33° Good Morning
33° Good Morning

'I Had a Dream ... She Was Trapped Inside a Barrel' / Mother of slain woman mourns for long-lost daughter

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

though it meant leaving El Salvador for New York 33 years ago.

"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

in love.

"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

run away."

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."


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More news