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Indio

Suspect in 19-Year-old Stepdaughter's Murder Believed to be in Mexico

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Thermal, CA -

An Indio fugitive believed to be in Mexico was charged Wednesday with murdering his 19-year-old stepdaughter, with whom he was allegedly romantically involved for several years prior to her death.

A $5 million arrest warrant has been issued for 41-year-old Abraham Perez Romero, the lone suspect in the killing of Wendy Vargas, whose body was found Dec. 14 in a bedroom of her mother's home in the 88000 block of Avenue 70 in the unincorporated Salton Sea community of Oasis.

Investigators believe the victim, who family members and friends identified as Wendy Perez, may have been killed with a cell phone charging cord.

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Romero, who also goes by Jose Ramirez Arenas, is believed to have been involved in a romantic relationship with Vargas for more than three years, while still married to the victim's mother. Romero had helped raise his steppdaughter since she was 3 years old and has a 3-year-old child with Vargas' mother, according to an arrest warrant declaration prepared by sheriff's homicide Investigator James Dickey.

The document states that Romero's relationship with Vargas was revealed to his wife last year, prompting her to kick Romero out, at which point he moved to Indio. Vargas left with him, though the two returned to the Oasis home on occasion, including the day of her death, according to the declaration.

On Dec. 14, Vargas' mother told investigators she saw her daughter sleeping on a couch and Romero sleeping on the floor of the living room when she left for work in the morning. She left messages with her daughter throughout the day, demanding that Romero leave, but Vargas' responses stopped abruptly at around noon, the declaration says.

When Vargas' mother returned home after work, she found her daughter on the floor of the bedroom, ``cold to the touch and not breathing,'' with bruising on her arms and legs, Dickey wrote. Investigators believe Romero fled to Mexico the same day.

His neighbor told investigators that Romero drove away from his Indio home ``at a high rate of speed'' around 2 that afternoon. At 8 p.m., Romero approached a border agent and ``requested to be deported to Mexico,'' according to the declaration. He was arrested and deported on Dec. 15 ``and has been unable to be located to obtain a statement,'' according to the declaration.

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Investigators found his car at a gas station days later. Inside the vehicle, a two- to three-foot cell phone charging cord was found, which investigators believe may have been the murder weapon. The exterior surface and ``tram-track looking lines'' of the cord ``were consistent with the victim's injuries,'' the declaration states.

In addition to being charged with Vargas' murder, Romero was charged with assaulting his wife with a knife last June, as well as vandalizing a man's car.

Court documents allege that Vargas' mother was at her home with a male friend when Romero and Vargas began throwing things at the man's vehicle, breaking the car's windows. Vargas then broke one of the home's windows, which Romero entered through, then allegedly began waving a kitchen knife at his wife and threatening to kill her friend.

Romero and Vargas tried to leave with his young daughter, but his wife was able to get the child back following a physical struggle, which left her and the toddler with unspecified injuries, according to court papers. Romero and Vargas allegedly then stole a surveillance camera from the home.

Romero was described as Hispanic, 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. His last known address in Indio was a house in the 44000 block of Warren Street.

Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts was asked to contact Dickey, of the Central Homicide Unit, at (951) 955-0896 or Central Dispatch at (951) 776-1099.

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