Emmery Muñoz was wearing a white Tinker Bell hoodie when she was strangled to death in 2006.
She was 14. Her body was found abandoned near a warehouse in Boyle Heights.
More than 17 years later we still do not know who killed her or why. A $50,000 reward was offered shortly after her death and remains unclaimed.
Emmery’s mother, Maria Mejia, is not giving up hope. Those teenagers from back then are now grown up, perhaps they have families of their own. Mejia believes someone knows something.
She says if they can understand the kind of pain that she is in, maybe they would finally be willing to come forward with information for the police.
“The pain is the same as just like it happened yesterday,” Mejia said. “I am hoping that somebody will come through now, that somebody comes forward. Maybe they were afraid to speak at the time. But any little thing can help the police now.”
The reason for her hope is twofold: The LAPD is taking a fresh look at this cold case and a new podcast, Party Crews: The Untold Story — a joint venture by LAist Studios and VICE as part of the My Cultura Podcast Network — is also casting a spotlight on the party scene Emmery had been immersed in at the time of her brutal death.
How the case was covered
Reading coverage of Emmery’s killing now, it’s easy to see the kind of victim-blaming that would be called out today on TikTok and Instagram.
From the outside looking in, the parties looked like a magnet for trouble, given the underage drinking, gang violence and drug use that often followed.
The view from inside tells a different story.
Janice Llamoca, who hosts the Party Crews podcast, was a member of a party crew back then. She takes listeners on a riveting tour back-in-time to the early to mid 2000s, and into a world where colorful flyers, MySpace and early social media site techno4.us were all the rage. These were the tools used to spread the word about boisterous parties that would pop-up in backyards, warehouses or abandoned buildings nearly each weekend across Los Angeles and Southern California, at least until the cops showed up.
When Emmery was killed, the party crew scene was portrayed as dangerous — a place where young teens could use drugs and where violence was common.
Llamoca sees the scene much differently: The gatherings were a kind of safe space for many L.A. teens and young adults from hard-working immigrant families. The parties gave them a place to begin crafting their own identity outside the rigid boundaries of home, school and church, and in an adopted homeland that wasn’t always welcoming.
(Besides, hasn’t every generation done some version of this since the start of time, sneaking out through a window or a back door to go cut loose?)
Here’s Llamoca on the podcast:
“While reporting this series — I’ve been thinking a lot about how coming of age is all about finding out who you are outside of your family. Expanding your sense of what family and community even is.”
“We all need those experiences, especially as teens - that space away from parents and supervision to let loose, [screw] up, make mistakes and learn from them. It’s how we grow into independent adults. But what I’m also realizing is that as Latinx kids growing up in L.A. our options were always limited.”
A rush to judgment
When Emmery’s body was discovered and a reward offered, her ties to the party crew scene featured prominently — despite no solid evidence that the two things were related.
An LAPD press release outlined the $50,000 reward and asked anyone with information to come forward. The autopsy, police noted, “determined that the cause of death was due to asphyxiation. The detectives also discovered that Munoz was involved in the RAVE party scene and made connections through the popular website, MySpace.”
Emmery’s younger sister, Crystal (pictured above), says she now wonders whether an initial rush to judgment contributed to the inability to catch her sister’s killer.
“She was only 14… I feel if she was taken seriously from the beginning, we would probably know something by now,” she says in a podcast interview.
The Vicious Ladies and the party crew scene
Until Emmery’s body was discovered this complicated world of underground party crews took place largely off the mainstream media radar — mentioned mostly in connection to noise complaints to authorities.
Yes, she proudly belonged to a party crew, one called the Vicious Ladies, and had her own nickname, Tears. (As Llamoca conveys, these sometimes outlandish crew names spoke to teens trying to sound tough, cool and sexy, when they were often anything but.)
But there seems to be no evidence that party crews had anything to do with Emmery’s death.
For one, she wasn’t dressed up for a party. She’d been dressed in that Tinker Bell hoodie, carried a matching Tinker Bell keychain, and jeans with the hems DIY-tailored using rubber bands. IYKYK. Also, when she headed out the door that Friday afternoon she said was going to a friend’s house and would be back no later than 8 p.m. When she failed to return by that time, her mother immediately called the friend.
Her daughter had never showed up at the friend's house. That’s when Mejia knew for sure that something had happened.
The teen was never seen alive again. A few days later, her body was found about five miles from her home, near a warehouse.
In extensive interviews for the podcast, there was no indication that Emmery attended a party that weekend, or that the warehouse had been the site of a recent party.
Mejia said she had no idea her daughter was part of a party crew until after her death.
“I don’t know what made her get into these crews,” she said.
But she has one idea: Her daughter was bullied and picked on so badly in junior high that for about two months her mom said she would actually go to classes with her daughter to protect her.
Ultimately, Mejia decided to homeschool her daughter until Emmery could attend a high school that put her on a professional career path, far from her tormentors. Perhaps the party crews helped her feel protected, Mejia said.
And so began a particularly cruel odyssey for the Muñoz family. Amid their grief, the family felt ignored by law enforcement over the years, despite many phone calls, visits and pleas to not forget about the case.
A fresh look at the cold case
Now, their pleas are being answered in part. The case is being looked at anew, with fresh eyes. All details are being reanalyzed, starting with the crime scene and the notable positioning of the body.
Retired LAPD detective Carey Ricard, who responded to the warehouse the day the body was discovered in 2006 and worked the case for about three months before he was transferred to a new assignment, told Llamoca that he immediately had questions about whether the teen was actually killed at that location.
Despite all the litter, dust and dirt on the ground around the body, Emmery’s clothes were very clean — even the bottom of her white tennis shoes. It was like her body had been brought there, and then positioned, he said.
As if the killer or killers had known her, and perhaps cared about her.
“To meticulously take someone somewhere and it's kind of almost not posing them, but, but to gingerly handle them, meticulously place them and that's kind of like handling them with a degree of respect,” he said during the podcast, adding:
“A stranger wouldn't do that. But someone with maybe some remorse might.”
Also peculiar, there were no tell-tale signs of a struggle. A chain around her neck, for example, was intact. It all raised questions about whether Emmery was conscious or not when strangled. (Mejia said her daughter’s earring, phone and several rings were missing.)
As detailed in the podcast, there was some DNA found at the scene, but there hasn’t been a match found in CODIS, the national DNA registry. At one point, some suspicion was cast upon an old boyfriend who is currently serving a prison sentence for second-degree attempted murder. There were also rumors involving a friend’s ex-boyfriend: The ex-boyfriend was apparently angry that Emmery had introduced the friend to a new guy.
But it appears that neither of those leads went anywhere.
In the podcast, Llamoca laments what might have been, and how the family still struggles:
“Today – Emmery would be in her early 30s. She might have been a nurse….She might have had kids. But instead she is frozen in time. Her death is tragic. It’s also a loss that is ambiguous, without closure.
Besides that tremendous loss, what I see in Emmery’s story, is the struggle of a young girl to come of age in a world that wasn’t made for her. A struggle to come of age safely as a woman of color in this country.”
Will the $50,000 reward be renewed again?
The Muñoz family recently turned to retired LAPD detective Moses Castillo for help. He is working with the family, pro bono. He now works for the Dordulian Law Group, a personal injury law firm with offices across Southern California, and takes on the cases of crime victims who have no other resources.
I look at my daughter, and I look at my son, and I think, someone is missing,
Castillo hopes the new media attention on the case will shake some clues loose. He and Emmery's family are also hoping that reward money is once again put on the table.
A $50,000 reward for information was offered after her death — then renewed twice, in 2011 and again last year. But that did not lead to an arrest and conviction. (We reached out to the LAPD for details about a possible reward renewal. We will update the story when and if we hear back.)
“Sometimes, it’s very hard for [a killer] to keep quiet. They’ll share it with somebody they trust,” he said. “There has to be multiple people out there who know what happened. I would hope that the person who knows something would do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do,” he said, “but if the money motivates them, I’ll take it.”
Emmery’s mother said she is finally feeling a sense of hope. And that she desperately needs closure.
She said that while time has marched on, it has also stood still. She has two other children, a son and a daughter, and four grandchildren. But in many ways, those joys underscore her profound loss.
“I look at my daughter, and I look at my son, and I think, someone is missing,” she said. “I think if she were here, would she be married? Would she have kids? What would she look like?”
She said she is grateful for the LAPDs decision to look at the case anew, adding, “I feel that I'm going to get answers this time. I really do.”
Now, somebody out there who knows something, or who saw something, or who heard something, needs to step up.
If you have information
If you know anything that might help solve this case, LAPD officials would like you to contact them at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go to lacrimestoppers.org.
Listen to the 'Party Crews' podcast
Cruise off the highway and hit locally-known spots for some tasty bites.
Fentanyl and other drugs fuel record deaths among people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County. From 2019 to 2021, deaths jumped 70% to more than 2,200 in a single year.
This fungi isn’t a “fun guy.” Here’s what to do if you spot or suspect mold in your home.
Donald Trump was a fading TV presence when the WGA strike put a dent in network schedules.
Edward Bronstein died in March 2020 while officers were forcibly taking a blood sample after his detention.
A hike can be a beautiful backdrop as you build your connection with someone.