BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Erika Lango’s name was in headlines on the news and social media nearly every day in the fall of 2013. The 26-year-old, beautiful, mother of four was reported missing on Oct. 9, 2013. Now, nearly a decade later, we’re learning horrifying new details about how she died, as her murder remains unsolved. We are hiding the identities of the friends who agreed to talk to us because they fear for their families’ safety for speaking out in this case.
Erika’s estranged husband at the time she went missing, 36-year-old Julio Lango, has never been charged with Erika’s disappearance or murder. But he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence on Sept. 4, 2013, just over a month before she went missing. Erika told investigators Julio grabbed her by her hair and pulled her to the ground because the house wasn’t clean. Her friend, who we’re calling “Billie,” said Erika was seeing someone else at the time. “She had told me if he freakin’ finds out, her exact words, ‘dude if he finds out he’s going to (expletive) kill me.'” Another friend, who we’re calling “Valerie,” remembers that night. “I don’t remember what all was said or what all he did to her, but she did tell me she had to play dead. I don’t remember what all he did, but that’s how she survived.”
A few weeks later Erika obtained a restraining order against Julio. It was filed on Sept. 30, 2013. Just nine days later she was reported missing. She was supposed to facetime Valerie that evening. “I just kind of blew it off. We’re busy. We’re moms. We have kids. The next morning I looked at my phone and my sister-in-law had shared that she was missing. I’m like, how can she be missing? She was fine the day before.”
Julio called Erika’s mom the next morning and said he and his wife had an argument while drinking and she left the house after 10 p.m. to walk to a friend’s home. But surveillance video from an AMPM shows Erika driving up to the store in the family’s SUV at about 10:30 p.m. After paying for one item, she walks out to the SUV but doesn’t get in. She stays on the phone until a man walks up. Erika then walks around and gets into the passenger seat while the man gets into the driver’s seat and drives off.
Many say that man was Julio, but it’s hard to tell. The next day friends and family started looking for her. Billie joined in. “A bunch of us went over to her house and her mom’s like we need to look at her car, we need to look at her apartment. We were taking pictures of it. I don’t remember who it was, but someone has pictures of everything inside the car, the outside of the car. The scratch marks. The outside of the car, the passenger side, was full of fingerprints; like she was trying to hold on to something. And I’m like, why is her sweater in the car? They look and I’m like that’s the same sweater. The pink sweater from the video. Why is there a bat in the car? Why is there blood on the dashboard? The center console I mean. Why is the dashboard full of dirt and scratch marks?” Esther Padron, Erika’s mother, was also there. “That car was always clean. But we just wanted detectives to see the car, the SUV, take evidence, just in case. Anything that would help find her.”
Delano police impounded the vehicle. Investigators at the time told KGET reporters they took fluid and a sweater from the SUV. But we never learned if those items yielded any DNA evidence. In 2016 when we asked investigators about the items, they would only say they sent some items to the FBI for analysis and were still waiting on results. I asked again just recently if they ever got those results back and I was told there was nothing to release.
Months of searching and praying went by. Friends and family say Julio never joined them in looking for his wife. It was a canal worker who finally found her body. December 3rd, 2013, in the Friant Kern canal, a quarter mile north of Woollomes Avenue in Delano. It would be months before the coroner could determine how she died. And it was worse than friends and family had even imagined. We recently learned from her death certificate that Erika was tied to a large brick and thrown into the water alive. She drowned. And the coroner was not able to determine how long she’d been in there.
Friends and even family members like Erika’s own mother, don’t see the kids anymore. Julio won’t allow it. “He doesn’t talk to us he doesn’t want nothing to do with us with me or our family. I go to his house randomly, unexpectedly, hoping he can maybe let me see the kids, but he refuses,” says Esther.
We tried to ask Julio why and talk to him about the accusations against him. We reached out on the phone, over social media and even knocked on his door. The woman who answered said they had nothing to say. He never spoke to reporters in the days and weeks following his wife’s disappearance either. And while police called him a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance back in 2013, he has never been charged in her murder.
The abuse charges against Julio were dismissed in November 2013, since there were no witnesses and Erika wasn’t there to speak for herself. Over the past few years, Julio has had several run-ins with police, mostly for DUI. In October of 2018, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and police say they found a loaded, illegal assault weapon. Those charges were later dismissed.
We started reaching out to Delano Police in September. Just two weeks ago we were told the case would be submitted to Kern Secret Witness and a reward would be offered in Erika’s case. Anyone with any information that may help investigators, can call and remain anonymous. That number is 661-322-4040.