Sprawling. Scenic. Over 7,600 square miles of peaceful desert, snow-capped mountains, lush farmland.
But as the saying goes, “Behind the most beautiful eyes, lay secrets deeper and darker than the mysterious sea.”
Like the disappearance of Sergio Ayala.
It's July 25, 1995.
A young Lupe Ayala calls the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Department saying, when she came home from work around 7 p.m., she discovered her father missing.
Both Lupe and her mother, Bertha, tell investigators Sergio apparently took neither cash, nor credit cards, nor any personal checks with him. None of his clothes or personal items are missing. Nor does he have a vehicle. They suspect he may have left in a hurry.
The only item Sergio left behind was a note, written in Spanish, to his daughter. Translated, it read: “Lupe, When you read (this), I hope to be far away from here. I know I'm doing wrong and I know it's selfish on my part, but I don't want to go to prison right now. Hopefully, you understand me and can forgive me one day. But if you ever come to have a serious problem because of me, I'll come back and turn myself in to the police. Whatever happens, it's no one's fault but mine. Please forgive me. Sergio Ayala.”
Sergio was a family man –- but certainly not a model citizen.
Owyhee County Sheriff Perry Grant says Sergio was known to be involved in the illegal drug trade. “There was an incident where he was taken into custody and had some illegal narcotics hidden on his property which were later found (by law enforcement authorities),” he said. “From what we understand from reports, there were some people involved in those narcotics who wanted their money.”
In a criminal complaint dated January 15, 1987, Owyhee County Prosecutor Clayton Anderson filed several felony charges against Sergio. They included delivery of a controlled substance (heroin), possession of heroin, and grand theft by possession of stolen property, namely two .357 revolvers.
Reports also say that Sergio, at the time of his disappearance, was scheduled to be a witness in an upcoming federal trial.
And that’s when disturbing incidents started happening.
According to an investigator’s report, “Sergio (had) received several threatening phone calls within a two-week period prior to his disappearance. Sergio would not tell Bertha who was calling; only that it was ‘Those f—-kers’ again.’”
Bertha also tells deputies she overheard a disconcerting conversation her husband had with man named Jose Avila early on the morning of July 24th. Jose had come to the Ayala family’s home to tell Sergio that another man “wanted Sergio to pay $40,000 for something involving the first time Sergio was arrested ...” and an additional amount (it’s unclear exactly how much) “for the drugs that were seized” by lawmen. Jose also told Sergio that, “if he didn’t want anything to happen to his family, he better not show up in court,” according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
What’s more, Bertha tells deputies she was approached several weeks earlier by a “white male with a mustache” in the parking lot of what at that time was Paul’s IGA store in Homedale. The man told Bertha “to tell Sergio to keep his mouth shut and stop talking to the police. (They) had a woman who worked in the courthouse that was providing (them) with information on everything Sergio was telling the police and she is providing (them) with copies of all the case documents.”
Bertha tells authorities “Sergio was scared and crying and afraid what (they) might do it his family.”
Investigators directly connected to the case back then feel Sergio “split for Mexico. Or California.” But it’s only their gut feelings. They have no evidence.
For some eighteen years, Sergio remains off the grid. If anyone knew where he was, they weren’t saying. Did he go to Mexico? Or California? Or to another state? Few people likely know for sure.
But then, Sergio Ayala surfaces. In Caldwell. Only a few miles from where he was last living.
On April 3, 2013, Bertha Ayala sues her husband for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Papers filed with the Canyon County Clerk’s Office say “the parties have been separated since July 25,1995,” the same day Sergio originally went missing. The papers also show, as of the filing date, Sergio was living at a home on Arthur Street in Caldwell.
In another document, a process server confirms delivering the divorce papers to Sergio at the Caldwell home.
Which is now his last known address.
We reached out to the Ayala family, but a spokesperson –- who identified herself as Sergio’s daughter –- declined our interview request, saying her father’s disappearance was “a very hurtful time for us.”
Given the suspicious circumstances surrounding his disappearance, Sergio is still considered by law enforcement authorities as an endangered missing person.
Sergio is described as an Hispanic man with black hair and brown eyes. When last seen on July 24, 1995, he was 44 years old, 5-feet 9-inches tall, and weighed some 155 pounds. He has a tattoo on his left forearm, and at least one filling or crown in his teeth, reports say.
If he’s still alive, Sergio Ayala would be in his mid-sixties today.
Of course, a number of questions still swirl around his disappearance:
Who is the “mystery woman,” the courthouse worker who reportedly shared otherwise confidential information? Or did she ever really exist?
Who was the shadowy “white male with a mustache” who confronted Ayala’s wife in the IGA parking lot that night?
And most importantly, where’s Sergio?
“We have no idea where he could be,” Sheriff Grant said. “I don’t know if he’s alive somewhere. I don’t know if he was just trying to escape the life he lived ... or if someone had taken him away from his life.”
To date, the Sergio Ayala case remains the only currently unsolved missing person case in Owyhee County.
If you have any information about Sergio Ayala, know of his whereabouts, or know anything about this case at all, you’re urged to contact the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office at the non-emergency dispatch number, 495-1154. Or you can contact Crime Stoppers by leaving a web tip at 343COPS.com, using the free P3 app, or by calling 208-343-COPS (2677). You can remain anonymous and you could earn a reward of up to $1,000 if your tip leads to a felony arrest.