Tahoe murder clues lead to Mexico | SierraSun.com

Tahoe murder clues lead to Mexico

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Graphic by David Bunker and Amy Edgett/Sierra Sun

Victoria Rider hadn’t been seen in weeks, even months, before she turned up ” a corpse hidden behind a fallen pine tree in a field less than 50 yards from her Tahoe Vista home.

When Placer County sheriff’s investigators finally identified the decomposed body a week after the May 21 discovery, they had no local contact to notify of her death.

But the 37-year-old Rider, who investigators say was bludgeoned to death, did not live alone.

A British native living in the United States since 2002, Rider resided in a dilapidated North Tahoe apartment complex near the small-town post office with her teenage daughter and the daughter’s older boyfriend.

The young couple ” Naomi Riley, now 16, and Felix Lizarraga, 24 ” are the two people suspected to have last seen and spoken with Rider.

But they’re missing.

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Placer Sheriff’s detectives say they “have reason to believe” the pair is somewhere in Mexico. Local investigators have called on the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to work as a liaison between American and Mexican authorities.

Once the pair is located, Placer Sheriff’s detectives will cross the border to question and possibly bring back Riley and Lizarraga.

Officials say that locating the couple is crucial ” not just to ensure their safety, but because they are the critical missing link in a tangled web of citizenship and international borders.

The reclusive British woman who went missing for nearly eight weeks without report left a legacy of mystery. She had a family, a job and relationships that few associates could attest to. But investigators are looking for clues to the life she once led in Britain as well as Tahoe.

Rider, who also went by surnames Adams and Proctor, left behind not only her teenage daughter in Tahoe Vista, but also an ex-husband and three children in England.

She had two sons and a daughter, Naomi Riley, with one man. Then Rider married and had two more children ” a 10-year-old son and a daughter of unknown age ” before divorcing and remarrying a man who has since died.

Detectives declined to reveal why just Rider and Riley were in North Tahoe, separated from other family members, or where they had previously lived.

“Most of their history is in the [United Kingdom],” is all Placer County Sheriff’s Detective Don Murchison would say.

It took about one week, fingerprints and local dental records to identify Rider’s body. Her remains had been ravaged by animals and the weather. Rider died by blunt force trauma to the head, nearly two months before her body was discovered in the Tahoe Vista field by a passing teenager and her mother. Investigators have declined to release more details of the crime.

At first glance, the wooded area she was found in looks like a good hiding place. Adjacent to an old hotel, the lot smells strongly of pine and has a thick bed of needles and cones. On the May day when Rider’s body was discovered, the ground was free of snow and temperatures ranged between 30 and 65 degrees.

But an employee at the neighboring lodge said she doesn’t believe Rider’s body could have gone undiscovered for so many weeks. The hotel attendant, who requested her name be withheld, said the nearby bus stop invites routine foot traffic through the field.

Despite being described by neighbors and acquaintances as quiet and almost reclusive, Rider had a distinctive physical appearance ” she was nearly 6-feet tall and had long, dark hair.

Rider had been in the North Tahoe area for several years and was last known to work at the Tahoe City Post Office in August 2006. According to reports, she was unemployed at the time of her death.

The young teen described by classmates as “shy” and “usually alone” wasn’t known to be popular with the boys, though Riley reportedly attracted a boyfriend six years her senior.

Peers suggest she kept to herself, and teachers recall her spotty attendance.

“She was a very quiet person … she came in late, her attendance was sparse and she didn’t finish the year with us,” said North Tahoe High School teacher Dan Gill, who taught Riley science during her freshman year in 2005-06.

She was not a strong student because her absence was overwhelming, though Gill said she was “fairly capable.”

Riley, whom officials say looks her age, has brown doe-like eyes, straight brown hair and fair skin.

Like both Rider and Riley, those who knew Lizarraga portray him as a loner. According to sheriff’s detectives, Lizarraga relocated from Mexico to the United States when he was 3 years old. He attended school locally and graduated from North Tahoe High School in 2001, though officials don’t know exactly how long he’d been on the North Shore.

Former track and cross country coach Warren Mills remembers him as “quiet” and “nice.”

Mills said that Lizarraga never seemed to have much, but that he was always friendly and polite.

“He was just a quiet kid. He was into video games. And then later on he started going to wearing all black,” Mills said in a phone interview. “He was just an average kid barely getting by in school.”

Mills said Lizarraga always had a job, but because he was not a legal citizen, couldn’t maintain the same one for long.

“He [kept] to himself,” Mills said. “He ran for me, worked hard and tried hard, and that’s all I can say.”

Sheriff’s detectives declined to provide information about Lizarraga’s most recent employer, and emphasized that he is not currently considered a suspect.

Detectives, who suspect Riley and Lizarraga are in Mexico, are using the help of FBI officials to locate the couple. They say the search is promising.

“We’ll find them. Because the investigation has been very thorough. We’ll find them,” Murchison said.

Based on internal policy, the FBI declined to comment on Rider’s case.

Investigators are not naming Riley or Lizarraga as suspects at this time, rather “persons of interest.”

“We immediately want to find Naomi and Felix because we’re concerned for their safety … she’s 16 years old and out on her own,” Murchison said.

Country borders and legal papers make this murder case exceptionally complex, officials say.

Rider is a citizen of the United Kingdom, Riley is an underage Brit and Lizarraga is a Mexican national. Rider was killed on U.S. soil and the only two people who might provide information are at large in Mexico.

Sheriff’s detectives continue to explore the labyrinth of murder and missing persons and are hopeful they can solve the mystery of Rider’s death. But first, officials say they must bring Riley and Lizarraga back to the United States to help nail down details leading up to the brutal murder.

“There’s still a lot out there we can learn about the dynamics of … Victoria, Felix and Naomi,” Murchison said.