Man Drove Around For Month With Missing Woman's Body In His Car, Police Say

A Louisiana man was arrested Monday on suspicion of second-degree murder after authorities said he had been driving around for a month with a woman’s body in the car. 

Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office said they discovered the body of Sheila Ortega, 72, on Monday in her own SUV after family members reported her missing. Relatives told sheriff’s deputies that they had not spoken to Ortega, who lived in Lake Charles, for about a month. 

Detectives found Ortega’s SUV in a mall parking lot as part of their missing persons investigation and discovered her body inside. They then identified Christopher T. Cater, 41, as a person of interest in their investigation and found him at a nearby business.

Sheila Ortega in a photo she posted on Facebook in May 2018.
Sheila Ortega in a photo she posted on Facebook in May 2018.

Sheila Ortega in a photo she posted on Facebook in May 2018.

According to detectives who interviewed Cater, he admitted to killing Ortega a month earlier and had obtained several loans in her name after her death. 

Cater was also arrested on suspicion of unlawful disposal of human remains and identity theft. He is being held without bond in the Calcasieu Correctional Center in Lake Charles.

The sheriff’s office did not elaborate on Cater’s relationship with Ortega, saying only that he was an “acquaintance.”

“We have seen some strange cases here in Calcasieu Parish, but this case is definitely an unusual one for us,” Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso said in a news release. “We have never seen someone drive around with a dead body in the SUV for 30 days. My prayers go out to the family and friends of Mrs. Sheila, this is a senseless and inhumane tragedy. The body has been sent off for further testing and to determine the cause of death.”

In a Facebook post Monday, one woman who called Ortega a friend described her as a “very nice woman with a big heart” who “trusted too many people.” She recalled the hardships Ortega had faced after hurricanes hit the area in 2020 and said Ortega had rented out rooms in her house and let people stay in campers in her yard because she needed help with repairs.   

Kayla Vincent, the spokesperson for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, told HuffPost that no other details would be released at this time. The Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. An attorney for Cater could not be immediately located.