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Francisco Carbajal busted in cold-case strangulation of Julia Abarca

We've grown accustomed to hearing about cold cases that heat up due to DNA hits, such as the arrest and April sentencing of Dominique Huntington for a 2008 double rape. But such evidence isn't always the key.

Take the case of Francisco Rojas Carbajal, who reportedly confessed to strangling Julia Abarca in Edgewater on or near Christmas 2010 after an identity theft investigation made more challenging by multiple aliases. Photos and details below.

An online memorial about Abarca notes that she was born in Idaho circa 1969 and lived in that state and Utah before moving to Edgewater. A member of the Pentecostal church, she's said to have loved photography, dancing, cooking, spending time with kids, and traveling to visit friends and family. "Julia was always putting others before herself," the remembrance notes -- which only makes the circumstances of her death that much more tragic.

Another photo accompanying Julia Abarca's memorial page.
Another photo accompanying Julia Abarca's memorial page.

What happened? On January 2, according to Carbajal's arrest affidavit, on view below, Edgewater police were called to Abarca's apartment, on the 2600 block of Kendall Street. They found Abarca's body inside, and she'd been there a while: The coroner estimated that she died on either Christmas or December 26. She last spoke with her family at around 11 p.m. on December 24.

Cause of death: asphyxiation caused by strangulation.

Among the clues found during a search of the apartment was a receipt from Academy Bank dated December 3. But investigators soon discovered that the account remained active even after Abarca's death, with 33 separate transactions taking place between December 25 and January 3. Businesses included various restaurants and liquor stores; the amount of money involved exceeded $1,500.

Meanwhile, Abarca was identified as a suspect in a past disturbance at a different eatery: El Jaliscience II Mexican Restraurant on West Alameda. The owners told detectives that a man known as Francisco Rojas had quit his job at the establishment -- but then, the previous October or November, he'd come in alongside Abarca, with the two of them demanding that he be rehired. When the owners declined to do so, Abarca allegedly responded with verbal harassment and threats that prompted them to report the incident to the Lakewood Police Department.

Turns out Abarca had used a false Social Security number when he'd applied for his job at the restaurant -- but he'd listed his address as Abarca's apartment.

Julia Abarca, right, with a loved one.
Julia Abarca, right, with a loved one.

Over the weeks and months that followed, investigators tried to tie the man they knew as Rojas to the draining of Abarca's bank account, as well as to names that included "Juan Rivas" and "Juan Rivas-Garcia" -- and by August 2011, enough evidence was in place to obtain an arrest warrant for him. But his whereabouts were unknown.

Then, on June 30 of this year, a break.

Continue for more about the arrest of Francisco Carbajal, including another photo and the affidavit.

Julia Abarca being laid to rest.
Julia Abarca being laid to rest.

Local authorities received a call from the Torrington, Wyoming Police Department informing them that they'd busted someone on a DUI charge who called himself Ricardo Rojas, although he had no identification to prove it. The officers there wondered if Ricardo Rojas could be Francisco Rojas -- and after examining booking photos, Colorado investigators determined that he was the same person.

A trip to Torrington followed, along with an interview with the wife of "Ricardo," who ID'd her husband from photos showing him using Abarca's identity to purchase booze.

Then came a sit-down with Rojas Carbajal, who waived his rights to extradition on the identity-theft beefs. And during the drive back to Colorado earlier this month, the affidavit says he came clean about much more.

The document quotes Rojas Carbajal detailing a verbal argument with Abarca around Christmas 2010, when both of them had consumed some alcohol. After the fight, they both got undressed and climbed into bed, at which point he claimed that she produced a pair of scissors and tried to attack him with them.

In the ensuing scuffle, he maintained that Abarca nicked his cheek with the scissors, after which he bit her finger until she dropped them. Then he threw her off the bed, gripped her neck and began squeezing.

Here's a chilling excerpt from the document:

Mr. Rojas advised that he ended up on top of Ms. Abarca and tightened his grip on her neck with both hands. He described increasing the pressure, feeling her kick slightly as he continued strangling her, which he eventually demonstrated by showing the position of his hands.

In describing his actions, Mr. Rojas stated that he knew that if he continued, Ms. Abarca would die. He described a swelling anger within him because of the past perceived abuse she had perpetrated and that he knew she would not recover.

He was right. After approximately five minutes, he checked her for signs of life and determined that she was dead. Then he picked her up, placed her on the bed and left, taking her identification and debit/credit cards with him. And over the next week or so, he put them to use.

Not anymore. The man said to have at one time or another used the names Francisco Carbojar, Francisco Carbojar-Rojas, Francisco Rojas-Carbojal, Juan Rivas, Juan Rivas-Garcia, Juan Garcia, Luis Rojas, Ricardo Rojas, Poncho, and Juanito is being held in Jefferson County Jail on suspicion of first degree murder.

Look below to read the arrest affidavit, followed by a mug shot of the man with so many names.

Francisco Rojas Carbajal Affidavit

Francisco Rojas Carbajal.
Francisco Rojas Carbajal.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Domonique Huntington sentenced in 2008 double-rape cold case cracked thanks to DNA."