California Woman Who Flew To Seattle To Meet Love Interest Found Dead In Forest
“This was easily the most brutal attack I’ve seen on another human,” a sergeant who investigated the case says.
A California woman traveled to Seattle to meet up with a love interest. After she was found dead in a remote section of Washington forest, investigators had to piece together the puzzle of who the victim was and who killed her.
On Feb. 14, 2020, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a body found in a remote section of the Buckhorn Wilderness area of the Olympic National Forest.
When deputies arrived on scene, they noted that the victim had suffered significant head trauma and her throat was cut almost from ear to ear.
According to Sgt. Eric Munger, the victim had no identification, purse or other personal possessions on her except for her clothing, which included distinct pink Guess brand shoes. She also had her fingernails painted pink and glitter in her hair. “Why is this gal that looks like she’s ready to be on a date out in the middle of nowhere?” Munger recalls thinking.
As the investigators combed the area for clues, they found what appeared to be a broken bottle of Hornitos tequila with blood on it. They also found the weapon that likely cut the victim’s throat: a blue knife that had blood and hair on it.
“My 29 years as law enforcement, this was easily the most brutal attack I’ve seen on another human,” Sgt. Munger says.
Because of the remoteness of the crime scene, there were no witnesses or cameras. But, according to Det. Jeff Waterhouse, there was a casino and gas station in the region that could possibly help provide clues. “We thought, well, maybe by the way she’s dressed, she could possibly have went to the casino, or possibly stopped and got gas, or maybe went into the gas station to get a snack,” he says.
Investigators requested one weeks-worth of surveillance video from the casino complex, which also was in charge of operating security cameras at the gas station. Combing through the potential evidence, casino security spotted on footage recorded inside the gas station three days before the body was found a woman later determined to be the victim from the woods.
During the half an hour she spent in the store, the woman appeared to be alone and comfortable. Detectives noted that she used a credit card to make purchases, and they requested the card details from the gas station. They later learn, however, that her name and credit card number were not printed on the receipt.
Exterior cameras at the station captured video of the woman walking to a truck parked in a distant, dark area of the station’s parking lot and getting into the passenger’s side seat of the vehicle.
Back in California, friends and family of 21-year-old Dioneth Lopez grew concerned after they hadn’t heard from her in four days. Lopez, who had recently started a new job at Amazon, had taken time off to fly from her home in San Pablo, California, to Seattle on Feb. 10. “She was always spontaneously down to any sort of adventure,” recalls her friend, Armando Luna.
But after so much time had passed with no word from Lopez, Luna unsuccessfully tried to get ahold of her via calls, texts, Snapchat and Instagram. On Feb. 15, 2020, he filed a missing person report.
Back in Washington, detectives combing through security camera footage located video showing a red truck, a Chevy Silverado with tinted windows, pulling up to one of the pumps at the gas station. Police were able to get a clear image of the possible suspect, a Hispanic male, on surveillance video recorded inside the store.
Deputies got a big break in the case when they saw a post Luna had made asking for information about his friend going missing. When police contacted him, he was able to make a positive identification of Lopez from the gas station surveillance video.
Another friend, Sarahi Gonzalez Torres, was able to provide investigators with a Facebook profile belonging to a man she thought may know where Lopez was. According to Torres, Lopez and the man would break up and then get back together often. “They’d be talking, and then they wouldn’t be talking,” she says, “but I think they were always in touch.”
Detectives learned the man Lopez was in a secret relationship with was named Alejandro “Alex” Aguilera Rojas. Through social media, detectives determine Rojas, who was married and had two children, appeared to be the same man spotted on surveillance video at the gas station, and he became a prime suspect in the case.
Investigators used cell phone data to determine Rojas picked up Lopez at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport the day she arrived. The data showed the pair drove to the gas station, where they stayed for seven hours, before traveling to the area of the crime scene. The data indicated there were then “two cell phones returning back to Seattle,” but Det. Brandon Stoppani notes, “we know that one person didn’t.”
During questioning, Rojas told detectives he had met Lopez two years earlier through a friend and they “kind of had a thing.” He claimed he brought Lopez to the woods, dropped her off at the hiking trails near the crime scene to wait for friends and he left.
Detectives then confronted the suspect with phone records showing his cell phone was in the area of the crime scene at the same time as the victim’s device.
Rojas changed his story. He claimed Lopez was drinking and threatened to kill his wife and child. “I was pretty scared, because you never know what a woman can do,” he says in a police video,” especially like that, she would lose her mind out of nowhere.”
Rojas, who had no sign of injuries, claimed Lopez pulled out a knife and tried to stab him. He also admitted to hitting her with a tequila bottle. “I had to defend myself, so it was her or me,” he told detectives.
In December 2021, Rojas, now 26, was arrested and charged with the second-degree murder of Dioneth Lopez. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to over 16 years in a federal prison.
Luna says he would love for his friend, Lopez, to be remembered as “smiling, positive, never giving up, always finding the strength to move along.”
He adds, “I have her in my heart and I know that wherever she is I know she’s with me.”
“I always am hoping that one day we'll find her … to be able to get that closure would be good,” the teenager’s father says.
Kelsey Smith was running a quick errand in Overland Park, Kansas, when she was abducted and killed.