Arizona man arrested after estranged girlfriend’s body found inside trunk in Southern California

A woman from northern Arizona was found dead in a car's trunk in Southern California and her estranged boyfriend is facing a murder charge.
Published: Nov. 7, 2023 at 11:52 AM MST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2023 at 8:56 PM MST
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HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (3TV/CBS 5) — A northern Arizona man has been arrested after police said the body of his estranged girlfriend reported missing out of Holbrook was found inside a car trunk in Southern California.

The Holbrook Police Department said it received a report on Monday that 54-year-old Christi Lynn Romero was missing from her mobile home near state Route 77 and Interstate 40. “Her son had gone to the house. Her vehicle was gone, the door appeared to have been kicked in, and she was not in the residence,” said Holbrook Police Chief Nathan Christensen.

Her vehicle was a two-door 1995 Plymouth Neon coupe. The discovery was especially concerning since Romero had filed an order of protection against her estranged boyfriend, 34-year-old Richard Paul Rodriguez, and he was served that order on Thursday at the home they share. “We got called by the Navajo County constable in this district to help serve an order of protection and remove Richard from the residence if he was there,” said Christensen. Rodriguez went to stay at a mission for homeless living without a problem, police say, but the mission told investigators on Monday that he hadn’t been there in several days.

A nationwide “attempt to locate” alert was issued for Romero, her car, and Rodriguez. Police obtained surveillance footage from a gas station in Heber, about 45 miles southwest of Holbrook, that showed Rodriguez in Romero’s red car circling back and forth between different pumps, Rodriguez walking up to the building and back, then finally leaving. One thing is abundantly clear. “In that surveillance video, you can see her car, you can see Richard, but you can’t see her in the car,” said Christensen.

Romero’s family and Holbrook police could tell, based on cell phone records and bank transactions, that he was heading to his parent’s home in Southern California and took Interstate 10.

Romero’s family told True Crime Arizona they contacted Rodiguez’s dad about Romero, and he said he was told by his son not to open the trunk of the car, and that’s where Huntington Beach police came into play when Rodriguez’s father reportedly called 911. “We know that a family disturbance call was placed from that location, officers responded, something led them to check the vehicle and that’s where the body was discovered,” said Jessica Cuchilla with the Huntington Beach Police Department.

Officers arrived and found a woman’s body in the trunk of a car. The Orange County Coroner’s Office confirmed the body was Romero on Tuesday. Her cause of death has not been released yet.

Romero’s family told True Crime Arizona they didn’t feel Holbrook Police investigated as quickly as they should have and that it was their family giving police all the updated information. The police chief told us he understood their frustration but that their department went through the proper channels to get the information they needed. “I’m sure if you look back, you know 20/20 vision, there’s probably somewhere that we could have done differently but we didn’t expect this so it was a shock to us as well,” said Christensen.

With grief and pain in their hearts, Romero’s family shared this statement Tuesday:

Rodriguez was arrested and booked into jail on one count of murder. Christensen said they’re working on getting search warrants for cellphone data and their home, with the possibility of also charging Rodriguez with kidnapping, burglary, aggravated assault and vehicle theft. The Holbrook Police Department emphasized it’s still an active investigation. Anyone who may have information about the case is asked to call Huntington Beach police at 714-960-8848 or 855-847-6227 for Orange County Silent Witness.

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