A brutal Benton County murder case gone cold, until now.
Our Hilary Hunt sat down with detectives from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office who said despite almost two decades passing, they feel like they are close to closing the case.
Rewind to February 1, 1997, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office responded to a trapper who said he found something out of place off of an old country road on the outskirts of the county.
“Nobody deserves to be killed, placed in a suitcase and basically dumped like trash,” said Sgt. Hunter Petray, detective with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.
Inside of a maroon suitcase, Soccoro Morran, dead and bound with duct tape.
“It’s all bout the victim and getting justice for her and her family,” said Sgt. Petray.
Fast forward to 19 years, mother nature had taken over the crime scene but had not washed away preserved evidence. Sgt. Petray sifts through that evidence daily.
“It’s frustrating because I believe it’s so close to being solved.”
More than 300 pieces of evidence are categorized in binders and boxes. Event the suitcase taped in biohazard stickers is stored in the sheriff’s office’s evidence room. Sgt. Petray spends hours re-listening to taped interviews and reading through hand-written statements from potential suspects; but in 1997, there was one big problem.
“This was one of the first cases that the sheriff’s office encountered that there was a language barrier,” Sgt. Petray said.
The 42-year-old victim was discovered to be in Arkansas illegally from Mexico. Her friends, family and acquaintances spoke Spanish only, creating a barrier the Benton County Sheriff’s Office struggled to overcome.
“Many were reluctant to come forward at the time,” Sgt. Petray said. “Basically because they were worried because they were illegal, they were worried about possibly being deported. Basically a general distrust in police.”
So the detective at the time called on Efrain Vasquez, a former jailer.
“Back then in Northwest Arkanssas, 1996, ’97, there weren’t Hispanics in law enforcement so we tried to pull in as many resources as possible to help with the investigation,” Vasquez said.
He was the only voice between investigators and possible witnesses as they went door to door at the Double Tree Apartments, the last place Morran was seen.
An apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Gustavo Garcia Irasco, but the question still remains: Who could the killer be?
To date, there are still holes in Morran’s boyfriend’s alibi.
“There are witnesses that heard Gustavo and Soccoro having arguments two weeks before the night in question,” Sgt. Petray said.
But when Vasquez was asked to jog his memory of the investigation, he said he thinks they may have missed something, something that doesn’t point to Garcia as the killer.
“When I look back at that time, I honestly thought well maybe he did have a hand in it, he know something, maybe he’s covering up for someone,” Vasquez said.
So who did it? That’s the question Sgt. Petray hopes he can answer in the cmoing months.
If anyone has information on what happened to Socorro Morran, call the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.