Man Charged With Murder After Suggesting Girlfriend's Death Was Suicide, Police Say

A Florida man was arrested and charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend after allegedly suggesting to police that she had killed herself.

Joel Bauza, 50, was taken into custody Thursday on one charge of first-degree homicide in the killing of 49-year-old Joysee Cartagena, Sanford police said in a statement.

A picture of Joysee Cartagena, via Collison-Gramkow Funeral Home & Crematory.
A picture of Joysee Cartagena, via Collison-Gramkow Funeral Home & Crematory.

A picture of Joysee Cartagena, via Collison-Gramkow Funeral Home & Crematory.

According to the statement, police received a call on July 17 from a person reporting that they’d discovered Cartagena dead inside the home.

When Sanford Fire and Rescue personnel arrived, they found Cartagena with a large zip tie around her neck and attempted to lifesaving measures, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Police Chief Cecil Smith said Bauza tried to push authorities toward a suicide investigation. But by July 31, they were already looking at the death as a possible homicide.

“Through the great work of the Lake County Medical Examiner’s Office and our Major Crimes Investigators, it was clear that Joysee didn’t take her own life,” Smith said in the police statement.

An autopsy concluded that Cartagena’s cause of death was manual strangulation.

“She was a radiant woman who made a positive impact on so many lives in this community,” Smith added. “We are saddened that Bauza’s actions took her from loved ones so prematurely.”

Bauza appeared in court Friday, and it was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

On Facebook, Bauza’s account suggested that he was married to Cartagena, and it featured many photos of the two going back to 2016.

Those who were close to Cartagena reacted to the news of Bauza’s arrest online, saying that they hoped she would finally receive justice.

“Not only did you kill her with your own hands you desecrated her gorgeous body and put a disgusting thing around her to make it look like she did this to herself,” one person wrote. “You thought you was gonna get away with this but WE WERE ONTO TO YOU FROM THE START!”

Cartagena’s obituary described her as a “shine of light” who would be remembered for her kindness.

“She was also an amazing mother who always put the needs of her son first,” the obituary read. “She protected him fiercely from the negative things in life and made sure he knew every single day how much she loved him.”

The son, Steven Rivera Cartagena, previously told NBC affiliate WESH that his mom sought to help others in her work at Seminole County Public Schools and JetBlue.

“My mother is my only immediate family that’s here in Florida, so hearing the news that she passed away, I felt like an orphan,” Rivera Cartagena told the outlet.

“She was my world. I mean, that’s all I knew,” he added.

Cartagena’s son told WESH that he will continue to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor in memory of his mother; a GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help with his college tuition following her death.

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 or chat for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.