The giant framed photograph had hung in the living room of Irasema Chavez's big sister's North Texas home for months.
Irasema is smiling in the photo, dressed in the Western clothes — and white Cowboy hat — that she liked to wear Tejano dancing.
It is the same clothing that the family would later choose to bury Irasema in after the 32-year-old woman was found dead — stabbed more than 100 times — inside her Arlington apartment on Jan. 20, 2012.
But the photograph, one of two given to the family by friends of Irasema after her death, became a haunting presence for Diana Elouad, Irasema's grief-stricken sister.
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It was too lifelike, her husband, Mohammed Elouad, explained. Too much of a reminder of the woman who'd been ripped from their lives too quickly.
" I take it out and hide it and I put it in the closet," said Mohammed Elouad. "I said, 'Get a small picture. It's OK to have a small picture of her next to you. Not something like this.' "
Irasema's mother, who keeps the other framed photograph on display in her home in Mexico, refuses to take the photo down.
"I mean every second you walk in, you see her over there. I know she’s right here," Mohammed Eload said, tapping his fist to his heart. "She’s always going to be right here. You guys are killing yourselves like this.”
'Soaked with blood'
More than six years has passed since Irasema's murder. But despite various efforts by Arlington police, including having a composite of the killer created in 2016 using DNA that had been left at the scene, her killer remains free.
The unsolved case is the latest focus of the Star-Telegram's "Out of the Cold" podcast series.
At the time of her death, Irasema, sometimes known as Rosa to friends, had been living by herself at the Aspen Wood Apartments in the 2900 block of South Collins Street.
That morning, Diana Elouad had gone to Irasema's apartment to drop off their 17-year-old niece, Linda "Yesy" Yesenia Valdez, who was in town visiting her aunts from Mexico. Yesy was going to stay with Irasema while Diana Elouad worked.
Though she had a key, there would be no need for it that morning. The teen found her aunt's front door unlocked. She opened it and was met by a horrific sight.
"I saw everything was stained, soaked with blood," Yesy said. "... I wanted to see what had happened because I saw a lot of blood, even the white walls were covered. And then I saw her, face down."
The medical examiner's office would later note Chavez's body was covered with than 100 stab wounds, some inflicted after Irasema was already dead, according to Arlington homicide Detective Caleb Blank.
When Blank first saw Irasema's body, he said he believed she'd been wearing a netting shirt, like those popular in the '80s.
"That’s what it looked like. It had that many stab wounds through it,” Blank said.
Only a large flat-screen television appeared to be missing from Irasema's apartment. Blank surmises the killer may have known that Irasema had surveillance cameras so she could keep watch over her prized pickup and that the footage from those cameras could be watched on that television.
But the killer left behind the recording device, allowing police to later get a glimpse of the suspect walking up the stairs to her second-floor apartment at 10:36 p.m. on Jan. 19,. 2012, then knocking on her door, and after about a minute, being let in.
An 'El Chapo' connection?
About 10 minutes after the suspect entered the apartment, the video abruptly ends — apparently cut off when the recording device was unplugged.
But the video gave no insight into the killer's identity as the suspect's face was shielded from the camera's view by a baseball cap and hoodie. It did, however, indicate to Blank that Irasema had not been targeted randomly.
“It definitely helped put some relief in my mind that Irasema was targeted for a specific reason and whoever this is, is known to her," Blank said.
The killer's walk seemed masculine to many but a single drop of fresh blood left behind on a nightstand in Irasema's bedroom would soon reveal that the person on the video was, in fact, a woman.
Tests would prove it wasn't Irasema's blood, nor did it belong to a woman she had been dating and had, perhaps just coincidentally, broken up with that same night.
Friends of Irasema had told investigators that the girlfriend may have been selling drugs at Dallas nightclubs and that, perhaps, Irasema was indirectly involved.
Yesy said the day before finding her aunt dead, she'd had lunch with her aunt and aunt's girlfriend at Irasema's apartment. During that lunch, she said, the conversation turned to crime in Mexico and that the girlfriend claimed to be the niece of the notorious drug cartel lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
“I asked her, 'Would you be able to kill someone?' because he had killed so many people," Yesy recalled. "And she said, 'I couldn’t do it but I have people who can.' "
But Blank said he could find nothing to substantiate the drug allegation and that the girlfriend told him in an interview that it wasn't true. Blank said he also never saw anything to suggest a link to a cartel.
He said although the DNA tests ruled out the girlfriend as the "immediate suspect," no one has been completely eliminated in the case.
"As far as to motive, of what caused Irasema’s death or who could have led to this, I’m keeping that open for all involved," Blank said. " No one’s been ruled out as far as that goes."
In 2016, for the first time, Arlington police tried a new tool in hopes of creating new leads in the case. They paid Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company, to use an analysis of the killer's DNA to predict the woman's physical appearance, including ancestry, hair and eye color. and even the presence of freckles.
From those genetic predictions, the company then created a composite that may resemble the killer.
The analysis found the suspect was a Latino woman who most likely has light brown or fair skin, brown or hazel eyes, black or brown hair with few if any freckles. Two composites were generated from those predictions, both showing what the suspect may have looked like at age 25 — one with short hair and one with long.
Blank showed the composites to both Irasema's family and friends.
"They thought the picture reminded them vaguely of a lady who they saw in a Dallas club, but it was nothing more specific than that," he said.
For Irasema's family, a lack of an arrest has made healing even more difficult in the years since her death.
Diana Elouad lives with fear.
"I’m scared ... because still we don’t know who did it,” she said.
Yesy, already dealing with a heart condition, had to undergo therapy.
"I couldn’t sleep. I had so many bad memories," Yesy said. "I imagined myself in all the blood. I imagined myself in that scene again."
If you have information about the unsolved murder of Irasema Chavez, please contact Arlington homicide Detective Caleb Blank at 817-459-5735.
Hanaa Tameez contributed to this report.
'Out of the Cold' podcast
Listen to the complete story of the murder of Irasema Chavez, which is Episode 9 of the Star-Telegram's own "Out of the Cold" podcast. Find the link at www.star-telegram.com/outofthecold. You can also subscribe through iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.