Left: Henrietta circa, 1960
Right: Age Progressed to age 75
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: August 1, 1960
Missing From: Santa Ana, Orange County, California
Classification: Endangered Missing
Date Of Birth: October 10, 1942
Age: 17 years old
Height and Weight: 5’0″ and 100 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Hispanic Female, Brown hair, Brown eyes, Henrietta has a measles scar between her eyebrows and her maiden name is “Cruz”
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A gold chain and a wedding ring
NCMEC Number: 1270740
Details of Disappearance
Henrietta was last seen at some point during the summer of 1960. Prior to her disappearance, Henrietta lived with her parents and her four younger siblings. She also attended Santa Ana High School before dropping out, she went on to work at a variety store. In March of that year, Henrietta met 26 year old Merle Avila and began dating him at the time.
On April 23rd 1960, Henrietta and Merle got married and they lived in Garden Grove, California after this. According to Henrietta’s family, the marriage was “no overwhelming success”. Months passed and Henrietta did not contact her family. As a result, her father filed a missing persons report on August 1st 1960.
Merle was later questioned by authorities regarding his wife’s disappearance. He claimed that about three months into their marriage, Henrietta packed her possessions and belongings into boxes and left him. He claimed that he last saw Henrietta in a park in Long Beach, California on August 20th which was 19 days after Henrietta was reported missing.
Merle claimed he had no idea where his wife went after she disappeared. On August 27th, Henrietta’s family received a phone call from a person identifying themself as “Henrietta Cruz.” Henrietta’s mother told the collect operator that she would accept the charges and speak with the individual but the called hung up before anything else happened. The call allegedly came from San Francisco.
That same day, her family received a telegram from San Francisco and it was signed “Henrietta.” In the telegram, Henrietta told her parents she was fine, she had a job, and that she had no intentions of returning to her husband. Investigators managed to track the wire to its origin which was a pay phone booth. The telegram was placed by a female who gave a false address.
A week before Christmas of 1961, Henrietta’s father went out to his car during the morning and found two clues on the truck of his car. A belt and under clothing that belonged to Henrietta were both there. No other trace of her has ever been found.
Investigators haven’t named any suspects in her case but it’s believed she’s deceased. Merle remarried to another woman in 1962 and had several daughters afterwards. In 1952, Merle was involved in a kidnapping when he was 18 years old. It’s unknown if this incident had anything to do with Henrietta’s disappearance and Merle has not been mentioned as a suspect in the case.
Henrietta previously attended Smedley Junior High School. Both of Henrietta’s parents are deceased. Merle died in 2012 and Henrietta’s brother passed away in 2020. Henrietta’s sister who is 10 years younger than her is still living and hopes to find out what happened to her sister. Foul play is possible in Henrietta’s case which remains unsolved.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Santa Ana Police Department 714-245-8665
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
California Department of Justice
The Los Angeles Times 05/03/1962