At about 2:30 p.m. on a Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival Saturday, local resident Maria Guadalupe Serrano left her rented room on Cypress Street. The housekeeper was walking to Purissima Street to clean a client’s home.
That is the last anyone has seen Serrano.
Now, more than 21 years later, her family and law enforcement are attempting to refresh people’s minds about the case in the hopes of locating her.
“It is a cold case and we’ve been looking into the case to try and explore different avenues, like searching her name through different databases,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Detective Jose Velasquez.
When she went missing on Oct. 17, 1998, there was little to no media coverage of her disappearance and not much was recorded about her whereabouts leading up to the day.
She was 28 years old, standing at 5-foot-1 and weighing about 175 pounds. A Hispanic woman who only spoke Spanish, she had black hair and dark eyes. She was last seen wearing a pink sweatshirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes. Her family described her as being a reserved, quiet person, according to Velasquez.
While she lived in Half Moon Bay, her two children were still in Mexico and she would send money back on a regular basis. Since the disappearance of Serrano, her children have relocated to the United States and are still searching for their mother, according to law enforcement officials.
A unique wrinkle: The Serrano case was first worked by a law enforcement agency that no longer exists. The Half Moon Bay Police Department was tasked with filing the case and interviewing witnesses. The initial police department investigation turned up no leads. Since then, one of the officers who worked the case is now at a police department in Connecticut. The other is deceased. Eight years ago, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office took over jurisdiction of Half Moon Bay and inherited the case.
“So, we got their cases and from that we were able to see the officers contacted her roommate, her sister and people she worked for,” Velasquez said.
Currently, the Sheriff’s Office has 70 active missing persons cases, including Serrano’s, according to spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade.
“Prior to 2011, the cases in Half Moon Bay would solely
be investigated by the Half Moon Bay Police Department,” Blankswade said. “After, it would have been reassigned to a detective after a review of all of the cases was conducted.”
Serrano’s case was the only missing persons case handed over to the Sheriff’s Office from the dissolved police department. After about a year of looking into the case, detectives are now asking the public for any information that might be available.
“Since she went missing during the Pumpkin Festival, we thought it would be a good opportunity to maybe refresh some details for anyone who may have known something, heard something or saw something regarding Maria’s disappearance,” Blankswade said. “We often use the anniversary of incidents to recall cases and shed more light on them.”
While there is no perfect formula on determining if a person will be found, newer technologies and advancements in forensic sciences can assist law enforcement agencies in the search.
One of those resources is a government-funded searchable database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
“It’s a nationwide clearinghouse and an easy-to-use online service offering investigative support,” said system Communications Director Todd Matthews. All of the resources from what is known colloquially as NamUs are provided to law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, forensic professionals and family members of missing persons.
It allows missing persons to be compared to unidentified people who are deceased.
“So, if you put a case in the NamUs, the system itself can say, here are the possible Jane Does or John Does if you would like to compare and possibly exclude them,” Matthews said. “It’s had a tremendous impact on cold cases.”
In 2013, Serrano’s case was entered in the NamUs database by the Sheriff’s Office. So far, no results have been matched.
“It’s been challenging, but someone out there has information and I will do whatever I can to try and help the family,” Velasquez said.
Velasquez speaks Spanish and so he is able to follow up with family members who were not contacted before.
The Review made repeated efforts to speak to Serrano’s sister for comments but was unsuccessful.
To report information about Serrano’s case, call (650) 363-4062 or email email@example.com or call the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Anonymous Tip Line at 1-800-547-2700.