Murdered & Missing: Why haven’t police searched for Phoenix woman’s remains 3 years later?
PHOENIX - In 2019, investigators discovered a bloody crime scene at Luzeia Mathis' Phoenix apartment, but her body has never been found.
FOX 10 investigates takes a deep dive into this mystery and shows us where the accused killer may have placed her.
On Sept. 20, 2019, Phoenix Police responds to Luzeia’s apartment near 35th Avenue and Indian School Road. Before the 911 call was made to police, management at Luzeia’s apartment complex were ready to evict her for not paying rent, which was strange.
She usually paid early or on time.
What sparked the 911 call were complaints about a strong odor coming from her unit.
According to the apartment manager, Luzeia had not been seen for weeks.
When they got into the unit, there was blood everywhere – the floor, the walls, pillows – and there were cleaning products tucked away in trash bags.
Luzeia was nowhere to be found.
"I don’t have any closure. I still want to know where she is," says Jakeia Williams, her aunt. She remembers her niece as an independent young woman.
For 18-year-old Luzeia, her whole life was ahead of her.
"She would just be like your typical teenage girl, getting out in the world, working hard, just trying to figure life out," Jakeia said.
Jakeia Williams, Luzeia's aunt
Private investigator volunteers to help
"The cleanup efforts are extremely lazy and when you’re dealing with somebody like that, typically they’re gonna look for somewhere easy to dispose of, they don’t want to put a lot of effort into it," says Jeff McGrath, chief investigative officer for 3LawsRecon Investigations.
He's the private investigator working on the case.
History of documented abuse
In less than three months, Jamal Jones, a documented gang member, was arrested in connection to Luzeia's death.
He's served six years in prison and has an extensive criminal history including aggravated assault, drug violations and burglary. Court documents reveal he met Luzeia as a child when he dated her mother, before then dating Luzeia as a minor.
In May 2019, Phoenix Police say Jamal hit Luzeia in the face with a handgun 10 times after telling her to abort her 17-week pregnancy. Police learned she became pregnant twice by Jamal and miscarried both times.
He was arrested for the assault the next day, but released a week later, despite being on probation.
In July 2019, Glendale Police say Jamal's brother pulled Luzeia out of her car, hit her while Jamal kicked her in the ribs while she was down.
‘I’ll kill you …’
Luzeia files for an order of protection against Jamal.
"A protection order is just a piece of paper and if somebody wants to violate that order, they’re going to. That’s not going to stop them," McGrath said.
Luzeia feared for her safety. She had her apartment door locks changed after a burglary.
Investigators say they've obtained threatening text messages from Jamal to Luzeia.
"You ain’t at yo grandma’s. I just drove past there."
"(Expletive) I’ll kill you once I beat this case with you."
DNA evidence from the crime scene ultimately matched Jamal and his father.
In September 2019, investigators find two vehicles.
One of them had been lit on fire at Luzeia’s apartment complex and the trunk smelled like decomposition. The second car, belonging to Luzeia, was abandoned and towed away from another apartment complex and investigators say the trunk also smelled like decomposition.
Swabs taken from the trunk matched Luzeia’s DNA. Investigators found air fresheners, a shovel, and cleaning supplies including bleach and chlorine inside the car.
Days before the homicide investigation, police say Jamal is seen on surveillance video buying those exact cleaning items at a south Phoenix Walmart.
Cell phone locations reveal possible location of her remains
FOX 10's Justin Lum and Jeff McGrath, chief investigative officer for 3LawsRecon Investigations.
Court documents say on Aug. 21, 2019, the cell phones of Jamel and his former girlfriend pinged them on the Gila River Indian Reservation between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
While on a ride-along with McGrath, he takes us to a wash in a nonresidential area near 51st and Southern avenues where he’s searched for Luzeia in the past.
"I believe Jamal’s smart enough to know that if he disposes of her on the Gila River Indian Reservation, it’s going to be much more difficult for us to find her," McGrath said.
We called Jamal's ex-girlfriend to learn more. She's never been named a suspect, so we’re not identifying her.
She was asked, "Your cell phone and his had pinged on the Gila River Reservation and this was the time around when Luzeia had gone missing. I’m just trying to figure out what you remember about that time?"
She denied knowing Luzeia and hung up.
"One of the investigators observed something up under this tree, and it was tucked in there quite a ways," McGrath said.
He and his team made a chilling discovery. A sleeping bag with dried blood.
McGrath keeps the evidence locked away in his office and says it tested positive for human blood. He says he can’t get a response from Phoenix Police to take the evidence.
Phoenix Police were asked if investigators ever searched for Luzeia on the reservation. The short answer, no, and the case agent declined to interview with FOX 10.
"One thing we need to look for in this situation is dirt that’s been disturbed, like not natural, like this looks natural," McGrath explained, referring to when searching for Luzeia's body.
When asked if he's confident the sleeping bag with blood is linked to Luzeia, he says, "I’m confident it’s linked to a body, a human body. Now can I say with 100% certainty it’s linked to Luzeia? I can’t."
Jamal's trial is set to begin on Jan. 18, 2023. He faces charges of second-degree murder and abandonment or concealment of a dead body.
Questions remain – Why hasn’t law enforcement searched for Luzeia? Wouldn’t finding her body strengthen the case for prosecutors?
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office won’t provide much on the case since it’s still open.
For Luzeia’s family, finding her means closure, and they will be in court for trial.
Her aunt says, "Just to be able to face him and let him know that her family is there, she has family that loves her she has friends, family that are trying to be there to make sure that he sees that, and we get some sort of justice on her part."
Jamal declined to be interviewed and is currently housed at the Maricopa County 4th Avenue Jail.
If you believe you are a victim of domestic violence, help is available. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text START to 88788. A live online chat is also available.