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Barrientos was last seen in Sugarland, Texas on June 6, 1994. She worked as a nanny and was last seen at 5:00 p.m., when she left her job to go home. She has never been heard from again. The next day, when Barrientos didn't show up for work, her employer called her house to ask where she was. Her boss spoke to her son-in-law, Frank Jose Trejos, who said Barrientos had left because she was angry with him about his not mowing the lawn.
On June 29, the police searched Barrientos's home for evidence in her case. Frank and Brenda lived with her. Invesigators found possible bloodstains on a towel in the residence and four adult-sized bloody footprints in the hallway. The towel was sent in for analysis and testing determined the stains on it were not blood. Barrientos's vehicle was discovered in Houston, Texas on June 30, the day after the house search and 24 days after she vanished. It was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition. There was no sign of her at the scene, but her purse, wallet and keys were discovered inside the car and there was blood on the back floor mats.
When interviewed about his mother-in-law's disappearance, Frank told police he had last seen her asleep at home between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. on June 6. He and his wife had left the house at that point and when they returned, the front door was ajar and Barrientos and her car were gone. He said Barrientos had recently mopped the kitchen floor, but the kitchen floor was being re-tiled at the time of her disappearance and was only bare concrete. Every place he said she had mopped later tested positive for blood. Brenda and Jose were suspects in Barrientos's disappearance for years, but investigators lacked the evidence to charge either of them in her case.
In 2001, after being interviewed again about Barrientos, Frank confessed to her murder. He stated he beat and choked her to death during an argument. He and Brenda put her body in the bathtub and cut her wrists to make her death look like a suicide, but the cuts didn't bleed, so they decided to get rid of her body. Brenda later confessed not only to helping dispose of her body but to actively assisting her husband in Barrientos's murder. They decided to kill her, she said, after Barrientos asked them to move out of her home because they were both unemployed and weren't helping with either the household chores or the bills.
Brenda and Jose said they'd buried Barrientos in a field near Fulshear, Texas, in north Fort Bend County. Frank led authorities to the burial site but they could not find her remains, as there had been fires in the area, trees had been removed, the ground had been plowed over and leveled with eighteen inches of soil added. Cadaver-sniffing dogs, however, did indicate the presence of human remains in the field; it's possible for them to smell a decomposing body even if it is no longer there.
Prosecutors, even with the confessions, had to spend a year gathering enough evidence to prove Barrientos was in fact dead. Brenda and Jose were charged in January 2003 and were tried separately. At her trial, Brenda claimed she assisted her husband in covering up Barrientos's murder, but did not contribute to her mother's death herself. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to 80 years in prison in February 2005. Frank was convicted in May 2005 and sentenced to 45 years in prison.