On August 12, 1995, 6-year-old Rosie Tapia was carried back to her family's apartment from the playground. The man carrying her told her sister that she had gotten hurt, and so he brought her home. After he left, Rosie told her sister she hadn't been injured, and didn't know how the man knew her name.
The next night, when checking on their children, Rosie's parents found that their daughter was missing. The window was open, the screen was removed, and the blinds were damaged.
Just hours after Rosie's disappearance, a jogger found the body of a young child in the river about 2 miles from the Tapia household, which was positively identified as Rosie's.
As of now, the case remains unsolved.
THE DISAPPEARANCE AND DISCOVERY
On the night of August 12, Rosie's older sister, Emilia, was babysitting her and her 4-year-old twin siblings. In the wee hours of the morning of August 13, the Tapia parents returned to the ground floor apartment in Salt Lake City, Utah, relieving their 18-year-old from babysitting duties. They checked on the 3 youngsters, who all shared a room, and as of 2:00 AM, everything was normal.
Later that morning, Lewine Tapia, Rosie's mom, woke up to check on the kids again and saw the door was closed, which was unusual. When she opened the door and went inside, she found 6-year-old Rosie missing. The window was open, the screen was removed, the curtains were parted, and the blinds were damaged.
Lewine immediately woke everyone up and called the police, as well as her extended family members. The search commenced immediately. In earlier reports, Rosie's 4-year-old brother claimed to have seen a bearded man who told him to go back to sleep, but recent reports claim nobody saw or heard anything. Police believed she may have wandered from the home on her own, but Lewine argued that was unlike Rosie.
During questioning, the police uncovered the bizarre playground story from the day before.
The evening before Rosie went missing, Emilia walked Rosie to the apartment complex's playground. The kids of all the tenants would play together, and Emilia went back to the house while her sister played. Between 7 and 8, there was a knock at the door. It was a man carrying Rosie in his arms. He said that she had been at the bottom of the slide when someone else slid down and kicked her.
Emilia said he was nervous, stuttered, and spoke really low while he was talking to her. She thanked him for bringing her home, and he left. Emilia thought it odd, but closed the door... Only for Rosie to tell her that she hadn't been hurt, and that she didn't know how the man knew her name.
At 10:00 AM the same morning Rosie was determined to be missing, a jogger made a horrifying discovery: a child dead in a river. The child was identified as Rosie Tapia. She was still clothed with no signs of struggle. Investigators still believed that she wandered away from home and drown in the canal accidentally.
Obviously, the Tapia family was frustrated. They knew their daughter better than anyone, and knew she wouldn't just climb out of a window in the middle of the night and walk into a river. The Tapia family criticized the Salt Lake City police's refusal to consider foul play, though they claimed they were just considering all angles before jumping to conclusions.
But the following Monday, conclusions could be jumped to. The autopsy report was released. It showed trauma to the body, including sexual assault, and the death was ruled a homicide. The Tapia family and those close to them, as well as residents of the apartment complex, were questioned. Residents corroborated Emilia's story, claiming a man who fit her description was watching the children play that day, and it didn't appear he had a kid of his own.
By 1996, investigators knew the case would go cold. They had no leads or witnesses and were at "a 100% standstill" according to Detective Jim Prior. It was tough to get media attention, as popular TV shows such as America's Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries rejected to cover her case, as there weren't enough facts to go off of.
However, as time has gone on, some media attention has been paid to Rosie's murder.
In 2010, investigators were able to release a composite sketch of the man Emilia had described on the first day Rosie went missing. (Why this wasn't done that day is beyond me). The family's private investigator believes that he created the injury ruse so he would know where she lived so he could return that night. However, some argue this doesn't make sense: He took her from the playground, and it seems she went silently. He already had her. Why would be need to learn where she lived to go back and re-kidnap her when he had already done so? Did he not have his car? Did he think someone spotted him? Of course committing a crime in the dark when people aren't around is preferable, but he already committed the crime. He took her from the playground and carried her home without anyone noticing. Why drop her off just to go back for her
In 2017, the family announced their partnership with the Utah Cold Case Coalition, an organization made up of attorneys, PIs, PR professionals, and other businesses who offer their expertise for free. The family has since agreed with the Salt Lake City Police Department with the potential for legitimate leads in the case, though those suspects were not named.
Rosie's case was featured on "On the Case" in 2019. Though Lewine was grateful to see her daughter's case covered on a wide platform, she learned horrifying information about the murder she hadn't been told before. In the coverage, she learned her daughter had held her underwater, drowning her. She also learned that they found DNA under her fingernails, though police had told her they didn't find any. The episode revealed that the DNA had been sent to a lab for genetic testing. A spokesman for the police department said he didn't know why Lewine was not provided such details that were aired on national TV. Despite this, the Tapia family still meets with the SLC PD regularly to go over the case.
Also in 2019, another sketch was released of a teen who had been spotted with wet pants coming from the canal in the early hours of August 13, 1995. In January 2020, a witness picked a photo of a man in a lineup that resembled that sketch. The man had been acquainted to Emilia. An old boyfriend used to sneak into the window that was now Rosie's room, but used to be Emilia's, when they were dating. Though the boyfriend, Danny Woodland, wasn't the suspect, his friend used to watch Woodland sneak through the window, and knew how to get in. However, Woodland said his friend denied involvement. (Emilia, of course, would have recognized him if he was the one who brought Rosie to the door.)
A second lineup was conducted, and Emilia selected a photo of a man who looked like the guy who brought Rosie to the door. The man was not publicly identified, but the Tapia's PI said that he was often seen around the apartment complex, but was not seen again after Rosie was killed.
This case is so upsetting and heartbreaking. You hope that if you wake up and don't find your young child in bed, that she went to the kitchen or is in the bathroom or went outside to play. You don't expect that someone crept into her bedroom in the middle of the night, took her, and murdered her. It is every parent's worst nightmare.
Some theorize that there must have been some familial knowledge to pull off this murder. Rosie had just moved into the room she slept in, Emilia used to sleep there before she moved out. The bedroom next to hers had no screen, but he brought a tool to pry the screen off of Rosie's bedroom specifically. Does this mean he had prior knowledge of the layout of the home? Or that he just hung around after dropping Rosie off without anyone noticing or thinking anything of it?
It seems like progress remains to be made on this case even 25 years later, which is amazing. Rosie's mom is still alive, and says she hopes she lives to see the day that her daughter's killer is apprehended. I hope so, too. It seems like they are closer than they've been, and I hope someone eventually is brought to justice for this absolutely horrific crime.