Almeria. The 13-day search for missing eight-year-old Gabriel Cruz came to a tragic end in Almeria on Sunday when his body was found wrapped in a blanket in the boot of a car driven by the boy's father's girlfriend.
The Guardia Civil had suspected 43-year-old Ana Julia Quezada, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, for several days, and officers had been following her movements closely.
Since the boy's disappearance - while he was walking the no more than 100 metres between the houses of his grandparents and his cousins in Las Hortichuelas, Níjar - Ana Julia had been seen alongside his father, Ángel Cruz, during searches and public appearances.
It was Ana Julia who found a child's white vest on 3 March, which later tested positive for Gabriel's DNA, near the sewage treatment plant northeast of Las Hortichuelas in the heart of Almería's rugged Cabo de Gata natural park. This was in the opposite direction from where she apparently killed the boy and hid his body, a rural property in Rodalquilar owned by the Cruz family.
Far from sending detectives on a false trail the vest led officers to focus their investigation on Ana Julia. The garment had not been included on the initial list of clothes worn by the boy when he disappeared and showed no signs of having been exposed to the wind and rain for so many days.
It was Gabriel's grandmother, whose house he had left shortly before he disappeared, who provided a key piece of evidence against Ana Julia. She remembered that her son's girlfriend had left the house just moments after Gabriel.
When Ana Julia was interviewed by police last week, they dropped a hint to encourage her to break her cover, and her movements had been followed closely by officers to be able to confirm their suspicions.
Both the boy's parents had been aware that she was formally under suspicion for a few days but had been told to behave normally around her until evidence had been found.
On Sunday officers watched as Ana Julia apparently removed a body from a well on the Rodalquilar property. Her vehicle was intercepted by officers outside her home in La Puebla de Vícar, some 70 kilometres away, and the body found in the boot.
The autopsy confirmed on Monday that Gabriel had died of asphyxia after receiving a blow to the head the same day as he disappeared, 27 February. Marks on his neck had initially pointed to strangulation but the examination confirmed what Ana Julia had confessed. She killed him by covering his nose and mouth with her hands after hitting him with the blunt side of an axe.
The suspect's confession came on Tuesday, although her version is considered unlikely by detectives. She told officers that the death was accidental and not premeditated, that they had had an argument and the boy had attacked her with an axe, behaviour that by no means coincides with the character of Gabriel, said police. After accompanying detectives during their search of the scene in Rodalquilar earlier this week, Ana Julia appeared before a judge on Thursday and was sent to jail without bail.
At a press conference on Thursday the head of the Guardia Civil's OCU unit, brought in for cases of serious crime, said that they believed that by leaving the vest where she did, Ana Julia was trying to incriminate a former boyfriend who lives just 300 metres away.