sits right at the entrance of the Barrazas’ neighborhood. But just a few seconds later, the truck leaves the parking lot and pulls onto a different street, presumably to better conceal itself.

At 6:48, Sergio leaves the house in his white van. He exits the neighborhood and heads to work. Three minutes later, at 6:51, the black truck appears again, driving down Princeton Place and turning right onto Cedar Walk. It passes the Barraza home, makes a 3-point turn, then passes the house again and parks behind Liz’s car on the street.

At 6:52, the driver exits the vehicle and walks toward the driveway where Liz is setting up for the garage sale. The person has long hair and is wearing what appears to be a flowing white top or possibly a robe and tall white boots. Liz sees them approach and says “Good morning,” probably assuming it’s a potential customer. Security video shows the person speaking to Liz for about 6 seconds. Then, they raise their right arm and point a gun at Liz. Liz steps back, and the person fires three shots in rapid succession – one through Liz’s neck and two in her chest. Liz screams and falls to the ground. The person then stands over her and fires one last shot into Liz’s face, then turns and runs. The black truck drives away as neighbors, having heard the gunshots, call 911.

Two minutes later, the truck is seen re-entering the neighborhood after doing a U-turn on Princeton Place Drive. It then drives past the Barraza home again, possibly to see if Liz is dead, but after that, the truck turns left on Sandusky Drive and misses the turn to get back out of the neighborhood. Sandusky is a dead-end road, but the truck isn’t seen turning around again. It’s possible that the driver heard sirens and decided to go off-road rather than risk running into police. There is a spot at the end of the cul-de-sac where the truck could have easily gone into the grass and made it back to the main road. After that, the truck was spotted on cameras from several nearby businesses until it eventually disappeared. At 6:58, the first police cars arrived on the scene.

Police issued a Be On the Lookout for the black truck, which they believed to be an older model Nissan Frontier with a PRO-4X sticker on the side of the truck bed. They released video footage to the media, hoping someone with information would come forward. But the footage of the shooter was grainy, so much so that they couldn’t even determine whether the offender was a man or a woman.

On February 6th, Crime Stoppers of Houston held a press conference with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Liz’s family to announce a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Liz’s murder. Bob spoke to the cameras, saying, “A coward drove up, approached my daughter and forever changed our lives. An unknown assailant shot and killed an unarmed and defenseless woman in a brutal act that demands justice.”

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez asked the public to check their surveillance cameras again. They believed the killer had been lying in wait for the moment Liz would be alone; hopefully they would show up on camera where investigators could get a good look at their face.

But even with the video footage, investigators weren’t having much luck finding Liz’s killer. As the months passed, they continued to chip away at the case, following every lead. They were able to determine that the shooter likely used a revolver based on the fact that there were no shell casings left behind, and they didn’t stop to pick anything up off the ground before fleeing the scene.

Investigators looked into anyone that was even remotely connected to Liz. Naturally, Sergio was the first person they looked at, but there was no evidence that Sergio and Liz were having problems in their marriage. Their finances were stable; Sergio hadn’t even collected Liz’s life insurance after her death. They truly seemed to be a happy couple. Sergio voluntarily took a polygraph test and passed.

They also looked into members of the 501st Legion and Liz’s coworkers at the Rosen Group, but the investigation didn’t find anything conclusive. Liz’s casual “Good morning” to the shooter suggested that she didn’t know the person, but investigators were also pretty sure that the shooter had been wearing a disguise, maybe even a wig. Could Liz have known the person but not recognized them right away?

Sergio told KHOU that not many people had known about the garage sale that day. “The only people that I know knew about the garage sale were some of her co-workers, myself, her parents and I think my mom.” How had this person known that Liz would be alone and vulnerable that day? Police believe the shooter had watched the couple’s movements and waited for Sergio’s van to leave the neighborhood before striking.

Possibly the biggest mystery was why someone would want to kill Liz Barraza. She didn’t have any known enemies. She was well-liked in the community and spent her free time doing charity work. No one had a reason to want her dead.

As the years have passed with no concrete answers, Liz’s family has taken an active role in finding her murderer. They created a website at WhoKilledLizBarraza.com – which I relied on heavily for my research – where they have compiled all the facts of the case in an effort to dispel rumors and combat misinformation.

Of course, there are still plenty of rumors floating around the internet. Many people online believe that Sergio had something to do with Liz’s death, but there is no evidence to support this. By all accounts, Liz and Sergio had a loving, supportive marriage, and they were planning for a future together.

Some believe that members of the 501st Legion were responsible for Liz’s murder, or that a former love interest of Liz or Sergio was involved. There is also speculation that Sergio’s father is to blame, but law enforcement has stated that Oscar Barraza was thoroughly investigated and passed a polygraph.

Bob and Rosemary believe that Liz was the target of a hired hit. They don’t know who arranged it or why that person would have wanted Liz dead, but they are hopeful that answers will come soon. In the meantime, they continue to keep in close contact with the detectives on Liz’s case, who have assured them that the investigation is alive and well. In December of 2023, the Texas Rangers joined the case, and detectives confirmed to the media that they were still following up on new leads.

It’s been over five years since Liz Barraza was murdered, but her legacy lives on. Through her organ donations, she was able to save the lives of four people on the transplant list, and the donation of her corneas gave another person the gift of sight. Peter Mayhew set up an endowment in Liz’s name at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Liz was named an Eternal Legionnaire by the 501st Legion. Bob Nuelle has become an honorary member of the organization where he continues his daughter’s mission of giving back to her community.

Liz Barraza was a bright light, a kind and caring woman who loved her family and wanted to make a difference in the world. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is still searching for her killer and has vowed to not rest until justice is served. There is currently a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for her death. If you have any information about the murder of Elizabeth Nuelle Barraza, please contact Crime Stoppers of Houston at 713-222-8477. Let’s get justice for Liz.