When Rosa Isela Beltran Lopez vanished from her Jurupa Valley home in January 2019, her husband, Juan Carlos Lopez Alvarado, told family members that she’d been kidnapped. Don’t call the police, Alvarado said; he’d deal with the abductors himself to win her freedom.
But cell tower records, surveillance images, DNA and a plastic bag uncovered by Riverside County sheriff’s investigators told another story. And so at the Riverside Hall of Justice on Friday, Feb. 4, three years to the day that Lopez’s body was found in a sleeping bag in Mexico, Alvarado, 47, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for murdering Lopez, 43.
“The efforts of local and Mexican officials, including Riverside County sheriff’s Investigator Ruben Martinez, Baja California Police Chief Enrique Trujillo Martinez and Deputy District Attorney Karrie Brusselback led to Juan Carlos Lopez Alvarado being sentenced,” the DA’s Office said in a Twitter message.
Alvarado’s own hunt for evidence triggered the events that resulted in his incarceration.
The couple had been married for more than 20 years, but late in 2018, Alvarado suspected Lopez was having an affair, according to a trial brief filed by the DA’s Office. Alvarado used the “find my iPhone” app to track his wife to Chino, where he confirmed his suspicions. Enraged, he threatened to kill his wife and her lover. Police were called, and Alvarado fled, promising, “This isn’t over.”
The couple continued to live together, but their relationship was strained.
On Jan. 29, 2019, Lopez would be seen alive for the last time.
Lopez returned home from a Zumba class that morning and prepared to shower. It was then that a family member heard the couple loudly arguing in their bedroom. She also heard the shower running and “an odd noise, like a boom or thud or a door closing.”
The family member left for a time and when she returned, the couple was gone. An hour later, Alvarado returned home, driving Lopez’s white Toyota Camry.
In the days ahead, Alvarado would first tell the family that his wife had left for another man, but then said he’d received a call from a person who claimed to have kidnapped Lopez and who demanded 5 million pesos in U.S. currency (about $242,000) for her safe return.
“He dissuaded the family from notifying the police, stating that he was in touch with the kidnappers and would bring Rosa back home,” the trial brief says.
But police would become involved on Feb. 4, when Lopez’s body was discovered in a blue Ascend sleeping bag in the town of Pueblo Nuevo in Mexicali, Mexico. A plastic bag partially covered her head, and an iPhone charging cord was wrapped around her neck.
She had been strangled.
The efforts of local & Mexican officials, inc. Riverside County sheriff’s Inv. Ruben Martinez, Baja California Police Chief Enrique Trujillo Martinez, & Dep DA Karrie Brusselback, led to Juan Carlos Lopez Alvarado being sentenced to 25 years-life for the 2019 murder of his wife. pic.twitter.com/4vgmT5R2IN
— Riverside County DA’s Office (@RivCoDA) February 4, 2022
Alvarado and brother-in-law Cornelio Corrales were detained on Feb. 18 as Alvarado drove the Camry. A search of the car found a plastic bag that had once contained a replacement trunk mat that had been purchased on Feb. 15.
Alvarado’s cell phone was searched as well, and it revealed that all data prior to Feb. 11 had been wiped. But a sheriff’s crime analyst used cell towers to learn that Alvarado had driven to Bass Pro Shops in Rancho Cucamonga on Feb. 3, where surveillance video showed Alvarado, accompanied by Corrales, buying a blue Ascend sleeping bag. (Alvarado later told investigators that he had acquired it for a “hunting trip.”)
Cell tower data also showed Alvarado crossing the border into Calexico at 8:58 a.m. on Feb. 4 — the day Perez’s body was found — and returning to the U.S. at 11:22 a.m. U.S. Border Patrol camera images confirmed the crossings.
A U.S. Department of Justice criminalist then found DNA from Alvarado and Lopez on the cord retrieved from her neck, the trial brief said.
Corrales pleaded guilty to accessory to a crime on Nov. 21, 2019 and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
A Superior Court jury on Nov. 3, 2021, after hearing largely circumstantial evidence for three weeks, convicted Alvarado of first-degree murder.