By Associated Press - Tuesday, August 25, 2015

LA PUENTE, Calif. (AP) - Authorities Tuesday sought a Santeria spiritualist for murder after digging up the body of his former lover in a Southern California backyard.

An arrest warrant was issued last week for 46-year-old Pablo Pinto Mata, authorities said at a news conference where they also announced that skeletal remains found on Aug. 7 are those of a woman who vanished six years ago.

Maria Delrefugio Chavez was last seen on May 7, 2009, as she left an indoor swap meet in East Los Angeles where she had a business.

She sent a text message to a friend that night saying she was in trouble and might be in danger, City News Service reported.

Investigators suspect that Mata killed the 40-year-old El Monte woman and buried her in the backyard of a home in unincorporated Valinda east of Los Angeles, sheriff’s officials said.



Current residents of the home didn’t know the body was there and aren’t considered suspects, authorities said.

Mata, who also uses the aliases Juan Diego and El Padrino, claimed to be a priest of Santeria - a religion based on Roman Catholic and African beliefs - and performed cleansing rituals at a botanica he owned in Montebello, officials said.

Chavez met him while she was a customer at the store and he later became her business partner and fathered a daughter with her even though he was married and had other children, investigators said.

The daughter was 4 when Chavez vanished and now lives with other relatives, detectives said.

Mata also is wanted by Montebello and West Covina police in connection with rape and other sex acts allegedly involving underage children, sheriff’s Lt. Victor Lewandowski said.

Relatives of Chavez attended the news conference. In Spanish, her sister Maria Elena Chavez asked for help in finding Mata.

Their mother died about a month ago without learning that the remains of her daughter had been found, sheriff’s detective Joe Romero said.

“Now the family can put their sister to rest in peace,” Romero said.

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