Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Murder Charge Filed in Cold Case of 'Pilar'

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Murder Charge Filed in Cold Case of 'Pilar'

Article excerpt

CHARLOTTE: Will man's arrest help bring closure over vanished girl, 4?

CHARLOTTE COUNTY

Authorities believe they have finally answered a mystery that has gripped this community for 14 years: Who killed 4-year-old Pilar Rodriguez?

The case of the missing child in Punta Gorda, which incited a massive search and years of detective work, ultimately came back to the couple that many had suspected from the beginning.

Pilar's former baby sitter, Melissa Harding-Jones, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Charlotte County to being an accessory after the fact to the murder. That plea led to an arrest warrant for Harding-Jones' former boyfriend, Keith Wilson, in Kentucky on a charge of first- degree murder.

Pilar disappeared while on a trip with Harding-Jones, who had left Hollywood in South Florida to live with Wilson, a truck driver and her then-boyfriend, in Punta Gorda.

Pilar's father, Marco Rodriguez, had allowed Harding-Jones, the daughter of his girlfriend, to take the child with her but soon reported the child missing when the two did not return. Rodriguez could not be reached for comment.

But even as authorities announced the charges at a news conference Tuesday, they would not say how this frustratingly cold case began to thaw and what evidence they have against Wilson and Harding-Jones. Harding-Jones' arrest warrant and probable cause affidavit remain sealed by a judge. The same documentation pertaining to Wilson's arrest has not been made public, either.

"We aren't going into the specifics of the case yet," Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Bowe said.

While detectives refuse to say how they think Pilar was killed, the first-degree charge indicates they suspect Wilson committed premeditated murder.

Charlotte sheriff's detectives, FBI agents and Kentucky State Police arrested Wilson, 42, in Owingsville, Ky. He was taken into custody without incident.

Harding-Jones, formerly Melissa Cooper, was initially arrested in 2010 on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child, and she was extradited from Everett, Wash. …

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