UPDATE: THE VANISHED PODCAST IS COVERING THIS CASE. GO TO WWW.THEVANISHEDPODCAST.COM FOR THE FULL EPISODE.
On June 15, 2017, Antonio Vela Jr., of Victoria, Texas, vanished after leaving a local pub. Other than asking the public to call Crime Stoppers if they have information about Antonio's whereabouts, Victoria Police have not released many details about this case. Not then and not now.
Antonio's family is desperate for answers. They want him home, one way or another, even if it means the former DJ and music producer is no longer here.
I met Antonio's mother, Ninfa Vela, and his sisters, Michelle and Natalie, in 2018. Victoria, a city of just over 67,000 people, is surrounded by Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. The Vela's have lived in Victoria their entire lives. Antonio, or TJ, as he's affectionately known, is her only son and the youngest of Ninfa's children. His absence has turned her life upside down. (You can watch our original story on Antonio here.)
I wanted to revisit TJ's case to include additional information from different sources who have their own theories about what they believe happened to TJ. But it's important to note: it's not what you know; it's what you can prove. That's why missing person cases are some of the most complex investigations for any police department. And this case is no exception.
On the night of June 14, TJ, then 36, went to a couple of pubs near his home. As usual, he ended up at a bar called Sports. He was a regular there. According to one of his friends I interviewed, who was bartending that night, TJ sat at the bar by himself and left at around 1:45, just after last call. He never saw TJ again.
But according to a source who came forward after our initial coverage of this case, at one point that night, a woman at the bar approached TJ and started a conversation. Minutes later, a man the woman was with confronted TJ, and the two exchanged words.
Not long after that, TJ said goodbye to the staff and walked out. According to the source, the couple left a few minutes after TJ. Victoria Police have not confirmed that information, nor have they said if the bar was equipped with surveillance cameras. When I went there I was told there were no cameras, but sources say otherwise.
As has been reported, on his way home, TJ stopped at a Cimarron Express convenience store to get food. But, according to sources, while at the store, TJ called his roommate and asked if he wanted anything to eat. Keep in mind, the store is only a few minutes away from where they lived; therefore, if TJ had just spoken to his roommate then it's possible that whatever happened when TJ got home, his roommate saw or heard something. Victoria police remain tightlipped about this case.
According to TJ's family, his roommate told them he found the garage door open and a plastic bag with food on the ground. He also reportedly found TJ's phone. The roommate did not call the police. TJ's family reported him missing early that morning, June 15. By all accounts, it appears that not much time went by before the Vela family found out TJ was missing.
His car was found on June 16 abandoned along Venglar Road in the town of Inez, outside Victoria City limits. It had a flat tire, and according to multiple sources, the driver's seat was moved up, suggesting someone much shorter than TJ could've been driving.
There are many questions. Did the store and bar have surveillance video? Did someone follow TJ home? Was someone waiting for him in the garage? Was he set up? Was he ambushed? Was he targeted? Was this a random crime of opportunity? Or did he leave on his own? Another lingering question: Who were the man and woman who allegedly approached TJ at the bar?
Victoria Police have declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation.
This June will mark the five year anniversary of TJ's disappearance. A lot of people miss him, and they just want him home, one way or another. If you have any information on this case, call Victoria Police or Crime Stoppers at:
Claudia Rivero Reporter and Producer