Fourteen years after her nearly 4-year-old granddaughter disappeared, a Fairborn woman celebrated the arrest of the man accused of killing the girl.
"I've been wanting closure for 14 years, so it was special," said Shirley Coler, the grandmother of Pilar Rodriguez. "She was a beautiful little girl."
Pilar is presumed dead. Her body has never been found.
The girl was last seen with her babysitter, Melissa Harding Jones, and Cooper's then boyfriend, Keith Wilson, in the Punta Gorda, Fla. area in February 1999.
Harding Jones, 33, was known as Melissa Cooper when Pilar vanished. In 2010, Florida authorities arrested her in Washington state, where she has lived for several years. On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to one count of Accessory After the Fact, a first-degree felony. A charge of aggravated manslaughter was dismissed. Harding Jones has yet to be sentenced.
Also Tuesday, authorities arrested Wilson, 42, near Owingsville, Ky. Wilson is charged with first degree murder in Pilar's death.
Pilar's mother, Pamela Grove, lives in Dayton but could not be reached for comment. Coler said she is no longer in contact with Grove.
Pilar's father, Marco, who lived in Hollywood, Fla. at the time of her dissapearance, was the custodial parent. Grove filed for divorce on Jan. 28, 1999, according to Montgomery County Common Pleas records.
Marco Rodriguez was dating Harding Jones' mother, Deborah Cooper, and often left the girl with Harding Jones, Coler said. The Associated Press reported that Marco Rodriguez shared an apartment with Deborah Cooper.
Rodriguez allowed his daughter to go on a two-week vacation with Harding Jones and Wilson. He reported her missing on Feb. 22, 1999, and told police that Harding Jones was supposed to return with the child on Feb. 14, the Associated Press reported in 1999.
After the missing person report was filed, police found Harding Jones visiting relatives in Wisconsin. She blamed Wilson for Pilar's death and told investigators where Wilson may have hidden the girl's body, according to the Associated Press. Authorities searched those areas but did not find any trace of the girl. They also said that they were not convinced that Pilar was dead.
At the time of the disappearance, Wilson, a trucker told reporters that on Feb. 7, he found Harding Jones unconscious at an apartment they shared. Harding Jones is an insulin dependent diabetic. Wilson said she was groggy and when he asked her where Pilar was, she told him that her father had picked her up.
This report includes information from the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
By Lou Grieco - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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