Missing in the Big Bend
Verk was a student at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. She was reported missing on October 14, 2016. Her disappearance prompted a massive search by friends, family and multiple law enforcement agencies.
Rewards were offered in the thousands of dollars for information leading to the whereabouts of Zuzu. However, searches turned up empty each time.
Her then-boyfriend Robert Fabian was later named a person of interest in the case.
Verk’s family also made several public pleas with the community to continue the search for their daughter and for Fabian to cooperate with authorities.
“Robert, If you love Zuzu as much as you say you do, and have told me, over and over, you will come down here and you will help the police bring my sister home.” Zuzu’s brother, Miles Verk, said in a press conference in October of 2016.
The Investigation ramps up
Investigators spoke to various friends, acquaintances, neighbors and family of the two men as the investigation went into full swing.
Affidavits show that Fabian interviewed with investigators back on October 14-15 to give his account of what took place.
Fabian claimed he invited Zuzu over to his home a few days prior for a dinner date but things turned into a heated argument, according to the affidavit.
Neighbors recall hearing the argument from Fabian’s apartment and noticed Zuzu’s car parked outside, long after the argument ended, records show.
Phone records later show that Fabian had been in contact with Christopher Estrada throughout the next day. Surveillance footage also shows Fabian entering a Dollar General purchasing what appeared to be painters drop cloths on Oct. 12, 2016.
Investigators also spoke to Estrada who said he had gone to Fabian’s apartment to paint a table, the affidavit states.
He also admitted to driving Fabian to the store and letting him use his credit card at the Dollar General, records show.
Investigators also spoke to those close to Fabian and Estrada.
One woman told investigators that Estrada urged her to avoid asking him about the situation.
“I don’t want to get you involved,” the woman recalled Estrada saying. “Don’t ask questions.”
A friend of Robert’s also recalled an odd statement made by the suspect.
A man told investigators that Robert discussed Zuzu’s disappearance saying, “If I know a really big secret and two people know it, then the other has to be dead.”
Fabian and Estrada would later become suspects in the case.
“In our hearts we all knew”
On Feb. 3, 2017, a Border Patrol agent was patrolling in a remote area of Brewster County and located a set of skeletal remains in a shallow grave.
“In our hearts, we all knew,” Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said during a news conference shortly after the remains were found. “When I walked up there (to the scene where the remains were found) I just knew.”
While there was no measure of certainty at the scene, investigators noted the remains were consistent with Verk and said they were found with plastic painters drop cloths.
The Verk family issued a statement following the discovery on Feb. 5, 2017:
“As our family awaits the likely news that our worst fears have been realized, our sorrow has grown alongside a sense of relief from the constant state of not knowing. Zuzu has been a bright light in our lives. It has been our greatest challenge to go forward these last months without her joyous laugh, fierce idealism and heart-melting smile, knowing we may all never have them again. We could not have maintained our strength without the comforting embrace of our family, friends and community. Lori, Miles and I are forever grateful for your calls, notes, hugs, homes and more. We will be forever changed, but not ruined. We appreciate your respect and time as we begin the healing process. As we carry on, we look forward to the day we witness justice delivered for Zuzu.”
Fabian was later charged with murder as well as tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. Estrada, was also charged in connection with the case.
Meanwhile, students, staff and family mourned the loss. A vigil was held in honor of Zuzu. An outdoor amphitheater at Sul Ross was later named in her memory.
Since the memorial, Fabian and Estrada have been held on those charges. Initially, Fabian was set to go to trial about a year ago. However, the trial was delayed.
Estrada was found guilty of tampering in April of 2018 and is expected to testify in the Caldwell County trial later this week.
The first day of the trial featured a number of witnesses, including Zuzu’s mother Lori Verk.
The first witness called was Zuzu’s mother, Lori Verk.
In an emotional testimony, Lori Verk described her daughter as a ‘big personality’ who was ambitious. Lori told the court her daughter was a student at Sul Ross State University, and she had fallen in love with the Big Bend area of Texas.
Lori stated that Zuzu was interested in transferring to Texas A&M to continue her studies. The same week she applied, Lori said her daughter disappeared. The conversation then turned toward Zuzu’s relationship with Fabian.
Zuzu’s mother described Fabian as tall dark and handsome but with an attitude. Lori went on to say that Fabian could be manipulative, arrogant and “was all about Robert.”
Next, the mother recalled the week Zuzu went missing.
She noted Zuzu was very busy and they stopped hearing from her and Lori began to panic texting her “tell us you are alive.”
Lori then recalled reaching out to Fabian who said he was giving Zuzu space. The family then traveled to Alpine.
While there, Lori claims the family reached out to Fabian several times. Finally, when speaking with Robert, the family urged him to contact police for a welfare check and let him know that Zuzu had been admitted to Texas A&M University.
In recalling the saga, Lori credited the Alpine community, as well as law enforcement, for their assistance in searching for Zuzu but recalled no help from Robert in the search.
Sgt. Aaron Villanueva
Sgt. Aaron Villanueva was next to take the stand. Villanueva was the officer who was called to investigate Zuzu’s disappearance.
Villanueva recalled knowing Fabian while growing up in the area saying, “Alpine is close knit.” The Sergeant recalled the phone call Fabian made to him on Oct. 14, 2016 to report Zuzu had been missing and his search of her home in Alpine, which ultimately yielded few leads.
The officer then went with Fabian to search for Zuzu. During their search, Fabian detailed the last time he had seen her and described a romantic dinner they had.
Zuzu’s best friend, Andre’ana Doggett was the next to take the stand recalling her memories of her friend, as well as her encounters with Fabian.
Despite living in different cities, Doggett and Zuzu remained close friends and were constantly in communication, according to the testimony given on Tuesday afternoon.
Doggett says Zuzu helped fill the gap when her sister passed and described the Sul Ross student as very outgoing and independent.
The friend also had an encounter with Fabian while celebrating Zuzu’s 21st birthday.
Doggett told the court that Fabian was “not very inviting” he was “needy” and “annoying.”
However, the friend coupled that with the fact that Zuzu had no enemies, to her knowledge, and she never mentioned being afraid of Fabian.
Prior to her disappearance, Doggett recalls seeing a Snapchat of the “date” Fabian had with Zuzu a few nights before she was reported missing.
Doggett also recalled seeing that Snapchat disappear before 24 hours. Snapchat videos and photos, posted to a users story, will remain visible to friends for 24 hours before they delete.
She also recalls reaching out to Zuzu eight to 12 times and never receiving any sort of response from her friend, at which point Doggett said she became “frantic.”
Despite not knowing Zuzu personally, Ndiaye, a former graduate assistant was next to the stand.
Ndiaye recalled seeing Verk’s car parked “recklessly,” one day while driving to work.
Next, Meredith Schock was called to testify.
Schock was a neighbor of Zuzu and recalled seeing Fabian at her home about one or two weeks prior to her disappearance.
She also recalled speaking with Fabian about a breakup with Zuzu. Fabian had told her the break up was not by choice, Schock said of their discussion.
Around the time Zuzu was reported missing, Schock also remembered seeing Zuzu’s dog running loose. She told the court she messaged Fabian about the dog and didn’t get a response for about two weeks.
Next to the stand was John Franco, who was the downstairs neighbor of Fabian. Franco testified that he could hear everything and recalled seeing Zuzu and Fabian together about three or four times per week.
Franco also recalled hearing Zuzu come to Fabian’s home the night she disappeared.
That night, Franco said he heard the couple arguing and later he put a movie on at a very high volume. Franco also told the court he could hear someone moving things around and heard the bed squeak.
Franco then went to bed but was woken up by his girlfriend who heard a loud noise from Fabian’s apartment.
Franco told the court that he went and searched outside and noticed Fabian driving away, while Zuzu’s car remained at the apartment.
The next day, Franco recalled seeing Fabian’s sheets in the washer and dryer and noted that it was odd he did not hear Fabian put them in to the wash. While walking to work that day, Franco said Zuzu’s car was still at the apartment and noted that was also unusual as she typically left very early in the morning.
Franco also told the court that over the course of the next few days, Fabian did not stay at his apartment and noticed Zuzu’s car was gone at some point during that time period.
The defense took the lead in day two of the trial questioning John Franco, a neighbor of Robert Fabian.
Defense attorneys began by pointing out discrepancies between Franco’s testimony Tuesday and his grand jury testimony.
Specifically, the defense pointed at what he actually heard and the specific times he claimed to have heard it.
Franco claimed to have heard loud and strange noises from Fabian’s apartment the night Zuzu was seen at Fabian’s apartment.
The prosecutors countered and reviewed Franco’s entire recollection of the evening.
Zuzu’s Brother, Miles, was the next to testify.
Miles began by describing his relationship with his sister, his relationship with Fabian and his stint in Alpine.
He told the court Wednesday that he had moved to Alpine and attended Sul Ross with Zuzu for a brief time and even lived with his sister.
Her brother said he eventually decided to move back to the Dallas area and discussed it with Zuzu.
The day before Zuzu went missing, Miles told the court that he left for Keller and wrote Zuzu a note telling her he loved her and wished her well on mid-terms.
Miles then discussed living with Zuzu, saying they never had to lock the doors to their home and didn’t even know if Zuzu had a key. He even recalled Fabian would just walk into the house.
Then the conversation turned to Miles’ relationship with Fabian.
Miles said he and Fabian “got along,” in the beginning, but eventually he noticed some problems.
He told the court Zuzu would often come home crying about the relationship and said Fabian was “extremely jealous,” and possessive.
Miles said he believed Fabian liked Zuzu far more than she liked him.
The defense then questioned Miles.
The defense discussed a fight between Miles and a known acquaintance and noted Miles was hospitalized for nearly a week as a result.
Josh Cobos, a friend of Fabian’s, was next.
Cobos was close with Fabian after high school and said they would talk and see each other on a daily basis.
The friend spent most of his testimony discussing meeting Zuzu and their relationship, as well as the events that took place after she was reported missing.
Cobos said Fabian liked her but they frequently fought and he would often get jealous when she was speaking with other men, particularly the aquaintence Miles was accused of fighting with.
He also recalled Fabian telling him that he loved Zuzu and mentioned a promise ring he had purchased for her.
However, Cobos said Fabian was “consumed” with the idea of Zuzu leaving the area.
Then Cobos discussed his encounters with Fabian after Zuzu was reported missing.
He told the court that he and Fabian did not talk much the week she went missing and said he tried to talk with Fabian several times on Oct. 12, 2016. Fabian eventually responded to Cobos and said he was very busy, according to the testimony given on Wednesday.
Eventually, Cobos said he asked Fabian about Zuzu’s disappearance but did not receive a response from him.
Cobos told the court when he did hear from Fabian about her disappearance, Fabian told him she was missing and asked if he had seen her. The friend said the text was out of character for Fabian in comparison to their usual conversations.
Furthermore, Cobos recalled Fabian coming to his work shortly after receiving that message from Fabian. During the visit, Cobos said Fabian told him he had just been questioned by the police and noted that his friend looked “puzzled.”
Fabian then asked to use Cobos’ phone to call Chris Estrada, according to the testimony.
Cobos then recalled Fabian telling him, “I feel like I said too much,” in reference to his recent interview with investigators.
He than asked if he could stay at Cobos’ home.
Cobos continued to recount the strange behavior by Fabian and remembered an instance where he asked Cobos if he could take him to pick up his laptop and other items from his laundry room.
Back at Cobos’ apartment, the friend said Fabian mentioned deleting some Facebook posts as they may make him look bad.
Eventually, Cobos and Fabian discussed Zuzu’s disappearance again. Cobos told the court that Fabian had said “he felt like Zuzu had been taken.”
Furthermore, Cobos said he began to feel uneasy about the situation and spoke to a woman who said she believed Chris Estrada was caught up in something as well.
At that point, Cobos and the woman went to speak with police.
James Carillo, Fabian’s brother in-law, was next to take the stand and discussed his encounter with Fabian and allowing him to borrow his vehicle.
Carillo told the court that on Oct. 12, 2016, Fabian asked to borrow his truck in the middle of the night. It was around the same time Zuzu and Fabian had a date at his apartment.
Carillo said he never asked where Fabian went or why he needed the truck. The brother in-law also stated, to this day, he still has not asked Fabian about why he needed the vehicle.
It was pointed out in court that Fabian had borrowed the vehicle in the past.
During the course of the investigation, officers spoke with Carillo about the vehicle and said he was initially evasive and did not report it the first time he spoke with police.
In a second interview, Carillo mentioned Fabian borrowed the vehicle and stated that he cleaned it afterwards.
Sheriff Ronny Dodson
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson was then called to the stand.
Sheriff Dodson recalled the investigation, when he became involved and his interviews with Carillo.
Dodson said he became involved in the case on Oct. 15, 2016 and eventually led the search for Zuzu.
The sheriff said they called in multiple law enforcement agencies and the community volunteered as they covered vast portions of the county.
Then, Dodson described his interview with Carillo.
The Sheriff described Carillo as evasive as he did not report the truck being borrowed in his initial interview.
Eventually, Dodson said, Carillo told police about Fabian borrowing the truck and told the court the vaccum used to clean it were taken as evidence in the case.
Dodson then turned to Zuzu’s discovery.
Her remains were located in a shallow grave in a remote area of Brewster County with painters plastic.
The Sheriff says a Border Patrol agent was out installing sensors in the county when he located the remains.
At the site, Dodson said investigators found a retainer, patches of blonde hair and noted that the skull had been separated from the jaw bone.
At that moment, Dodson said he knew the remains were that of Zuzu Verk.
Sgt. Kirk Hoffman
Next up was Sgt. Kirk Hoffman who went into detail on the evidence he collected during the investigation.
Hoffman maintains evidence at the Alpine Police Department.
The officer recalled collecting several pieces of evidence including:
- A vacuum from Carillo that was used to clean his truck after Fabian borrowed it.
- Hair samples that were found in Estrada’s vehicle
- Blood stains from Zuzu’s home
- Zuzu’s boots
- Video of multiple hotels in the area
- Video from the family Dollar where Fabian was seen buying painters cloths
- Video of Texas disposal
- Video from various businesses
- A shovel
- And several other items at the grave site where Zuzu’s remains were located.
In all, Hoffaman told the court he collected nearly 300 pieces of evidence.
Cpt. Darryl Losyoa
Next was Cpt. Darryl Losoya who interviewed Fabian when he spoke with authorities.
Losoya told the court that he knew Fabian and even spoke to him the day she went missing.
He later recalled Fabian voluntarily coming in to speak with investigators.
During the interview, Fabian told Losoya about the dinner date they had together and about the argument they had afterwards. Losoya said Fabian told him Zuzu had gotten angry about one of his ex-girlfriends and that she left around 2 or 3 a.m.
Fabian then spoke with Losoya about what happened after Zuzu went missing.
Fabian reported to the Captain that Zuzu stopped answering his text messages and he thought she needed space. Then he told the officer that he soon received a text from Zuzu’s mother that she had not heard from her either.
Fabian also dove deeper into recent troubles the couple had been having, saying Zuzu told him that she was “drifting away” but they agreed to keep their relationship more private.
Fabian said he went on to drive his mother to Presidio so she could travel to Ojinaga, Mexico.
Losoya says he then had Fabian give a written statement and noted that Fabian mentioned he was willing to help in any way he could.
An interview with Fabian
After Losoya took the stand, the court turned to a recorded interview with Fabian.
In the video, Fabian described Zuzu as independent and talked about her desire to go to Texas A&M and later to Japan.
Fabian also said that Zuzu did not want a serious relationship and characterized their relationship as a “rollercoaster” at times.
He then went on to describe the break up.
Fabian told investigators the last time he and Zuzu broke up, he blocked all of her family and their phone numbers but not Verk’s as she continued to message him.
He also mentioned that after the breakup Zuzu had blocked him from Instagram and said she wasn’t seeing anyone else but she had made some new friends.
He can also be heard in the interview saying, “I truly love this girl you know” and “I always treated her right.”
On those statements, prosecutors pointed out that Fabian had spoke in past tense, as if he had already known that Zuzu was dead and the investigator agreed with the assessment.
In the end of the recorded interview, Fabian gave consent to search his apartment.
Prosecutors then turned to photos taken of Fabian’s apartment where they discovered painters cloths.
As you may recall, a probable cause affidavit states Fabian was seen at a Dollar General buying three painters cloths. Zuzu’s remains were later found with painters cloth pieces around them.
Following the footage and photos of Fabian’s apartment, Losoya said Fabian was interviewed a second time, further describing his relationship with Zuzu and what occurred during their break ups.
Fabian said in the second interview that Zuzu wanted to keep a “friends with benefits” type relationship.
However, during one of the couples breakups, Fabian recalled becoming intimate with another woman and told police that it didn’t feel right and that Zuzu never knew about the encounter.
They would often breakup for about a week and then settle their differences, Fabian said. The last breakup happened about a month prior to Zuzu’s disappearance.
However, Fabian said the week before she went missing everything was fine between he and Zuzu.
Cpt. Darryl Losoya (continued)
On Thursday, Officer Losoya was first to the stand to continue his testimony in the case.
The court returned to a video interview with Fabian.
Losoya said, Fabian described in more detail the date with Zuzu and what took place afterwards.
Fabian begins by describing what Zuzu was wearing the night she disappeared and re-emphasized what the date consisted of; a dinner, champagne among other things.
He then tells the police she became upset about comments regarding an old girlfriend and he claimed to have walked her out of the apartment between 2 and 3 a.m.
Officers then had Fabian point out where Zuzu parked the night of the date.
From there a second interview with Fabian was shown to the court.
In the second interview, Fabian details what happened after Zuzu left his apartment. In the interview, Fabian said he was frustrated with Zuzu after she deleted a Snapchat and watched a movie before going to bed.
Fabian claims he woke up around 8 a.m. the next morning and texted Zuzu before falling back asleep.
Eventually, Fabian said he went to work but was late and arrived around 11 a.m.
“We were just trying to make it work,” Fabian said in the second interview.
The prosecutors again point out Fabian’s use of past tense.
In the interview, investigators then asked Fabian about problems with an acquaintance, the same acquaintance Miles Verk is accused of fighting with.
Fabian went on to discuss Zuzu’s routine and why he cleaned the apartment after she left.
He claims the argument never became physical and also told investigators during the interview that he hadn’t searched for Zuzu because he was “trying to give her space.”
Police then start to point out discrepancies in Fabian’s interviews.
Fabian recanted part of his previous statement and said he went out for a drive after the argument. When he came back, Verk was still there and left some time after, according to the recorded interview.
“I had nothing to do with her disappearance,” Fabian can be heard saying in the interview.
Barr, the prosecutor, then points out that Fabian told police he would only help if, “there is nothing to incriminate him on.”
In the interview, police ask again if Fabian had anything to do with the disappearance saying, “I think you are leaving some stuff out.”
Fabian was not arrested following the second interview but police did search his apartment. In the dryer, investigators found a mattress pad, bleach and clothes. The clothes and mattress pad were then presented to the court, all of which had visible bleach stains.
Losoya then told the court there was, “no doubt the clothes belonged to Fabian.”
The defense then interjected saying Losoya was also using past tense with Fabian and asked if he’d ever framed questions to get a conviction. Losoya said he had not framed the questions.
The defense team points to other cleaning supplies found in Fabian’s apartment, which were never collected as evidence in the case. Furthermore, they also noted that the items were only tested once and came back negative.
They also claim police never fingerprinted the bleach in Fabian’s home and notes a pair of latex gloves that were too small for Fabian saying they may have been from a woman who lived in the apartment before Fabian.
In driving home their point from the first day of the trail, the defense reiterates that Fabian’s fingerprints have not been found on anything incriminating and nothing existed, which connected him to Zuzu’s death.
The defense then turns to other possible suspects, most notably the acquaintance that appears in various witness testimony.
However, the prosecutors countered saying Fabian had been caught in a lie about his actions during the evening with Zuzu and said the acquaintance had already been cleared by law enforcement.
Also, the prosecutor noted the acquaintance joined the search parties after Zuzu went, missing. Fabian never did.
Barr then says that no finger prints had been found because everything had been cleaned.
Chris Estrada has taken the stand in Robert Fabian’s trial Thursday in Caldwell County, delivering key pieces of information to the court.
Estrada started by describing his relationship with Fabian, saying they had known each other from high school and spoke frequently, via text, phone calls and social media.
He told the court that Fabian would often comment about Zuzu saying he “loved her” and cared for her.
Furthermore, Estrada recalled Fabian being supportive of her decision to go to Texas A&M but noted he struggled with it at times.
Then, Estrada then turned to Oct. 12, the same day Zuzu disappeared.
Estrada says he received a call at about 3:15 a.m. in the morning from Fabian. He went on to say that he responded later with a Snapchat message to Fabian, asking what he needed.
Later that day, Estrada remembers going to Alpine to hangout with Fabian and picked him up at his sisters house, according to the testimony.
From there, the pair went to dinner and Estrada says Fabian asked to go to Dollar General.
Estrada then says Fabian asked to borrow his credit card, as he had forgotten his.
He handed over the card and Fabian went into the store and returned to Fabian’s apartment afterwards, Estrada told the court.
Back at the apartment, Estrada claims Fabian wanted to talk with him about something and said it was a “life and death matter.”
Fabian told Estrada that the dinner went well but things got physical between he and Zuzu, according to Estrada’s testimony.
Fabian went on to tell Estrada that he had his hands around Zuzu’s throat when she started to hyperventilate and stopped breathing, Estrada said Thursday.
Fabian then tried to conduct CPR but was unsuccessful, Estrada told the court. Estrada went on to say that Fabian told him she had died and was still under the covers in his bedroom.
At that point, Fabian asked Estrada to help him get the body out of his apartment, according to the testimony. Estrada said he became worried and left, ending up at a friend’s home.
Estrada said after visiting a friend, he went home and fell asleep.
He goes on to describe what happened after Fabian allegedly made a confession to him.
Estrada told the court Fabian asked him a second time to help move Zuzu’s body and told Estrada he, “just wanted to get her out.”
He claims that Fabian also asked Estrada not to turn him in to authorities.
Estrada told the court that he declined to help Fabian move Zuzu’s body but also reassured him that he would not turn Fabian in.
When asked by prosecutors why he didn’t turn Fabian in, Estrada said, “It was a difficult decision but at the time, that is what I choose. Today, it would be different.”
Prosecutors then spoke with Estrada about why he decided to testify.
“At some point, I decided everyone needed closure,” Estrada said on why he choose to testify.
Barr, the prosecutor then noted that he offered to recommend a reduced sentence for Estrada if he told the truth and Estrada agreed but Barr noted that nothing was certain.
He later pleaded no contest to tampering with physical evidence.
Later the defense commented on the deal between Barr and Estrada.
The defense said Estrada took the deal because they had “stuff” on him, referring to evidence, and noted that Estrada was unaware of what that “stuff” was.
Estrada confirmed saying “yes.”
The defense then began to question Estrada pointing out key things about his testimony.
The defense pointed out that Estrada frequently used the term “we” while speaking and noted that Estrada admitted to drinking the night of Fabian’s alleged confession.
Next was Amy Lenpher, an employee of Dollar General.
Lenpher confirmed to the court that the store had cameras and they also have electronic cash registers that show the purchase, the card, the time and the date of the purchase.
A video was then shown to the court.
In the video, Fabian can be seen entering the store at 10:09 p.m. He then walks to the counter, purchases some items and leaves around 10:13 p.m.
A receipt of the purchase was then shown to the court, which confirmed that Fabian had purchased drop cloths.
Following Estrada, was Pamela Miller, a former Brewster County resident who lived in the area where Zuzu’s remains were eventually found.
Miller told the court Thursday that she had previously lived on Wagon Road in Brewster County. She went on to say that early Thursday morning, the day after Fabian and Zuzu had a dinner date at his apartment, she noticed a dark colored vehicle with round headlights driving at a high rate of speed in the area.
She said a few minutes later, the vehicle drove away at a high rate of speed, noting it “could have been a Jeep.”
At the time, Miller said she had no reason to contact authorities but said it did match the description of a vehicle police were searching for in the investigation and later called police.
Prosecutors then showed pictures of Fabian’s Jeep and Miller told the court it looked like the vehicle she spotted that morning, but was not certain it was his Jeep.
The defense then noted that the vehicle was only in the area for a short amount of time.
Brittney Gasca was next on the stand. She was a friend of Estrada’s and recalled the night he went to see her.
Gasca told the court she had seen Estrada the night after Fabian’s dinner date with Zuzu and after Estrada had met up with Fabian.
While with Estrada, Gasca said she recalled his strange behavior and said Estrada “looked like he had seen a ghost,” and “just didn’t look himself.”
Gasca told the court she continuously asked Estrada what was wrong, to which he replied, “just don’t ask me questions.”
Together, Estrada and Gasca watched a movie and she testified that he left her house between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.
However, Gasca told the court that after Estrada left, he sent her a Snapchat of an open pasture and said she did not know Estrada had been with Fabian that night.
About five days later is when Gasca said she heard Zuzu was missing.
After hearing the news, Gasca said she was with Josh Cobos and they discussed Zuzu’s disappearance and Estrada’s visit to her home, according to the testimony.
After speaking with Cobos, they both decided to speak with police.
Following the testimony from Gasca, the narrative was back to Fabian as Dianne Moore, the former CEO and CFO of Big Bend Regional Medical Center was called to the stand.
Moore said she worked with Fabian and called him “very plesant” and “outgoing.”
That was until Zuzu had disappeared.
Following the disappearance, Moore said Fabian was “not the same guy” he once was at the hospital.
He was eventually suspended along with his sister who also worked at the hospital, Moore said Thursday.
Like Moore, Jurado was also a part of the BBRMC management staff and said she had come to know Fabian.
Jurado told the court she never spoke to Fabian about Zuzu but did ask at one point what was wrong, to which Fabian said he had broken up with his girlfriend.
However, Jurado said Fabian was friendly with his co-workers, until Zuzu disappeared.
Afterwards, Jurado said he was “withdrawn” and that he wouldn’t address anyone.
She also told the court that she was supportive after hearing Zuzu had gone missing and told him to “have faith.”
Jurado later recalled Fabian talking about watching a press conference to see if they had found any “body parts.”
The defense then asked if Jurado reported what she knew to police and she told the court she did.
First to the stand Friday morning was Alpine Border Patrol Agent Jared Maynard.
Maynard was the agent who located Zuzu’s remains and discusses what he found at the scene.
The agent says they were putting out sensors in the area on February 3, 2017. At some point, Maynard says he came across a depression dug in the ground and noticed a piece of plastic, a blue sock and black fabric.
Maynard says the depression was about three to four feet wide and two to two and a half feet deep, according to the testimony.
Sheriff Dodson and Alpine Police Chief Russell Scown noted the shallow grave back in 2017 saying it was about three feet by three feet.
While investigating closer, Maynard told the court he saw a human jaw bone and recalled Zuzu’s disappearance.
Nearby, Maynard noticed a human skull and then told the court he notified his supervisors saying, “I think this is a shallow grave.”
Maynard also told the court he remembered seeing blonde hair at the scene as well as beer bottles. However, Maynard says finding alcohol containers here was not uncommon.
Photos of the gravesite, as well as the grave were then shown to the court.
The photos show the area quarantined by crime tape as well as the skull that was found at the scene.
Maynard then says he located more bones in the area, prompting him to contact Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson.
The defense then stepped in and questioned why Maynard described the plastic as similar to a plastic bag.
Maynard confirmed that immigrants often used plastic bags to sleep and burry things. However, the Border Patrol agent notes that immigrants were not apprehended in that area.
Next was Jeff Vados, a Texas Ranger in Alpine.
Vajdos says Alpine is generally a safe community.
The Ranger said he met with local police officers and observed Zuzu’s home noting that it was very unkempt and messy.
During the observation, Vajdos recalled seeing a blood splatter on the back wall and said it was splattered in an odd way.
Vajdos told the court he believed the blood “was significant at that time.”
However, Vajodos testified that the blood was from a dog injury.
Furthermore, Vajods recalls finding Zuzu’s cell phone in the home and downloaded the data but found nothing of significance.
The conversation then turns to Estrada and how investigators used Facebook to develop a timeline and pinpoint his location.
The following is a list of records discussed in court regarding Estrada’s timeline.
- 6 – 8:30 p.m. – Oct. 12, 2016: Estrada was at his home.
- 8:43 p.m. – Oct. 12, 2016: Location pinged at US 67 and US 90 intersection, about eight miles outside of Alpine.
- 9:18 – 10:12 p.m. – Oct. 12, 2016: Estrada is at a local restaurant.
- 10:15 – 10:21 p.m. – Oct. 12, 2016: Estrada is at a Dollar General.
- 10:22 – 10:49 p.m. – Oct. 12, 2016: With Fabian’s sister and brother-in law’s home.
- 10:50 – 12:12 a.m. – Oct. 12, 2016 – Oct. 13, 2016: At Fabian’s home
- 12:12 – 12:21 a.m. – Oct. 13, 2016: At Fabian’s sister and brother-in law’s home.
- 12:25 – 2:42 a.m. – Oct. 13, 2016: Estrada is at Gasca’s home
- 3:20 – 7:37 a.m.- Oct. 13, 2016: Estrada is back at his home.
Vajdos then turned to the calls and text messages from Robert Fabian during the week of Zuzu’s disappearance.
The following is a record of Fabian’s calls and text messages from Oct. 12 and during the week of Zuzu’s disappearance:
– Fabian calls Estrada
– Fabian texts Zuzu
– Fabian and Estrada exchange messages multiple times throughout the day
– Fabian also texted and called Zuzu multiple times.
– Fabian also made multiple calls to his sister.
Vajdos then discusses his interview with Fabian and told the court they had to “guide” him to answers and notes he often used past tense.
“It raised a red flag,” Vajdos told the court about Fabian’s use of past tense in the interview.
Vajdos went on to talk about other “inconsistencies,” which included the time at which Fabian left his apartment and that he seemed more “self-serving” than concerned about Zuzu.
The Ranger later talks to the court about the acquaintance that Miles Verk was accused of fighting with and who appeared in multiple witnesses’ testimony.
Vajdos says the acquaintance was originally a person of interest in the case.
“He did have a romantic crush on Zuzu that was not reciprocated,” Vajdos told the court.
Law enforcement interviewed the acquaintance and reviewed his Facebook records, which ultimately showed he was home during Fabian and Zuzu’s date night through the early morning of Zuzu’s disappearance.
The Ranger, next, discussed the scene where Zuzu’s remains were found.
He told the court Thursday that hundreds of pieces of evidence were collected at the gravesite including a number of bones, which were all laid out on a blue tarp.
Vajdos also noted that there were no duplicate bones found during their search of the site and very little tissue remained intact.
The Ranger also noted finding multiple pieces of hair near the plastic at the scene.
Vajdos also told the court, that during the investigation, he too traveled to Dollar General and bought a drop cloth, telling the court it had the same consistency as the plastic found at the scene.
The defense then came in to question Vajdos.
They point out that Zuzu’s boots and underwear were not sent to a lab for testing and note doorknobs and blinds were not fingerprinted.
They also point out that nothing in Zuzu’s car was linked to Fabian. Furthermore, the Defense notes that the Facebook tracker only puts Estrada in a general area.
The defense then turns to the acquaintance, saying phone records only point to his phone and not him, but also point out that the acquaintance had scratches on him.
However, Vajdos says the acquaintance had an explanation for the scratches that were found on him.
Then, the defense turned to the gravesite and noted that the investigators were sanctioned for leaving the gravesite.
They then ask if the drop cloths from Fabian’s home were tested, and Vajdos says no.
Barr then chimed in saying no other suspect purchased drop cloths during the disappearance and say the cloths in Fabian’s home matched the Dollar General packaging.
He also noted that Fabian purchased three drop cloths, but they only found one.
They then ask if it is easy to wipe away finger prints and Vajdos tells the court prints can be fagile.
The defense team then chimes in asking about DNA and if it is easy to wipe away, Vajdos responded with “no.”
Next was Richard Eisner, who is the manufacture of the drop cloths who says they had partnered with Dollar General.
In court, prosecutors handed Eisner the drop cloths from evidence to see if they were those manufactured by Eisner and he says no.
After a short recess Eisner was called back to the stand and recanted his previous statement to confirm the plastic cloth found at the scene was from his company.
A slew of forensic scientists were then called to take the stand next, starting with Sandy Parent.
Parent analyzed the plastic found at the site where Zuzu’s remains were found.
Ultimately, Parent told the court the plastic from the gravesite and Dollar General had different characteristics.
However, they were unable to rule out if the plastic found at the site and the Dollar General plastic were the same.
Next to the stand was Philip Kent, a Texas Ranger, who tested the blood found at Zuzu’s home.
Kent told the court that the blood came back negative.
The defense team then asked Kent if there was a match between the dogs used in the search of Estrada and Fabians vehicles. Kent replied that both came back negative.
Dr. Robert Williams
Dr. Robert Williams was next and told the court he analyzed the teeth found at the gravesite.
Williams ultimately said that through analysis of the teeth, they determined they did in fact belong to Zuzu.
Next was Mark Ingraham who analyzed the skeletal remains found at the gravesite.
When examining the bones, Ingraham told the court he found some damage from animal scavenging and noted there were no signs of damage occurring before her death.
Furthermore, Ingraham was asked about what signs are noticeable on bones in a case of strangulation.
He told the court that strangulation could occasionally be seen in the hyoid bone but not always. Ingraham also stated that the neck often times decomposes early and it is rare to find a hyoid bone after decomposition.
The hyoid bone is a horseshoe shaped bone that sits between the chin and the thyroid.
Lastly, Ingraham told the court that the bones had been outside for a considerable amount of time.
Last to the stand Friday was Barbara McCarty who tested the DNA from the remains.
McCarty testified that she received samples from the Verk family and tested them against the DNA from the remains.
McCarty said there was a biological connection between the samples.
First to the stand Monday morning was Kersten LaPonte who analyzed various strands of hair in the Verk case.
LaPonte testified that multiple hairs were submitted to her. The first, she recalls, was found in a white Ford Mustang, then hair from the vacuum cleaner taken as evidence.
They were both brown in color and LaPonte noted that both had been dyed and were around the same length.
LaPonte told the court Monday the hair could have been Zuzu’s.
The defense then questions the lab report on the hair, listing multiple suspects and the possibility of hair being in the car from other means. LaPonte said it is possible that hair could have been there prior to the investigation.
Forensic analyst, mitochondrial analysis.
Smuts testified that the hair found in the Mustang, as well as the remains were consistent with Lori Verk’s mitochondrial DNA.
Prosecutors later ask about bleach and washing clothes being able to destroy DNA and Smuts testified that it can.
Roy Roman was among the witnesses called to the stand on Monday morning.
Roman was convicted of theft and has been in the Brewster County Jail and was Fabian’s cell-mate, according to the testimony.
The inmate told the court that Fabian said he and Estrada had a bi-sexual relationship and Zuzu had found out about it and was angry.
He also says Fabian told him that Zuzu had threatened to expose he and Estrada, and that Fabian grabbed Zuzu by the neck and “didn’t know if he broke her neck or choked her out.”
Roman also told the court that Fabian would cry at night and say “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Furthermore, Roman also said that Fabian told him he was concerned for his sister and brother-in law as he had used their vehicle to dispose of Zuzu’s body.
Roman then told the court that he asked why Fabian did it and claimed “plain out anger. Anger took over.”
The inmate says he approached jailers and said he would talk about what he heard from Fabian knowing there was no benefit or deals for him.
“I didn’t do it for my gain or anything like that, but right is right and wrong is wrong,” Roman told the court.
The defense comes in and discusses Roman’s criminal record.
The defense team points out that Roman is a gang member, has lied to police before and has already been convicted on multiple charges.
Dr. Stephen Lenfest
The medical examiner in Dallas was next to the stand and discussed the act of strangulation as well as what it does to the body.
Lenfest told the court that someone being strangled, would lose consciousness after 10 to 15 seconds, although someone could recover if oxygen is restored.
The doctor also noted that the cut off of oxygen to the brain requires constant pressure, but “anything in the three to five minuet range will most likely result in death.”
Lenfest testified that it would take time and effort to cause death in a strangulation case.
Then the doctor discusses what strangulation does to the body.
Lenfest says strangulation causes damage to the soft tissue in the body, but it cannot be seen in the skeleton.
He told the court that nearly 50 to 60 percent of remains were recovered in the Verk case.
Prosecutors began with their closing arguments Tuesday, with Jane Starns taking the lead.
She begins by discussing what they have to prove: Fabian’s guilt in the case, telling the jury they have proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Fabian was responsible for Zuzu’s death.
Starns points to the evidence they do have, which includes surveillance footage of Fabian at a Dollar General, phone records that show where he and Estrada were during the disappearance, receipts that show the purchase of a drop cloth, the drop cloth found at Fabian’s and the drop cloth found with Zuzu’s remains.
She also points to the strange noises heard by a neighbor the night of the date and Fabian’s departure from the apartment, all while Zuzu’s car remained at the home.
Most importantly, Starns reminds the jury of the confessions as discussed by Estrada and Roman during their witness testimony.
As you may recall, Estrada told the court Fabian confessed to choking Zuzu after their dinner date. He further states that Fabian asked him to help dispose of her body.
“He has to minimize what he told Chris, so that Chris would help him,” Starns said in court Tuesday.
Estrada ultimately told the court that he declined to help Fabian move Zuzu’s body, but also that he would not turn him in.
“We may never know exactly why he killed her, we may never know who else was involved,” Starns told the jury Tuesday.
Starns then turns to the confession, as described by former inmate, Roy Roman.
Roman told the court, that while in jail, Fabian confessed to choking Zuzu after she threatened to tell people about a bi-sexual relationship between he and Estrada. Roman said Fabian claimed the altercation occurred out of “anger” and that he later buried her body with Estrada’s help.
“He took this beautiful, vibrant, 21-year-old girl and he killed her and he put her in the high desert,” Starns said.
Next up was the defense, who countered the prosecution at every turn, pointing to a few key facts, there was no physical evidence, no DNA evidence and that the two men who testified against Fabian were known “liars.”
The defense team told the jury that prosecutors wanted the suspect to be Fabian and they used the evidence and testimony to overwhelm the jury.
“They did that because they don’t have anything,” the defense told the jury.
They then begin to tackle each point in the case starting with the date night, saying Fabian had been cleaning the entire day prior to the date.
Furthermore, the defense tells the jury that neighbors never heard any physical contact, no gasping for air and never heard Fabian take her body out of the apartment.
They then turned towards the evidence presented in the case saying the prosecution had, “absolutely nothing,” in terms of physical evidence.
The cleaning equipment found in his apartment was tested and came back negative, experts testified that the drop cloth found at Fabian’s apartment and the one at the grave site were not consistent, according to the defense Tuesday.
They also pointed to the lack of DNA evidence at the gravesite that would connect the crime to Fabian, multiple items that were not tested in the case and the lack of existing evidence that a strangulation took place.
“They don’t want it to be anyone else,” the defense told the jury in relation to law enforcement’s investigation and subsequent arrest of Fabian.
They then tackled the testimony from Roman and Estrada calling them proven “liars.”
“Why do they have to get the scum of the earth in here? Because they have nothing else,” the defense said.
Defense attorneys pointed out that Roman had already been convicted of lying to police and said his testimony lacked details with no physical proof and pointed out that Estrada was only willing to testify when they had charged Fabian with murder.
“They want you to use the lack of evidence to convict him, don’t do that,” the defense team said Tuesday afternoon.
The prosecution then returned to the jury.
Prosecutors told jurors again that Fabian was consumed with the idea of Zuzu leaving, thus leading to the altercation.
Then they turned back to the evidence, saying each piece of evidence was like a piece to a puzzle and by putting them together, the jury would see the picture.
Finally, the prosecutors reminded the jury of a strand of hair that was found in Estrada’s car that belonged to Zuzu before saying, “when you have so many (coincidences) you stop having coincidences.”
Later that day, Fabian was found guilty in the murder of Zuzu Verk and on the tampering with physical evidence charge.
Day 7: Sentencing
Glenn Verk was the first to speak in court on Wednesday describing who his daughter was and what it has been like for their family since her disappearance.
He described Wednesday as one, “he had been dreading and looking forward to for a long time.”
Glenn told the court his daughter Zuzu was a naturalist, an ecologist and someone he was very proud of.
However, the disappearance and the search for Zuzu took a toll on the entire family, he said Wednesday morning.
The father said Zuzu was a very independent person but when they stopped hearing from her, it was concerning.
The Verk family then traveled to Alpine to find out what was going on and the massive search for the Sul Ross State University student began.
Glenn told the court that many had hope they would find his daughter, but as the investigation escalated it began to feel like, “they were searching for a body.”
He also credited the entire town of Alpine, as many volunteered to search for his daughter and were always supportive of the Verk family, with the exception of Fabian, who never joined the search.
Glenn said it was, “depressing but encouraging,” in reference to the city getting behind them in the search.
As you may recall, the search went on for weeks and months as investigators and volunteers covered each piece of Brewster County, as well as neighboring counties, in search of Zuzu.
Despite the support, Glenn said it was “depressing” but the family held out hope as long as they could.
That was until February when a set of remains were found in a remote area of Brewster County, which were eventually identified as Zuzu.
“On one hand it was relief,” Glenn said about the remains being found, “a real bitter sweet relief.”
Glenn then spoke again of his daughter, the impact she had on the community and how he will remember her.
“I don’t know if I can describe Zuzu completely, but I know she touched a lot of lives,” Glenn told the court Wednesday. “The work has lost a special person and I am so proud of who she was.”
Next the defense called a friend of Fabian’s to speak in court on Wednesday.
Felix Venegas, who knew Fabian in high school, told the court Fabian was a friendly person who had an outgoing, bubbly personality.
He also said Fabian was a really good student who consistently had good grades, someone that never got into arguments or fights and someone who never got into trouble.
Next was Lorenzo Barcena who had known Fabian since they were in fifth grade together.
Barcena said Fabian was someone he could count on.
“He was a good guy,” Barcena said. “Whenever I was feeling down, he would pick me back up.”
He echoed the statements from Venegas said Fabian was a great student and someone who was never in trouble and was always supportive to him.
Furthermore, the friend told the court that Fabian was very close with his family and would help support them financially.
He recalled only one conversation with Fabian about Zuzu, noting that what took place was “extraordinary” and that he was still in shock.
Finally, the defense called Fabian’s mother, Leticia Fabian to speak to the court.
Leticia said her son was hard working, family oriented and someone who was taught manners in his life.
She told the court Robert didn’t have a father figure growing up and got his first job when he was 13 or 14 to help support the family financially.
He continued to work until he got a new job at a pharmacy in college, according to his mother.
She also stated that Robert was an excellent student who received plenty of scholarship offers and is the only person in the family to have graduated from college.
“I am very proud of him,” Leticia Fabian said in court Wednesday.
Leticia went on to say that Fabian was never in trouble and was always involved in activities like football or golf saying, “everyone loved him.”
She then became very emotional as she described a time when she became ill and Robert helped her with treatments and speaking with doctors.
“I am very proud of my son because today I am alive because of him,” Leticia said.
She also noted that the entire family will remain close to him.
Fabian was later sentenced to life in prison and 20 year on the tampering charge. The sentences will run concurrently.
Following the sentencing, Miles Verk made a statement to the court agreeing with the sentencing.
“God is not going to forgive you,” Miles said Wednesday afternoon. “You took her from the world.”
He went on to say, that Fabian has no reason that was good enough for what had happened and he hopes Fabian will never forget Zuzu.
Made with Visme Infographic Maker