Body found in shallow grave behind Branford restaurant identified as missing East Haven mother

New Haven

BRANFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The body found behind a Branford restaurant has been positively identified as missing East Haven mother, Lizzbeth Aleman-Popoca.

On Wednesday afternoon, Branford Police Department, East Haven Police Department, and Connecticut State Police were called to LoMonaco’s Ristorante Italiano near Route 1.

Officers told News 8 crews on the scene that their presence was connected to the disappearance of the 27-year-old.

Police reported finding a deceased person buried in a “shallow grave” near a dumpster behind the restaurant. On Thursday, they confirmed it was Aleman-Popoca.

Her body was sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s for an autopsy but the manner and cause of death have not yet been determined. 

News 8’s Shaynah Ferreira spoke with Aleman-Popoca’s family who said they were “hanging in there.”

On Thursday, the owner of the restaurant, Vincenzo LoMonaco, told News 8 that Aleman-Popoca’s husband, Jonathan Jara, worked as a cook there for at least seven years. Because of that, Jara would have known that the restaurant is always closed for the week of the Fourth of July. To be exact, this year it was closed June 29 through July 6, and Aleman-Popoca was reported missing on July 1.

The LoMonaco’s owner also said he heard the husband was acting very strangely when he came back to work after the holiday break. He only worked one day and they have not seen him since.

“We knew there were some small problems in her marriage, but we never imagined something so big,” her father, Albino Aleman said. “But the worst thing [is] to leave this little girl, my granddaughter, in this situation…”

Police have yet to name a suspect.

East Haven police said on July 1, Aleman-Popoca’s husband got a call early on that day from the couple’s 7-year-old daughter saying her mom was not home when she woke up.

The husband said when he got home, his wife was gone, but most of her personal belongings were still there. At the time, the family said they were worried but weren’t giving up hope.

“She wasn’t a party girl; she was pretty responsible,” Yaneth Alemán said of her sister. “I have been trying to call her, message her, you know, Instagram, Facebook, but no, no answer.”

She said now her niece, Aleman-Popoca’s daughter, is now asking where her mom is.

“[She’s] starting to ask me difficult questions like, ‘where’s mommy? When can I see her? When can I talk to her?'”

Neighbor’s told News 8 it is a shock and a tragedy.

“I would have never in my wildest dreams even thought that something like this would happen on St. Andrews Avenue. It’s very disturbing…I think about her [the daughter] every day really. What she’s going through to grow up without a mother. Very sad.”

Alemán said her sister’s birthday was on July 2, so she didn’t initially worry when she didn’t hear from her.

“I’m like, ‘alright, maybe she went out with a couple of friends. She’s going to call back; she’s going to text us.'”

But that call never came.

Earlier this week, Alemán pleaded with her sister to call and to come home.

“I just want to hear your voice. I want to know that you’re okay. I don’t want to feel this feeling of loneliness. I want to know what to say to [your daughter]. Please, if you’re watching this, please mija, call me, please.

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