SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – The mysterious disappearance 11 years ago of a veteran U.S. Virgin Islands police officer that long vexed detectives has been solved, authorities said Friday.
Four men and one woman are charged with first-degree murder in connection with the kidnapping, torture and killing of police Cpl. Wendell Williams, said St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell.
“They had counted on the notion that we had given up,” he said.
More than 60 police officers raided the homes of three of the suspects on St. Croix before dawn on Friday, while a fourth suspect turned himself in as authorities announced they had cracked the case, Howell said.
The FBI and other federal agents arrested a fifth suspect in Georgia, who will be extradited, he said.
“Today is like a sunrise after 11 years of darkness,” Howell said. “The disappearance … marks one of the darkest stages of my career.”
Williams, 47, was an 18-year veteran with the St. Croix police department. He was last seen on June 17, 2001, after he dropped off a relative at the island’s airport, and his burned car was later found nearby.
After Wendell was reported missing in 2001, scores of police officers and a plane from the U.S. National Guard scoured the island but found no trace of him.
Howell declined to reveal a motive or explain how detectives solved the case. He said Williams’ body will likely never be recovered.
“This investigation was not solved by the discovery of a smoking gun or earth-shattering confession,” he said, adding that the case moved forward “sometimes only inches at a time.”
Williams’ sister, Jaslene Williams, told The Associated Press in an e-mail that he was her only brother.
“The entire family, friends and members of the community that has been supportive are ecstatic of the actions of the authorities,” she said. “We look forward with some trepidation of what is to come as details as to why, who and how are revealed.”
She declined further comment.
Howell said the suspects arrested in St. Croix had been living on the island since 2001. He said none resisted arrest.
They were identified as Jose M. Rivera Jr., 39, Jose G. Ventura, 41, Sharima Clercent, 32, Maximiliano Velasquez, 38, and Juan G. Velasquez, 29. They are being held each on a $1.5 million bond.
FBI spokesman Harry Rodriguez said Rivera was arrested in Sugar Hill, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta. He said FBI agents also helped police with the St. Croix arrests.
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