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March 29, 2024

What Happened to Karla Rodriguez?

On this episode of Inside the FBI, learn how the Bureau and our law enforcement partners are working to find Karla Carolina Rodriguez, who disappeared in Las Vegas in October 1999.


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Ellen Ferrante: The FBI is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to the whereabouts of Karla Carolina Rodriguez. Karla had just turned 7 years old when she disappeared almost 25 years ago on October 20, 1999, in Las Vegas, Nevada.  

In this episode, we’ll learn about the details behind Karla’s disappearance and how the FBI and partners have been investigating.   

I’m Ellen Ferrante, and this is Inside the FBI.   

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Ferrante: Karla "Karlita" Carolina Rodriguez was born on September 29, 1992, in Michoacán, Mexico, the youngest of four girls. A year later, she and her family settled in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

In October 1999, Karla had just turned 7 years old. She was on the small side for a girl her age, about 3-foot-6 and 50 pounds. By then, she had already had an appendectomy and recurring kidney and urinary tract infections that led to multiple emergency room visits. She also had visible cavities. 

But the morning of October 20, 1999, Karla wasn’t worried about a health ailment—she had painted her fingernails green and was worried her teacher would be upset. Though on break from year-round schooling, Karla was attending a class to catch up and improve her English, as Spanish was her native language. 

Although disputed, Karla’s mother said she walked Karla two blocks towards her school, and Karla was to walk the rest of the way by herself—another five blocks.  

A witness would later recall seeing Karla walking towards school, alone and crying. Karla never made it to class that day.  

Todd Tumbleson: Her whereabouts are still unknown until late afternoon, when she appeared at a female friend's house.   

Ferrante: That was Todd Tumbleson. He’s a retired FBI special agent who now serves on an FBI task force and who has worked on Karla’s case. 

Sometime before 7 p.m., that friend walked Karla to another friend’s house—a house that Karla said was hers, even though her real house was around the corner. 

Tumbleson: When she rang the doorbell, the friend inside the house looked at the clock, and it showed 7 p.m. It was starting to get dark outside, so his parents did not want him to go out and play with Karla.  

She may have stayed outside for about another 15 minutes on the swing they had outside their house, and she may have also gone to her house where another friend said that he gave her $2 to go buy candy. The police went and pulled video from the store where the friend said Karla planned to go for the candy, but they could not find her there. 

Ferrante: Later that night, Karla’s father arrived home from work and other activities, while her mother was working the night shift. Although Karla still wasn’t home, her father presumed she was spending the night at a friend’s house. The following morning, Karla didn’t show up for school, and her family knew something was seriously wrong.  

Tumbleson: When she didn't show up at school, the principal actually called the police, and they set up a command post at the school and started investigating. 

Ferrante: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was the first to investigate and remains the lead investigative agency today. 

Tumbleson: The police did a lot of interviews. They did neighborhood canvasses, and they conducted many other investigative steps.  

Ferrante: The FBI joined in what would become an extensive investigation with a “full court press,” from local media coverage to a feature on "America’s Most Wanted."

The FBI conducted interviews in Mexico, investigated around the U.S.-Mexican border, and conducted a number of polygraphs, including in Spanish.

No one has ever been charged in Karla’s disappearance. But two key theories have emerged about what may have happened to Karla. 

We are describing both theories in hopes that if you have any information about any of these individuals, or the case details provided, you’ll reach out to the FBI or local law enforcement.  

The first theory about Karla’s disappearance includes two brothers. 

Tumbleson: Two days after Karla disappeared, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department decided to track Karla’s scent using two bloodhounds, Barney and Blossom. 

The two bloodhounds started at different places, and they both were able to pick up Karla's scent and they traced them to the apartment of two brothers that we'll call Mark and Randy. 

Ferrante: Randy was a Navy veteran and had been discharged under unfavorable circumstances, but not dishonorably. Both he and Mark had unstable employment histories.

At the time, Randy had been working the swing shift as a casino dealer from about 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mark had been working at a local store from about 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, except Tuesdays.

They were both recreational drug users, and they frequented trafficking victims forced to do prostitution. Mark was also known to tell sexually explicit "jokes" about little girls. 

When the police came to investigate, the brothers consented to a police search of their apartment and vehicles. 

Tumbleson: The dogs, when they entered the apartment, they actually hit on the bathroom area, and one of the dogs actually jumped into the bathtub with its front paws and grabbed a sponge in its mouth. And I think that's pretty compelling for a scent dog.

The bathroom area had recently been disinfected, which the police detectives found rather unusual since the rest of the apartment was very filthy. On the side of the toilet by the bathtub, there was a blood splatter, and it was tested and found to be human blood. But there was not enough of the sample to do a DNA profile. 

Ferrante: The kitchen sink held a drink container, indicating a recent trip to a convenience store. Mark would have left work about 7 to 7:15 p.m.—about the same time Karla left from her friend's house—perhaps to go to this store first for a drink before heading home. 

So, the theory is that as Mark was traveling after work from the convenience store to his house, he intercepted Karla and convinced her—perhaps in Spanish, which he spoke decently—to walk along that street to his apartment nearby. There’s a thought that Mark may have purchased drugs from a nearby neighbor of Karla’s, so perhaps Mark had interacted with her before.  

Another finding involved Mark’s van. From the outside, it had three colors of paint, with rust spots all over and boarded windows. The van had Mississippi license plates that were registered to an ex-girlfriend. 

Tumbleson: The FBI agents interviewed the ex-girlfriend in a different state, and she was surprised the van was still in her name. She had children, but she had never noted Mark to behave unseemly toward them. 

Ferrante: The police searched the van and found one of Mark’s shirts with bodily fluid stains on it. Detectives later obtained the van’s old upholstery and used it to conduct a scent lineup with other fabric. Based on the previous samples of Karla, the dogs did not detect Karla’s scent on the upholstery. 

Tumbleson: Eventually, the police could not determine that Karla had ever been in the apartment or the van, so they were forced to move on. They eventually concluded, with FBI assistance, that Mark was a situational child sex offender.  

Mark died in September of 2002 of drug-related causes, and Randy also died in 2005 of similar causes. 

Ferrante: The second theory about what could have happened to Karla involves known serial killer Curtis Dean Anderson. 

Tumbleson: So, on or about May of 1999, convicted felon Curtis Dean Anderson was released from prison in California. He had been in prison for kidnapping a woman in California, taking her to Oregon against her will. By then, he had already sexually assaulted and killed seven mostly teenage adult females, but had never been caught. 

In September 1999, which is one month before Karla's disappearance, Anderson suffered significant injuries in a motorcycle accident. The recovery required extensive medical attention and rehabilitation. One of Anderson's defense attorneys stated that because of the accident, Anderson was greatly weakened and switched from abusing teenage girls, adult women, to younger, prepubescent females because they were easier to overpower. 

Ferrante: But Anderson’s strongest connection to Karla’s case is a receipt that was later found in his vehicle, a 1984 white or beige Oldsmobile Firenza out of which he sometimes lived. The receipt, discovered in 2000 after he was arrested, indicated that he was likely in Las Vegas on October 20, 1999, at 1:41 p.m. at a cigarette store, 1.1 miles away from Karla's house. 

He was confirmed to be at doctor's appointments on October 19 and October 22 in San Jose, California. So, the reason why he was in Las Vegas for these two days is still unknown.  

Tumbleson: One Bay Area newspaper suggested that Anderson always killed on Thursdays—and Karla disappeared late Wednesday night.  

Ferrante: Anderson would ultimately be convicted and sentenced to over 300 years in prison for the 1999 kidnapping and murder of seven-year-old Xiana Fairchild in Vallejo, California, and the 2000 kidnapping of an eight-year-old child also in Vallejo. He was captured after this last kidnapping victim escaped.  

In November 2007, Anderson confessed to murdering eight victims in the United States, including Fairchild from a previous confession and 7-year-old Amber Swartz-Garcia of Pinole, California. Anderson also confessed to two murders in Mexico, but did not provide any information on those victims. 

Anderson died in prison one month later in December 2007—but before his death, he referenced a map of Nevada previously found in his cell with five "X" marks placed in the map across the desert, claiming that these X’s were places where he had buried tapes of him and his sexual assault victims. Two additional maps found in his cell after he died provided more precise directions for two of the five sites.  

Tumbleson: So, based on those directions, we were able to go out to those sites. On March 1, 2019, we took ground-penetrating radar to one of the sites. It had a lot of debris. And so, the effectiveness of the ground-penetrating radar was reduced.  

Ferrante: Karla has been missing for almost 25 years, but the FBI never stops looking for any missing child. 

Tumbleson: On March 12, 2020, before COVID hit, the FBI ERT Team— 

Ferrante: Short for "Evidence Response Team"—

Tumbleson: —with ground-penetrating radar and dogs from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department searched the site again after it had been cleaned up. So, it was clear now of all of that debris. At that time, we did not find anything. 

And then, in November 16 through 17 of 2021, we also went out to the second site that was about 13 miles away. And we looked at that with ground penetrating radar and the FBI's Evidence Response Team and some search and rescue experts from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. At that time, we did not find anything. But I think that shows that—we still continue to look for Karla, she's still, she's still in our thoughts, we're still looking for her, and we still hope to be able to find out what happened to her. 

Ferrante: At the time of her disappearance, Karla had black hair, brown eyes, and a small mole above her right eyebrow. You can view age-progressed photos of Karla at fbi.gov/missing

Any information you have related to Karla could be crucial to finding out what happened to her.  

To share information about Karla, please contact the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department at (702) 828-3111; or call the FBI's Las Vegas Field Office at (702) 385-1281; or call 1-800-CALL-FBI. You can also contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. To submit an anonymous tip online, please visit tips.fbi.gov. As a reminder, the FBI is offering up to $5,000 for information leading to Karla’s whereabouts. Additional reward money may be available. 


Ferrante: This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube. You can also subscribe to email alerts about new episodes at fbi.gov/podcasts.    

I’m Ellen Ferrante from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for tuning in.

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