Antonio “TJ” Vela Jr. a.k.a. Speshul Ed is known for his sense of humor, his passion for music, and for being the kind of guy who's always there for his family and friends.
TJ, 36, hails from Victoria, Texas, a city of about 67,000 residents, located two hours south of Houston. Those who know TJ say he fell in love with Victoria’s underground hip-hop scene, prompting him to become a rapper and music producer. Samples of his work can be found under the record label Clock Work Records, as well as on SoundCloud and on Youtube.
Andro Gonzales-Crail is good friends with TJ.
“I call him ‘Spesh’ and have known him for over seven years,” Gonzales-Crail told me recently.
“On the outside, he looks like this intimidating, tough guy, but once you get to know him, he’s just the nicest person you could ever meet.”
June 15, 2017
Gonzales-Crail bartends at Sports — a local pub where TJ hangs out — located in the Victoria Square shopping center on John Stockbauer Drive. That’s where he last saw his friend on June 15, 2017. He says it was a quiet night and that TJ was one of about eight customers who stayed until closing time — 2 a.m.
“He did know the people he was talking to, and he was one of the last to leave. He yelled ‘Love y’all’ as he walked out, and that’s the last time anyone saw him," Gonzales-Crail recalls.
The Vela family began to worry when calls and text messages to TJ's phone went unanswered later that day. In an unsettling twist, according to a source familiar with the case, TJ's roommate found the garage door open and on the ground were TJ's cell phone and a plastic bag containing food he apparently purchased on his way home from Sports. Even more disturbing, the next day, the Vela family received a tip about a car that matched TJ's 1999 tan Pontiac Firebird, abandoned with a flat tire, 17 miles away near Venglar Road, a rural area in the town of Inez.
According to local media reports, Victoria Police and the Department of Public Safety conducted an aerial search of the location where the car was found. Although Victoria Police suspect foul play, they remain tight-lipped on the investigation.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Gonzales-Crail said. “It’s been two months since he’s been gone, and it sucks that there are no leads.”
People Don't Just Disappear
Family and friends do not believe that TJ left on his own. Is it possible that someone followed TJ from the bar to his house on Waterford Drive? Or from Cimarron Express — the convenience store where he reportedly stopped to get something to eat? Was someone waiting for him in the garage at his house? Was he ambushed? Or did TJ startle someone who was up to no good in the neighborhood? And what about where his car was abandoned? The location is nowhere near his house. If TJ was taken against his will, is it possible that someone else was following in a separate car? Is there surveillance video of him anywhere from the night he vanished? Is the FBI involved in the investigation? Most of all, if TJ's phone was left behind (Victoria Police won't confirm that it was), does it hold the key to solving this case?
I asked those questions to Lt. Eline Moya, spokeswoman for the Victoria Police Department.
"Unfortunately, due to this case being an open and active investigation, I am unable to go into specific details about this case that may jeopardize the integrity of the investigation. The detectives continue to receive Crime Stoppers tips and continue to follow up on all leads," Moya said in an email.
The not knowing haunts the Vela family. But they say the most difficult part is that, even though TJ is well-known in their community, no one is coming forward with solid information. His sisters have turned to social media to express their frustration.
The Vela family is also hoping for more media coverage. For now, they spend several days a week handing out flyers throughout the community and holding up banners with TJ's picture. They urge anyone with information to call the Victoria Police Department and give investigators the piece of the puzzle they need to bring their little brother home.
According to Gonzales-Crail, he and his friends have also distributed flyers all the way to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. He's also contacted the local FBI for help. "We're not giving up hope, but each passing day gets harder and harder," Gonzales-Crail said. "If I had known that night that it would be the last time I would see him, I would have told him how much I loved him, how much he is loved, and how much his friendship meant to me."
Antonio Vela Jr. is 6'0 and 185 lbs. He was last seen wearing a gray t-shirt, denim jeans, and black and white Nike sneakers. He has several tattoos including: angel wings and a woman on his back, a Nintendo game controller and a microphone on his left forearm, and a tattoo of his father on his chest.
If you have any information regarding Antonio Vela Jr., call: 1-361-572-4200.
Claudia Rivero Investigative Reporter/Producer