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Esteves said goodbye to his family at his San Jose, California home at 8:20 a.m. on December 13, 1988, and left the house. He apparently arrived safely at his real estate office in the 1200 block of east Santa Clara Street; the office door was later discovered unlocked and his wallet, which included money and identification, was there. He was last seen at 11:30 a.m., driving away from his office. He was reportedly driving normally.
Esteves never arrived home and has never been heard from again. He is described as an extremely reliable person who followed a consistent daily schedule; his family became worried after he did not come home for lunch. His loved ones stated it is uncharacteristic of him to leave his office unlocked or to leave his wallet anywhere. He was a relatively known public figure at the time of his disappearance; he had programs on Portuguese-language radio and television. He also owned several San Jose apartment buildings in 1988 and worked as a court interpreter. Esteves was married at the time of his disappearance and has six children. Due to his regular habits and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, the authorities suspected foul play immediately.
Esteves's vehicle, a mauve 1989 Buick Park Avenue with the license plate number 2KZV131, disappeared with him. The car was found in January 1989 on Redmond Avenue in the Almaden Valley, being driven by Orlando Cruz Vasquez, who was arrested and charged with auto theft, receiving stolen property, and parole violation. Vasquez told police he had purchased the car from an unidentified person just a few days before for $150, but neighbors stated they had seen him with the vehicle shortly after Esteves vanished and weeks before Vasquez says he bought it. The sweater and wristwatch Esteves was wearing at the time of his disappearance were found in Vasquez's house; he claimed he had found them in the trunk of the car when he purchased it. Vasquez was also wearing Esteves's ring when he was arrested. When investigators examined Esteves's car, they found scratch marks in the trunk and signs that someone had tried to pry open the trunk lock from the inside.
Several months after he came to the attention of the police, Vasquez was charged with murdering Esteves. Authorities believe he may not have acted alone, but no one else was charged; one possible suspect hanged himself just as police were about to search his home. Vasquez's lawyers argued that Esteves planned his disappearance and was still alive. The jury was unable to reach a verdict at the 1990 trial and a mistrial had to be declared. After a second trial in 1991, Vasquez was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Esteves's body has never been recovered. Foul play is suspected in his case due to the circumstances involved.