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The case of the "Girl in the Barrel" - The murder of Reyna Marroquin

This is a companion piece to this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFw04EyIgYU



This case is usually narrated kind of backwards, because it was pretty much solved before the identity of the victim was known. It’s a strange one for sure, and eerie. I also have to warn you that it is really sad, involves the death of a young woman and a fetus and this can be a trigger for some people.


There are two primary people in this case, the first being the victim, Reyna Marroquin. We’ll talk a little bit about her first.





Reyna Angelica Marroquin was born on December 2, 1941, in El Salvador. This case in general doesn’t have many details but I really couldn’t find anything about her childhood or much about her life in El Salvador. In August of 1966 she moved from El Salvador to New York after a failed marriage. She had been married but her husband got another woman pregnant so Reyna left the relationship and wanted to get a fresh start in the US. She was determined to achieve success and although she had moved she kept in touch with her mother regularly and told her that she was going to be somebody someday. Not one to sit around, Reyna moved into a Catholic home for single women, got a job at Melrose Plastics making plastic flowers, went to school to study fashion, and took classes in English and to gain citizenship. Through these classes she ended up befriending her English teacher, Kathy Andrade and they grew very close.


Reyna told Kathy that she had a boyfriend but didn’t reveal his identity. She further said that he was married and had three children already. Eventually Kathy noted that Reyna was acting strange and Reyna finally confessed to her that she was pregnant and that the father of her child set her up with an apartment in New Jersey and got her a private doctor. She was convinced that he would leave his wife and marry her. However as time passed and her due date got closer and closer, Reyna started having doubts that he was going to follow through on this. Reyna was getting more and more upset about this as she worried about the future and she decided to take action. One night she called his house and his wife answered. Reyna told the wife that she was carrying her husband’s child. Right after this the father of her child called Reyna back, very upset, and told her he was going to kill her. Reyna called Kathy in a panic, saying she had made a terrible mistake and told Kathy what she had done out of desperation. She was scared that something would happen to her because of what she said to the wife.


Kathy went to Reyna’s apartment but she found it empty. Even though it was winter, Reyna’s winter things were still there like her hat and gloves and there was food left out, but no sign of Reyna. Concerned, Kathy went to the police but when they heard her story and determined that she was not a relative they dismissed her concerns, saying that Reyna had probably run off with her lover. Kathy would never hear from Reyna again. Reyna was just 28 years old at the time she vanished, seemingly without a trace.


It wasn’t until 30 years later that anyone would find out what happened to Reyna that January night in 1969 when she vanished and it was by pure chance that any trace of Reyna and her baby was ever found.


This takes us to the second main figure in this story, business owner Howard B. Elkins. As you guessed, this was the mystery man who Reyna was dating at the time she disappeared. I couldn’t find much about his background either, unfortunately, just that he was married, had children, and at the time was a partial owner of a local business, Melrose Plastics, which was a manufacturer of artificial flowers. He was described as a big, bearded and jovial man who was very involved in his community and the social scene. Not much of note seems to have happened since 1969 for Howard Elkins, however that all changed in 1999 when by chance something unexpectedly came to light.




What happened was that a house in Jericho, New York was sold and the new owners wanted to get rid of this large, heavy 55 lb drum that they found in the crawlspace of their home. They managed to get it to the curb of the house, but there found that it was too heavy to be picked up by the waste disposal company. So instead they opened the drum and there they found a shocking and horrifying sight. Inside the drum was some green dye, polystyrene pellets, two rings, a locket, an address book, oh and also the mummified remains of a pregnant woman. Due to the condition of the body and not knowing how long the remains had been in the drum, the woman was not initially identified. The address book was damaged by liquids and much of it was illegible. The woman was determined to be a hispanic woman, in her late 20s, between 4’9” and 5” tall, and she had some unusual dental work which caused investigators to theorize that this work was not done in the US. She either went to another country to have the work done or she was not originally from the US.




To identify this woman the investigators looked at multiple angles. First, they were able to identify the origins of the metal drum. It had been made in 1963 for transporting dyes, and records showed that it had been shipped to Melrose Plastics, the company partly owned by Howard Elkins. Then it turned out that Elkins was a former owner of the Jericho house where the drum was found. As for the address book, infrared was able to be used to decipher small parts of it, including as it turns out, a permanent resident card that was written out to Reyna Marroquin. Sadly, this confirmed what people close to her had long suspected. Reyna and her unborn baby were dead, and had been for many years. Her cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head. Another item that was recovered from the address book was a phone number that belonged to Kathy Andrade. Police called her and she was able to fill in some of the details for them, of how Reyna had been having an affair with a married man, was pregnant with his baby, and feared for her life when she revealed the affair to his wife. Also in the barrel was a note that police were later able to determine read “Don’t be mad I told the truth”.




Obviously when this body turned up, Elkins was questioned by police. He denied any knowledge of the drum. It turns out that before the homeowners who had removed the drum, there had only been four other owners of that house, the first of which was Elkins. And besides Elkins, all of the other owners claimed that the drum had already been there. But it was so large and heavy that they all just kind of left it where it was. The second owner said they just kind of rolled it into a corner and forgot about it. According to Elkins, he had at one point created an expansion on the basement of the house which created the area where the drum was found, but he said he hadn’t been down there and it could have been placed there by the contractor, workers or subsequent owners of the property.

Along with finding out where the drum came from, investigators were able to determine that the green dye was the kind and color used to dye the stems for plastic flowers and the pellets were used for making the stems as well. This creates further ties to Elkins and his company. On September 9th, 1999 police questioned Elkins and asked him if he would be willing to give a DNA sample to see if his DNA matched that of the fetus. Elkins admitted that he had an affair a long time ago with someone who worked in the factory but he wasn’t able or willing to provide any more details of the woman or the affair. He also refused to give a DNA sample. Elkins was 71 and was living in a retirement community at the time. He asked the police to leave, telling them he would need to discuss this with his wife. The next day, Elkin’s family reported him missing before police were able to get a warrant. Shortly after that, Elkin’s body was found by his son in a neighbor’s garage. Elkins was watching the house for his neighbor and left his house, bought a shotgun and then shot himself in a car in the garage. No suicide note was found. After his death a paternity test was run, and although it was difficult to obtain a usable DNA sample from the fetus after so long, it was conclusively shown, with 99.93% certainty, that Elkins had in fact been the father. What’s interesting about this case is that police were able to find the killer before they were able to identify the victim. Yes, they had not yet been able to determine that the body of the woman found in the drum was that of Reyna Marroquin until later when they were able to decipher more of the contents of the address book. One weird aspect of the case is that former employees report that at one point a woman, who matched Reyna’s description, came to the factory with a toddler, and there was a lot of joking and speculation at the time that Elkins was the father of this child. Did Reyna have another child with Elkins already? If so, what happened to him? I couldn’t find any more about this but it definitely left me wondering. Unless he regularly had affairs with people and it was a coincidence that the woman seemed to fit Reyna’s general description.

Police theorized that the night of her death, Elkins had lured Reyna to the factory and then beat her to death, putting her body in the drum weighted down with the plastic pellets and dye. They believe that it was his intention to dispose of the drum in the ocean, but after it was weighted down he realized it was too heavy for him to transport, so instead he rolled it into the crawlspace and just left it there. After the body was identified, a reporter who was covering the case flew down to El Salvador to find Reyna’s family and notify them of her death and that her body had been found. There he did manage to track down her mother, who was still remarkably alive at 95 years old. Reyna’s mother burst into tears when she was notified that her daughter’s body had been found. Reyna had been keeping in regular contact with her family in El Salvador and when she stopped contacting them they put out ads in local newspapers to see if anyone had any information on her. They finally came to accept that they may never have any answers as to what happened to her, but her mother said that she had nightmares of Reyna being stuck in a barrel. That gives me the chills. Reyna’s body was flown to El Salvador for burial, and just one month later her mother also died and they were laid to rest next to each other.




This is just so tragic to me, but I am really glad that they were able to get answers as to her disappearance all those years later and give her a proper burial. It gives me some hope for the missing persons cases that are still unsolved now but I hope will get resolution in the future.


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