Ercilia Marroquin is an old woman now, requiring thick eyeglasses to see and an
occasional reminder about what she has said and done.
There are whole chunks of life that time has taken from her, but sometimes she
reclaims the missing in her dreams.
She can see her eldest daughter, Reyna, the bright one with adventure in her
bones. The beautiful one she taught to sew and cook and follow her heart, even
"I had a dream about her," Marroquin said Friday standing on the porch of her
home in San Martin, El Salvador. "She was trapped inside a barrel. She was
There's never any conclusion. But today that vision is chilling testament to
intuition or imagination or awful coincidence, for as the 94-year-old woman
found out Friday, Reyna Angelica Marroquin was the mummified, pregnant woman
found Sept. 3 inside a 55-gallon drum in a crawlspace of a Jericho home.
Nassau County homicide detectives believe she was beaten and crammed into the
container three decades ago, probably by Howard Elkins, her lover and boss at
the Manhattan plastic flower factory where she worked. Elkins, who lived in the
house with his wife until moving to Florida in 1972, committed suicide three
weeks ago after admitting to Nassau detectives he had an affair with a worker
in the 1960s.
"So much suffering my little girl must have been through," Ercilia Marroquin
said, after she saw a copy of a newspaper account of the gruesome case that has
drawn front-page headlines from Florida to Long Island but had not reached the
small town about 10 miles outside of San Salvador.
Seeing her daughter's picture, her face frozen in time in the 1966 immigration
photo, the elderly woman collapsed sobbing into the arms of two relatives.
"I lived with hope that I would hear from her one day," she said. "My heart is
For 30 years, those who knew Reyna Marroquin wanted to believe something else
about her fate. Even when their efforts at finding her failed, when it seemed
beyond doubt she had vanished amid a troubling extramarital affair with her
boss, they still harbored hope.
"All of our lives we have lived with this emptiness," said Adelina Melendez, a
cousin who lives in Brentwood. "We always asked 'What happened to Reyna?' Every
time we saw one of those programs where mysteries are solved, I always thought
one day we would be able to solve Reyna's mystery."
Elkins shot himself before giving police much information about the case and
detectives are still investigating whether his DNA matches that of the unborn
baby. His family has repeatedly declined to be interviewed.
But even with some of the most troubling questions about Reyna's fate
unanswered, her trajectory from El Salvador to the United States is tragic: She
fled one soured relationship only to fall into another. And in the end, this
may have cost her her life.
Reyna, the oldest daughter in a family of four children, grew up in the small
city of Tonacatepeque, where her father was the mayor. She was bright and
charming, and her family said she was the most attractive and intrepid of the
"She had beautiful flowing black hair," said her sister Dora Marroquin, 50, who
lives in Los Angeles but was in El Salvador on Friday helping care for her
elderly mother. "She was the best sister in the world. Beautiful, sweet,
After high school, while working as a housekeeper and living at home, her first
cousin, Carlos Cornejo, asked her to marry him. But the couple's life together
never got off the ground. After a civil ceremony, Cornejo refused to move in
with her, the family said, because it turned out he was living with another
woman and had several children with her.
Heartbroken, Reyna decided to move to the United States, to put the failed
relationship behind her and find better work.
"She was excited," Dora said. "She left to the United States to forget her
heartbreak, her problems. She had learned English in school here and was able
to obtain a visa."
A family in Larchmont sponsored her as a live-in nanny and housekeeper. Reyna
flew to Miami then traveled to New York. Over the course of the next three
years, the Marroquin family received regular letters from Reyna. And in them
were hints that all wasn't well.
In one letter Reyna told them she had left Larchmont, moved in with friends in
Manhattan and was working in a flower factory, Melrose Plastics, and that her
boss had fallen in love with her. Later, in early 1969, the money and letters
The family panicked. They sent letters to her address. They gave pictures to
relatives and friends traveling to New York to see if they could find anything
out. They hired a psychic to interpret the mother's dreams. A Salvadoran
newspaper even wrote an article about Reyna's disappearance.
But the only word back was from one of Reyna's friends who said that the
factory boss had sent a truck to Reyna's New Jersey apartment to collect her
"For so long I kept hope," said Ercilia Marroquin.
So did Enriqueta Andrade, Reyna's confidante since she moved to Manhattan.
Andrade, 66, a community activist who helps Hispanic women learn English and
gain citizenship, said she met Reyna at the High School of Fashion Industries
on West 24th Street in Manhattan, where she took evening classes. English on
Mondays and Wednesdays. Sewing on Tuesday and Thursdays. U.S. citizenship on
"She was new in town. I used to see her every day there," Andrade said. "She
was a wonderful kid. Her teachers used to say to me, 'If only I had a student
like her in every class, my life would be easier.' She was always willing to
learn, to help.
"She was very eager to learn English and become a citizen," she said. "All she
talked about was becoming a citizen and bringing her mother here from El
Salvador. She knew they could have a better life here."
Andrade, whom friends call Kathy, said Reyna went to church every Sunday at St.
Columbus Roman Catholic Church on West 25th Street.
The two would often meet after mass and sometimes go back to Reyna's single
room at the Jeanne D'Arc Residence for Woman in Manhattan: a simple, but
comfortable accommodation that had curtains, a closet, a chair and a single
Sometime in 1967, Reyna confided to Andrade that she had begun a relationship
with her boss at the factory. The relationship lasted for about a year, she
The couple would meet Sundays in Central Park, and by all accounts, Reyna was
"It was the highlight of her week. He used to come in, and they would meet in
the park. He used to tell her he was going to marry her and that he wasn't
living with his wife," Andrade recalled. "He would take pictures of her in the
park, and she would show them to me."
Reyna was being showered with attention and gifts. Once, Andrade said, Reyna
showed her a pair of leather boots and a matching purse from her lover.
In 1968, she became pregnant with the man's child.
"Her first thought was to run and hide. She felt terrible. She wanted to be
away from Manhattan and her friends. She was ashamed," Andrade said.
Reyna soon moved to an apartment in New Jersey and stopped working. She was
afraid that other factory workers would gossip that she was pregnant.
"He set her up there; he paid for a private doctor. She was still very
enthusiastic," Andrade said. "She spoke very highly of him. He was very
generous, providing for whatever she needed, and every time I spoke to her, she
told me, 'He's very good to me, very kind.'"
In the winter of 1969, Andrade said that Reyna found out that the man was still
living with his wife on Long Island. For some reason, she said, Reyna then
called her lover's wife and told her about the baby.
The next day, on a bitterly cold Tuesday morning in 1969, Reyna called Andrade,
frantic and sobbing into the phone.
She was scared.
"He's going to kill me. He said he's going to kill me," Reyna told her from the
one-bedroom apartment in Hoboken where she was waiting out the final months of
her pregnancy. "Can you please come here?" she pleaded.
It was about 10 a.m., Andrade recalled, and she quickly dressed, rushed to the
Port Authority Bus Terminal from her apartment on West 24th Street and paid 25
cents for a one-way fare to Hoboken.
The bus was late, and she got lost finding the apartment, she said. When
Andrade finally arrived nearly two hours later, she said the door was unlocked.
She remembers the scene in every detail.
A single place was set at the kitchen table. Food was still warm in a pan on
the stove, but the gas underneath had been shut off. One of Reyna's blue
slippers was by the door, and her dark winter coat hung neatly on a hanger. Her
brown gloves and rubber snow boots were next to them.
"I've never stopped thinking about her. That moment has been haunting me for 30
years," Andrade said.
After about three hours, Andrade said she went to Hoboken police but was
discouraged from filing a missing person's report because she was not a family
member and Reyna hadn't been missing that long.
Troubled, she returned to Manhattan that night, and stopped at Jeanne d'Arc to
see if any of the residents had heard from her friend. No one had.
"We kept calling the apartment for a week, but nobody answered. Finally, the
phone was disconnected," Andrade said. "I didn't know what to think. Part of me
thought it was the perfect crime, and another part of me hoped she had just
For three decades, Andrade and the Marroquins could cling to these hopes.
That Reyna had fled, trying once again to clean the slate.
That she had grown cross with her family and would one day come back around.
That she was alive, at least.
For three decades though, Reyna Marroquin was sitting carefully folded inside
an airtight barrel, a whole world going on above the 36-inch crawlspace where
she had been shoved away from time.
Two homeowners found no reason to move the 345-pound drum. And Reyna could have
remained mummified for years more, if not for a family who moved into the
split-level home in Jericho last month and had the seller set the barrel out as
When the trashmen refused to take it and the barrel was pried opened there on
the treelined curb of Forest Drive, 30 years of mystery began to leak out.
"God help her," Ercilia Marroquin said. "... I don't care if they send me ashes
or dust as long as my daughter is finally back here with me."