FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) — The mystery surrounding a missing Phoenix-area couple has been solved with the discovery of their bodies buried 6 feet under a yard and the arrest of a suspect, who told authorities he was high on methamphetamine the night of the killings.
The bodies of Michael Careccia, 44, a former airline pilot, and his wife, Tina, 42, an accountant, were discovered on the property of suspect Jose Valenzuela, after being reported missing more than a week ago. Friends and family fanned out across the desert to search for the couple in the days after the disappearance.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said that Valenzuela used a backhoe to bury the bodies in the town of Maricopa, about 35 miles south of Phoenix.
"Instead what he did was he built, not a makeshift grave, but an actual 6-foot grave," Babeu said Thursday. "He put these victims in that grave and buried them."
The grave was not initially noticeable because debris had been piled on top of it, the sheriff said.
During the investigation, Valenzuela acknowledged to authorities that he had done meth before the killings, sheriff's spokesman Mark Clark said.
Valenzuela, 38, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He was being held on a $2 million cash bond.
Babeu said Valenzuela was found with a .22 caliber revolver believed to be the murder weapon and made statements to an investigator that led to the search of his property.
"Essentially he confessed," Babeu said at a news conference.
The couple was reported missing June 22 by Michael Careccia's son after Tina Careccia didn't show up at the construction company where she worked.
Authorities went door to door, launched air and ground searches and used dogs to try to track their scent.
Sheriff's officials served a search warrant Wednesday at Valenzuela's residence, and deputies were seen digging on the property before the bodies were found.
Valenzuela told investigators that he and the couple have been acquainted for the past two years and used methamphetamine together, including the night of the killing.
Babeu cautioned, however, that toxicology tests were needed to confirm the allegations. A message seeking comment from family members of the victims was not immediately returned Thursday.
Authorities said Valenzuela took meth to the home of Michael and Tina Careccia on the day before they went missing. Later in the day, they went to his home, where authorities say Valenzuela brandished a weapon during a fight.
Clark said he doesn't know whether Valenzuela has an attorney.
Marla Francisco, who shares a child with Valenzuela, said she no longer lives at the property searched by authorities and was shocked by the arrest.
"Who wouldn't be?" Francisco said before hanging up the phone.
The abandoned car of Michael and Tina Careccia was previously found covered in dirt about a half-mile from their home in Maricopa, about 35 miles south of Phoenix.
There was no activity involving their phones, bank accounts, credit cards or social media accounts after they went missing, investigators said.
Tang reported from Phoenix.