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Family wonders about foul play after bones of Wesley Chapel man found in Tampa ditch

A maintenance worker found Victor Torres’ bones on July 6 in a ditch at the intersection of N Dale Mabry Highway and Ehrlich Road. [SAM OGOZALEK | Times]
A maintenance worker found Victor Torres’ bones on July 6 in a ditch at the intersection of N Dale Mabry Highway and Ehrlich Road. [SAM OGOZALEK | Times]
Published Jul. 16, 2019

TAMPA — His family kept telling themselves it was still possible.

Victor Torres, 60, had vanished last July right next to a busy Tampa intersection. Would it be any more unlikely if he just popped up one day at his Wesley Chapel home?

His family clung to that hope for more than a year. Then they got the news.

On July 6, a maintenance worker discovered Torres' bones in a shallow, watery ditch at the intersection of N Dale Mabry Highway and Ehrlich Road, close to where he originally disappeared.

"I don't wish that on anyone — to lose a sibling or son or loved one," said his brother, Eduardo Torres.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office used dental records to identify Torres. Deputies don't suspect foul play, but his family isn't so sure.

Eduardo Torres told the Tampa Bay Times his brother was a friendly man who volunteered at local churches and helped manage a Burger King. He also trained as a monk at St. Leo Abbey, which is west of Dade City.

Torres wouldn't walk out on all of that, his brother said.

"It was just so weird," he said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's officials don't know how long Torres' bones were in the ditch. An official autopsy report could take weeks, with the medical examiner waiting for anthropology specialists at the University of South Florida to do an analysis.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office first investigated Torres' disappearance because he was living in Wesley Chapel with his sister when he went missing July 9, 2018.

At about 8:30 a.m., according to an investigative report, Torres' sister, Paula Torres-Holzer, dropped him off for an appointment at America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses at 14932 N Dale Mabry Highway.

She was going to pick him up at St. Paul Catholic Church about two miles south at 7:30 p.m., but he never showed. Instead, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy called to say Torres' backpack was discovered at a bus stop near the Dale Mabry and Ehrlich Road intersection, close to the eye doctor's office. His wallet was inside. His cell phone, too.

Now worried, Torres-Holzer contacted Pasco deputies to report Torres missing. He didn't have a car. He had left his passport at home, his brother said.

A manager at the Burger King where Torres worked later told investigators she hadn't noticed any personality or behavioral changes before July 8, 2018, when Torres said his eyes were bothering him and left.

Torres had disappeared once before in California after separating from his wife, his brother said. It was about 20 years ago. Eduardo Torres eventually tracked him down in San Diego.

Torres' disappearance last July was much different, his brother said. Torres called his sister around noon that day to say he had bought a new cell phone and would see her around 7 p.m.

"He just wouldn't have left his backpack," Eduardo Torres said. "For the longest time the consensus was, 'He got up to help somebody and something happened.' "

For now, though, that's just speculation. All Torres' family can do is wait for the autopsy report.

Torres had lived with his sister for about 10 years and moved to Florida after he got divorced in California. He has four kids, three of whom are still living on the West Coast, his brother said.

He lived in Venezuela before that, working in marketing and advertising.

His family was particularly close, considering they grew up traveling around the world with Torres' father, who worked for Procter & Gamble.

Eduardo Torres last remembers seeing his brother in December 2017. The family always tried to get together for the holidays, he said, even though they live in different countries.

"This past Christmas was the first where Victor wasn't around for many, many years," Eduardo Torres said. "It was tough around the dinner table. It was tough all around."

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Sam Ogozalek at sogozalek@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.

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