She was reported missing, but she never left home
By THOMAS LAKE
Published November 25, 2006
NEW PORT RICHEY - Mariesa Weber vanished three days before Halloween, leaving her purse and new suede jacket. She was 38, loved rock 'n' roll, lived with her sister and parents. She left the bedroom light burning.
Her family thought she had been kidnapped. They called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and put out fliers that said MISSING PLEASE HELP. They posted her description at SomeoneIsMissing.com. They appealed to Nancy Grace on CNN.
Days passed with no clues except for a strange smell coming from Mariesa's bedroom. They turned it inside out. Nothing. They blamed it on Norway rats, gorged on poison, dead behind the wall.
Mariesa turned up nearly two weeks after she disappeared. She was not pulled from a culvert or fished from a cypress swamp. For the people who loved her, it was even worse.
"I'm sleeping in the same house as her for 11 days, looking for her," said her mother, Connie Weber. "And she's right in the bedroom."
Hidden in plain sight
The Webers live on Osceola Drive, behind a jungle of oak trees and shrubbery, in a ranch house with a facade of brown stone. They came from Brooklyn nearly 30 years ago. Mariesa went to Ridgewood High School, cared for her grandmother, worked the registers at Kmart and Winn-Dixie. She had posters of Kurt Cobain and the Doors on her walls. Her ankle tattoo said Hutch, in memory of Michael Hutchence, the late frontman of INXS.
Mariesa loved to debate current events. She spent hours in her bedroom watching CNN. She came home the afternoon of Oct. 28 and saw her mother in the kitchen.
"Is Gina home?" Mariesa said, referring to her younger sister. It was the last time Connie Weber saw her alive.
The detectives had no answers on Mariesa's whereabouts, but the family guessed that she answered the door and got snatched by a stranger. Still, they kept scouring her room for clues.
Late one night - they think it was Nov. 9 - Gina went in her sister's bedroom one more time. Something told her to look behind the bookcase.
And she screamed.
"It's a foot," she said, as Connie remembers it. "It's soft, Ma. It's soft. It feels like rubber."
Connie woke up her husband, Jack Weber. He ran into Mariesa's room and pointed a flashlight into the crevice. He saw the ankle, the Hutch tattoo, and the truth hit him like a hurricane.
His daughter was upside down, wedged between the bookcase and the wall, dead and decomposing.
As they searched far and wide, she was a few steps away.
'She couldn't get out'
Mariesa's death is not suspicious, said Kevin Doll, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the case. He couldn't provide details, but he said she appeared to have died from positional asphyxia, which occurs when the position of someone's body prevents them from breathing.
Her family has a theory:
Mariesa's television was plugged into a power strip that ran to an outlet behind a tall wooden bookshelf with a solid back. Whenever something went wrong with a plug, she or Gina stood on a bureau next to the shelf and leaned over the top to make an adjustment. Maybe this time she leaned too far and pitched headfirst over the edge.
She was 5-foot-3, barely 100 pounds.
"She's a little thing," Connie said. "And the bookcase is six feet tall and solid. And she couldn't get out."
The family held a closed-casket funeral last Sunday. But before that, Connie went to the morgue to have a look. First she had to sign a paper that said something like, "We strongly advise you not to view these remains."
Mariesa's skin was dark brown and coming off her face. She was barely recognizable. But her mouth was wide open, as if she had been struggling to breathe or screaming for help.
One day, when Connie was going through Mariesa's things, she found a poem inside a small photo album. It was clipped from a newspaper dated 1997, and the author was unknown. It was called Little Girl in a Box.
To Connie, it was a premonition:
Little girl in a box
trying to break free
she's screaming out
hear her voice
it's a desperate plea.
Reaching out's too dangerous
But reaching out's the key
She cannot do this all alone
With help she will be free.
No one knows exactly when Mariesa died, but Connie may have been in the house when it happened. She wonders: How long did Mariesa struggle? Did she moan? Bang on the walls? Could she have been saved?
Alone in the house during the day, Connie asks her dead daughter these haunting questions.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.