EAST MANATEE -- Detectives believe human remains found in Duette Preserve are those of the ex-boyfriend suspected of shooting a mother of five to death, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Maria Moralez, 42, was found shot to death Aug. 28 inside a tractor in the orange groove off State Road 62 where she worked.
The only "person of interest" in her death had been ex-boyfriend Joel Ramirez, but authorities never found him for questioning. Following the shooting, he had failed to show up at his own farmworker job in Hardee County.
Park rangers found the remains and personal items Thursday about two miles from where Moralez's body was found.
"There is identification there that is his and there is a firearm," Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said. "We believe he killed her and walked to this location and killed himself."
Investigators had believed all along that Ramirez was responsible for her death.
"The fact that his remains were found within a couple miles solidifies that," Bristow said.
Those who knew Moralez said she had a volatile history with Ramirez and were convinced he was responsible for killing her.
DNA tests will be conducted to confirm the remains belonged to Ramirez, the sheriff's office said.
If the remains are confirmed to be Ramirez's, the homicide investigation into Moralez's death will be closed and classified as death by offender, Bristow said. Moralez's death was the 10th homicide of the year in Manatee County.
Moralez was found dead by a co-worker the day she
was shot, after he went looking for her when she didn't report back to the company barn at the expected time. The struggle in the tractor was apparent, and footsteps heading away from the scene were later discovered.
Ramirez, known to be physically abusive, was also known for sitting and watching her work.
The single mother was killed on her birthday, leaving behind children ages 20, 18, 16, 10 and 2 at the time.
Her eldest son told the Herald shortly after her death that he had feared for his mother's life and had urged her to stay away from Moralez.
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.