A private investigator who tried to track down Rudy Farias says she believes his mother Janie Santana may be suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Brenda Paradise told The Independent that early on she felt many of Ms Santana’s claims about her son’s disappearance in 2015 didn’t add up, and says his mother probably lied to rake in thousands of dollars in public donations.
Mr Farias was reported missing on 6 March 2015 after going to take his two dogs for a walk, sparking an eight-year missing person investigation.
After Mr Farias was found badly injured and reportedly non-verbal outside of a Houston church on 29 June, the Houston Police Department revealed that he had in fact returned to his mother’s home the day after he went missing.
Houston police said Ms Santana had repeatedly lied to them about her son’s disappearance, but they were declining to press charges at this time pending further investigation.
Ms Paradise began working on the case three days after Mr Farias was reported to have gone missing, and devoted hundreds of hours to finding him.
She said she wasn’t surprised when he turned out to have been with his mother all along. But her “jaw dropped” when she heard police would not be pressing charges.
“If somebody had held a little blonde girl hostage all those years, police would have been all over this case.”
She believes Ms Santana violated several laws including filing a false police report, withholding information and obstructing an investigation.
Then there are the troubling allegations of sexual and physical abuse that Mr Farias allegedly told activist Quanell X about during a meeting at a Houston hotel on Wednesday.
Police said during a press conference this week that they have no evidence of sexual abuse.
Ms Paradise believes Mr Farias could be deemed to be a vulnerable adult, in which case a whole raft of other charges may be warranted.
“Somebody has to do right by Rudy,” she said.
Ms Paradise, who has been involved in hundreds of missing persons cases, said this was “the absolute most bizarre case I have ever worked”.
The experienced investigator took The Independent through her records on the case, which revealed disturbing and previously undisclosed details.
Was Janie Santana suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy?
Ms Paradise told The Independent that when she first got involved with the case, she became aware that Ms Santana had created a GoFundMe page claiming that her son had been diagnosed with cancer.
She said she didn’t see any evidence that the diagnosis was genuine, and was unsure how much money the fundraiser attracted.
After Mr Farias’ case began attracting attention, the cancer fundraiser “quietly went away.” She said she mentioned the page to the Houston Police Department (HPD).
After Mr Farias was reported missing, Ms Santana set up a second fundraiser with the goal of making $75,000 to “help find Rudy”. She received just over $2,000 before the page was shut down this week.
Days after Mr Farias disappeared, Ms Paradise said she attended a community fundraiser organised to aid the search.
She told The Independent Ms Santana showed up two hours later, pocketed approximately $2,000, and then left within 20 minutes.
“I don’t know what she’s trying to get money for but it’s been a money grab the whole way.” Ms Paradise told The Independent.
This was backed by his aunt Pauline Sanchez-Rodriguez, who told reporters on Thursday that she believes her sister was “manipulative and greedy”.
According to a missing person poster circulated in 2015, Mr Farias was suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety at the time he went missing. He also reportedly had asthma.
Ms Santana used to take the teenager for regular hospital checkups, insisting that doctors check and scan him for all manner of illnesses, Ms Paradise said.
Ms Paradise said she only knew of Mr Farias ever having one friend, a woman his mother’s age who he met while gaming online.
The private investigator got to know the woman, who she is not naming, and said she became akin to a mother figure to him.
In conversations since Mr Farias’ disappearance, the woman insisted that he had never been seriously unwell, didn’t have asthma, or cancer, as his mother had claimed.
Mr Farias told this female friend that he had been left traumatised by the death of his half brother Charles Uresti in a motorcycle accident in 2011.
Ms Paradise said Ms Santana had told him to go to the site of the accident, and he saw his brother’s corpse at the scene.
In 2012, Ms Santana insisted on taking her son into hospital for brain scans, Ms Paradise said. During the visit Child Protective Services separated the pair and questioned Mr Farias.
Ms Paradise firmly believes Ms Santana may have been suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which the Cleveland Clinic defines as a mental illness in which a caregiver acts as if their dependant has a physical or mental illness when the person is not really sick.
Ms Paradise holds master’s degrees in counselling, and is familiar with the symptoms of the rare disease.
She also revealed that Ms Santana had claimed to have found a suicide note written by Mr Farias.
Based on handwriting analysis, and what she now knows about the case, she believes Ms Santana wrote it after Mr Farias had gone missing.
The Independent has attempted to reach Ms Santana to ask her about the allegations.
On 6 March 2015, Mr Farias reportedly left his home at around 6pm to take his two dogs for a walk near Tidwell and Park Drive in northwest Houston.
A few hours later one of the dogs returned home. The next morning, the second dog showed up, according to a missing person report.
The 17-year-old was reported missing by his mother on 7 March 2015.
In the weeks after Mr Farias was reported missing, Ms Paradise organised a search of Mr Farias’ last known location with the local volunteer fire department using specially trained canines and cadaver dogs.
Ms Paradise said the search teams recovered a child’s backpack, a wallet and an inhaler.
Ms Santana insisted that the wallet and backpack were her son’s, even though both items clearly belonged to other children. They were turned over to Houston PD, she said.
According to Ms Paradise, Ms Santana continued to appeal for money on her Facebook pages to follow up tips.
Ms Santana operated several pages under her own name and aliases, and used photos of attractive younger women that appeared to have been taken from the internet.
On Facebook, Ms Santana solicited donations to go to California to check on an injured person who matched a description of her son and had showed up in hospital, the private investigator said.
Ms Santana also asked for money to pay a ransom to a suspected human trafficker in Tijuana, Mexico, who she falsely claimed had kidnapped Mr Farias.
She even went to a morgue to identify a deceased body, after getting a call from a medical examiner, Ms Paradise said.
She spoke to an aunt who confirmed she had gone to the morgue with Ms Santana.
Ms Paradise said she encouraged Ms Santana to go on television to appeal directly for Mr Farias’ return, but she refused to show her face.
“What mother doesn’t want to put their face out there really?”
Another perplexing detail came when Ms Paradise learned that his mother had given an incorrect date of birth for her son.
She had claimed he was 17 years old at the time of his disappearance, but a school ID apparently confirmed that he was in fact 18.
Ms Paradise told The Independent she became suspicious about the mother from the beginning of the case. When she started asking difficult questions that Ms Santana didn’t like, she said they lost contact.
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