Howard B Elkins Pictures
DNA LINKS SUICIDE TO KILLING
When Howard Elkins climbed into a neighbor's car west of Boca Raton in September, placed a shotgun against his head and pulled the trigger, he already knew what DNA tests would eventually show, police said on Friday.
Those DNA tests came back this week, offering conclusive evidence that Elkins, 70, was the father of an unborn child found mummified with its mother in a metal barrel hidden for 30 years under Elkins' old Long Island home, according to police in Nassau County , NY
Detectives now say there is "no doubt" that Elkins killed Reyna Angelica Marroquin in 1969 while in a rage over the young immigrant's decision to tell Elkins' wife about their affair.
Marroquin, 27, who worked in Elkins' plastics factory at the time, was almost nine months pregnant when she was bludgeoned to death.
Numerous blows to the back of the head were listed as the official cause of death.
Her body was found Sept. 2 when Ronald Cohen, who had lived in the split-level home for nine years, was removing the 345-pound barrel for the man to whom he had just sold the house.
As he opened the lid, a hand and shoe appeared from the darkness.
The murder case was officially closed on Thursday, when the DNA results arrived from a North Carolina lab, said Sgt. Robert Edwards, of the Nassau County Police Department.
The analysis was done by comparing DNA taken from Elkins' blood with DNA from the placenta, fetus and Marroquin's bones, Edwards said. It reveals a 99.93 percent likelihood that Elkins was the father of the unborn child, he said.
"This case is over. We have no where else to go," Edwards said.
While no criminal charges will be filed in the case, Marroquin's family reportedly is still hoping to find some justice.
Edwards said he has been told that Marroquin's mother and two sisters plan to file a lawsuit against Elkins' estate. Efforts to reach the family Friday were unsuccessful.
Marroquin was last heard from in the spring of 1969. The frightened mother-to-be telephoned a friend from her apartment in Hoboken, N.J., asking her to stop by. The day before, Marroquin confided with the same friend that she had made a "terrible mistake" in telling her boss' wife that she was pregnant with his child. She feared he would kill her when he found out.
The friend, a woman who knew Marroquin when she stayed at a shelter run by nuns in the late 1960s, arrived to find the door to Marroquin's home open. Warm food was still on the stove, but there was no sign of her.
The friend tried to file a missing-persons report with New Jersey police, but was told they couldn't do anything because she wasn't a relative, there was no sign of foul play and Marroquin was only missing for an hour. She was told to wait several days.
The woman, now in her 70s, never followed up and the incident receded gradually in her memory until September, when she got a call from Nassau County police detectives.
Her name and phone number were in a damp address book found along with the preserved body of a woman with long brown hair inside the airtight barrel. Also listed in the address book was Elkins' name and phone number.
The book was almost reduced to pulp, and the ink had long disappeared. Police had to let it dry and use a high-tech machine to read impressions left on the paper, Edwards said.
Detectives called Marroquin's old friend, who was still living in the same Manhattan home with the same phone number. She identify helped Marroquin using an old immigration photo, and told them details of her short life in the United States. Marroquin arrived in Miami in 1966 after a divorce in El Salvador and made her way to New York, where she worked briefly as a nanny.
She wound up at the Joan of Arc home in Manhattan, a haven for immigrant women run by Catholic nuns, and eventually found work making plastic flowers at Elkins' Manhattan factory.
In November 1968, Marroquin told her friend she was leaving the Joan of Arc home because she was pregnant and her "boyfriend" was going to put her up in a home in New Jersey.
Marroquin never mentioned Elkins' name to her friend, but Edwards slowly pieced together parts of the puzzle, using other information preserved in the barrel.
"It was like a time capsule," he said. "We were lucky enough to put it together."
It turned out that the barrel had contained the same type of dye used by Elkins' plastics company and it was packed with the same kind of plastic pellets used by the company, Melrose Plastics, which made fake plants and trees.
With that information, Nassau County detectives flew to Palm Beach County last fall to talk with Elkins, who had moved to Florida after selling his company in 1972. He had been living for two years in the Crystal Lakes gated community west of Boca Raton with his wife, Ruth, 66, when Edwards knocked on his door.
Elkins was glib at first, Edwards said, and admitted to having a relationship with Marroquin. But he denied knowing anything about her disappearance, was caught in several lies and refused to give a DNA sample, Edwards said. Elkins became nervous and then asked the detectives to leave when his wife called, he said.
They left, telling Elkins they would be back the next day with a court order for the DNA sample.
"He said, 'I have a lot to discuss with my wife,'" Edwards said. "There was little chance he would flee. He was a 70-year-old man."
The next day, Elkins' son found his body in a Ford Explorer in a friend's garage with a gunshot wound to his head and a shotgun he had bought that day between his legs.
Edwards said they don't believe Ruth Elkins ever knew about what happened. She could not be reached on Friday, and her son-in-law, Jerry Oppenheim, said he had no comment. "It was mostly a circumstantial case," Edwards said. "Even though we could prove he was the father, we didn't have anyone who saw him kill her.
"Luckily for us, most of the principal [characters] were still alive in this case," he said.
Kevin Krause can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6604.
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