The results of a Medical Examiner’s autopsy showed that Diana Mercado, 33, was stabbed numerous times and had broken ribs.
Detectives are investigating what happened to Mercado, who was last seen early Saturday, April 28, as she left the home she shares with her boyfriend, her mother, and her sister, to go to work at the north Lakeland Dunkin’ Donuts on U.S. 98. Her body was found by deputies on Monday, just 50 yards behind the home at 10947 Pathfinder Trail in Lakeland, in a wooded area thick with brush.
The body was wrapped up and lying on the ground.
Detectives say they want to question Mercado’s boyfriend, who has a criminal record.
“We are looking for her boyfriend, known by an alias, Antonio Vasquez,” noted Scott Wilder, director of communications for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. “His real name is Jarol Santiago.”
Wilder said the 40-year-old Santiago “has an extensive criminal history out of Massachusetts,” which includes arrests for assault and battery with a knife, attempted murder, assault, assault and battery with a weapon, and traffic, drug, and non-violent charges.
Around 8:45 Saturday morning, the manager of the Dunkin’ Donuts called the family’s house and left a message that Diana Mercado hadn’t shown up at work. The family would later tell detectives that Diana had moved to Florida in September 2011 from Massachusetts to get away from a lifestyle of “bad influences and drug use,” Wilder said.
However, by 5 p.m. on Saturday, Diana still hadn’t come home, so her family called the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to report her missing. A deputy went to the home to take a missing persons report, and sent out a description of both Diana Mercado and her vehicle, a black 1999 Chrysler Cirrus, as a BOLO (Be On Look Out).
Family members found Diana’s car in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Bank at U.S. 98 and Daughtery Road around 6 a.m. Sunday, and reported it to the sheriff’s office. A Missing Persons detective went to the house to interview the family, get more information, and start investigating leads.
Then on Monday, April 30, Polk County Sheriff’s Homicide detectives began working the case.
“They went back out to the home to conduct their own investigation, and contacted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Agricultural Crimes Unit to help search the approximately five acre piece of land on which the home sits,” Wilder said. An Ag Crimes deputy located a woman’s body, later identified as Diana Mercado, behind the home.
At the time, detectives were not aware of Santiago’s real identity, until this information was provided by the family after Mercado’s body was found.
Wilder said Santiago is now “a person of interest in the homicide of Diana Mercado. An aggravated assault warrant for Santiago’s arrest has been issued regarding an incident related by family members, who said several weeks ago Santiago threatened Mercado with a knife.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone who knows the whereabouts of Jarol Santiago to contact them at 863-296-6200. Anyone with information who wants to remain anonymous can call 1-800-226-TIPS (8477) or log onto www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com. iPhone and Droid users can download a free tip submit app to anonymously report crime. To install these free apps, log on to www.tipsoft.com.