I am passionate about missing persons cases due to a personal family experience of having someone go missing in my family.
Karen is a Hispanic female of Mexican descent. She has black hair and brown eyes. She was 3'5" and 50 pounds at the time of her disappearance. Her upper right front tooth is larger than the others, and at the time of her disappearance, she was missing several baby teeth. She has a pea-sized mole behind one ear and has both ears pierced. She can speak both Spanish and English.
When she went missing, she was wearing a faded purple t-shirt with white lettering on it. She was also wearing pastel multicolored floral shorts. She had a gold chain with a pendant reading “Little Angel,” a ring with a red stone, and another ring engraved with the letter ‘K’.
She was taken from Tuscon, Arizona, and it was considered a non-family abduction.
Karen was born on October 7, 1988, to 26-year-old Rosalba Grajeda. Her father was living in Mexico and her mother, who was also Hispanic, Mexican, lived in the United States. Karen had a younger sister, Alejandra, who shared a pink and white bedroom in their apartment. They lived in the Saguaro Crest Apartments in Tuscon, Arizona.
Karen enjoyed playing Nintendo games, roller skating, and riding her bike with her sister. She was in first grade at Elvira Elementary school and was learning to read, write, and sing. She was a friendly and kind young girl who made friends easily.
How Karen Went Missing
On January 11, 1996, Karen and her younger sister had been roller-skating around the family's apartment complex. Their apartment was on the 100 block of West Valencia Street. Karen went back to her apartment to drop off her skates and returned outside to continue playing with her sister and other children.
They had been playing until Karen’s mom called them for dinner around 6:30 p.m. Alejandra came home, but Karen did not. Her sister, along with the other children, said they saw her leaving the complex but didn’t hear her scream or struggle with anyone. Karen’s mother reported her daughter missing, and she hasn’t been seen since.
Reports of an unidentified male in the area may be linked to another abduction. The man is described as being either Hispanic or Caucasian with light brown hair and either green or hazel eyes. He was about 5'6" to 5'8", weighing about 170 pounds. He looked to be around 30 to 46 years of age in 1996 and possibly had a mustache.
This man is also believed to be involved in the abduction of 6-year-old Esther “Lizette” Galaz. Her body was found under a mattress in a dirty lot; she had been raped and beaten to death. Both girls disappeared under similar circumstances. Both girls were Hispanic, abducted close to their apartments on the south side of Tucson, Arizona, around 6:30 p.m., and both girls were wearing t-shirts and floral shorts.
The second suspect is already in prison for abducting and raping five Hispanic girls. His name is Rodolfo Sedeno Morales, and he lived in the same apartment complex as Karen at the time she disappeared. He was actively abducting girls between 1993 and 1994, and his victims were between the ages of 5 and 9 years old. He has not been charged with the abduction of Karen as his wife gave an alibi at the time of her disappearance for Morales.
Looking at his description, however, he does fit closely to the unidentified man mentioned above. Morales is 5'7" and weighs 180 pounds. He is also Hispanic, Mexican. He would have been 36 in 1996, and he has brown hair but brown eyes that don’t match the man above. He was admitted into prison in 1998, giving him three years to openly abduct other girls, including Karen. The police firmly believe that the two suspects are different individuals.
Esther "Lizette" Galaz
Ester was another young girl who was abducted around the area. On December 19, 1994, Esther was taken in front of her apartment complex, Rayo Verde. Her family had moved in just two weeks prior and on this day her mother had to run to the store. Ester wanted to go play but her mother told her no and put her 11-year-old sister in charge. Ester didn’t want to wait for her mother so she went out to play anyway.
Ester was seen arguing in Spanish with an unknown male in either a light blue or silver pickup truck when she was forced inside. This was around 6:30 pm, around the same time Karen went missing. Less than two hours later the police had started searching for her. They searched local apartments and the surrounding area but found nothing. They talked to everybody in the complex and surrounding area and two children told the police about the mysterious man in the pickup truck.
The next day a man walking his dog close to the Tucson Baptist Temple noticed something odd in a 15-foot drainage ditch among all the garbage. Under a mattress was the body of Ester, raped and badly beaten.
Her family held a funeral for her, she had a white casket and plastic flowers on her gravestone. Esther was a kind, friendly, and smart young girl whose killer was never caught and brought to justice.
The police did a thorough search of the area and surrounding apartment complexes and homes. They searched in the area where Esther’s body had been found, hoping to find something to track Karen, but found nothing. They halted trash pickup so they could search the dumpsters of the apartment and even had Tucson Airport Authority search the surrounding desert in their jurisdiction.
With all the news coverage over this case, family, friends, and the community came together to search for Karen. Over 120 police and civilians searched large areas on foot, ATVs, bicycles, and horseback. Others took stacks of fliers to spread around town and in their neighborhoods. They even posted a large billboard with her painted portrait on it overlooking the highway.
Tips and Leads
One woman claimed to see a girl resembling Karen in a supermarket just two blocks from her apartment. She said the little girl was looking at cassettes and seemed upset. Upon investigation, nothing came of this tip.
The Tucson police traveled to Mexico to talk with Karen’s biological father and to give her information to the Mexico police. Her father was questioned and ruled out as a suspect, as was the rest of Karen’s family.
Another tip came in the form of a phone call from a librarian at the Arizona College of Law. On April 15, 1997, at 3 p.m., a librarian called to say she had found a message scribbled on a library table in blue ink. The message was slightly smudged but read:
“I was taked away from my house. Karen Grajeda. The man is my daddy.”
The librarian claims she didn’t see any children in the library and didn’t know how long the message had been there. The tables had been replaced after Karen went missing in the last year, so the message had to have been recent. The librarian and the police are unsure if this was written by Karen or just the result of a twisted prankster.
Karen’s photo was shared on water bottles in Arizona in 2000, and her case was talked about on a few television shows.
Karen’s mother, Rosalba, was so distraught by her missing daughter that she couldn’t eat or sleep. It got so bad she eventually had to be hospitalized for a short time. Rosalba had even lost her job. Karen’s cousins and her sister, Alejandra, were also inconsolable, and Alejandra had become terrified to go outside or to be alone. She feared that she would get abducted as well. Karen’s aunt pleaded at a vigil for her abductor to bring her back to them. Alive or dead, they just want their little girl back to end the torment of not knowing where she is.
A hoax started to float around claiming Karen was found. This hindered the search efforts and caused more pain for Karen’s family. The family helped Rosalba and her daughter to move out of the apartment and into a small cottage away from the painful memories.
Both Rosalba and Esther’s mother mourn for their daughters but now help support one another. They both know the pain all too well and do everything they can to be supportive of one another. The community also remembers the girls and continues to search for Karen, even though it’s been 23 years as of 2019.
Rosalba has since had another daughter, Daniela, who will never meet her eldest sister. Alejandra and her mother mostly stay inside the house, but they pray every day hoping Karen will find her way home.
Karen’s case was even on America’s Most Wanted, but no tips or leads have gotten them any answers. The case is cold but still open, and the police are still working to find Karen and the killer of Esther.
The theories, in this case, consist of the suspects mentioned above. The unknown male seen around the apartment is thought to have taken both girls, if not more, and has never been caught.
The other theory is that Rodolfo Morales abducted both girls despite his wife's alibi for him. Both girls are similar to the abductions made by Morales, and the time frame is close as well.
There hasn’t been enough evidence to conduct other theories as to what might have happened to Karen. If she is alive, she would be 31 in October of 2019.
If you have any information on Karen’s whereabouts or Esther’s killer, please don’t hesitate to call the authorities. No detail is too small; please call if you know anything or have seen anything.
- The Tuscon Police Department non-emergency phone number is 520-791-4444.
- You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).