The last time anyone saw Tracy Ocasio, she was leaving a MetroWest bar after an Orlando Magic game in 2009.
Now, 13 years later, Ocasio’s disappearance remains an open case as Ocoee Police Department detectives continue to look for evidence that might help bring closure to the woman’s family and friends.
The night of Tuesday, May 26, 2009, started off just like any other typical night at the Florida Tap Room.
Ocasio had left her home, where she lived with her parents in Ocoee, for a fun-filled night at one of her favorite local bars to watch her favorite team, the Orlando Magic, take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The then-27-year-old was last seen leaving the bar with Ocoee resident James Hataway.
Ocasio’s yellow Chevrolet Cobalt later was found abandoned the morning of Wednesday, May 27, on Franklin Street in Ocoee.
Ocoee Police Detective David Gray said Hataway remains the only suspect in Ocasio’s disappearance.
Hataway currently is serving a life sentence for attacking another woman, Rachel Clarke, in 2008 in Seminole County.
Ocoee Police Chief Saima Plasencia said although the investigative leads may cause a case to go cold, no victim is ever forgotten.
“It is our hope to one day bring closure to this case and her family by finding Tracy or learning what happened to her,” Plasencia said. “By bringing continued attention to her case, someone might come forth with the critical piece of information to solve her disappearance. No matter how inconsequential a piece of information might seem, it could be the key.”
INVESTIGATION PART ONE: OPD
Wednesday, May 27, 2009: After repeated attempts to reach or locate her daughter through contacting friends when Ocasio did not come home, mother Elizabeth received a call from officers who had responded to a call from an Ocoee resident who said there was an abandoned car, identified as Tracy’s, left in the front yard.
According to Elizabeth, when she went to move the car, both front seats were pushed all the way forward.
At the time, Tracy’s father, Joe, was away on business. Elizabeth said she called him, and the couple immediately reported their daughter as missing.
The Orlando Police Department traveled to Tracy’s last known location — the tap room. An employee at the bar had seen her but did not notice anything strange. After watching the surveillance footage, police saw Tracy leave with a man that was later recognized to be Hataway.
Investigators with the OPD traveled to Hataway’s house to question him. Hataway said he met Tracy at the bar and asked her for a ride home. Gray said Hataway’s claim is the two were going to smoke marijuana at his house. He claims he did not have the amount Tracy wanted and she left around 2 a.m.
However, police found it suspicious Tracy’s car had been found just a couple hundred yards down the road from Hataway’s house.
When the OPD realized Tracy was last seen outside of their jurisdiction, the officers turned the case over to the Ocoee PD.
INVESTIGATION PART TWO: OCOEE PD
Ocoee police brought Hataway in for questioning. He was interviewed for about four hours and shared the same story he had told the OPD.
In their research, detectives discovered Hataway had lived in Ocoee his whole life and, until that point, had only minor run-ins with the law.
Friday, May 29, 2009: Detectives re-interviewed Hataway, keeping him in custody for 12 hours and having him take a polygraph, which the detective on the case at the time, Mark Olson, said he failed. Hataway asked for a lawyer, and detectives stopped the interrogation.
Bloodhounds then were used to track Tracy from her car, but they did not pick up anything. Handlers believed she had never been out of the car earlier.
The Ocoee PD asked the Orlando Forensics team to examine DNA that was found in the backseat of the car, although after weeks of analysis, a match could not be found.
Police also looked into Tracy’s past.
Elizabeth said she received a letter in the mail a few days after Tracy disappeared from the State Attorney’s Office for Tracy, informing her she had filed charges against an individual for misdemeanor battery, which Elizabeth had no idea about.
After notifying Olson, the detective said he was shocked to recognize the man’s name, Paul Hutto, who was well recognized by the local officers.
According to Tracy’s friends, after a run-in with Hutto’s girlfriend, Hutto and Tracy had a confrontation during which she said he shoved her to the ground outside the bar, where she then called the police.
Saturday, May 30, 2009: Police brought Hutto in for questioning, where his story and location was verified during Tracy’s disappearance. He denied any involvement.
However, officers did find a connection between Hataway and Hutto. Hutto was part of his family’s shoreline cleaning business, where Hataway used to work, but no recent contact was made through phone records.
Although police did not find Hutto a person of interest, he was not ruled out completely.
Investigators then looked through Tracy and Hataway’s phone records. Olson said a cellphone tower pinged Hataway’s location several times pointing toward the area of them traveling to his home. However, although he had claimed Tracy had left at 2 a.m., when Elizabeth called Tracy around 7 a.m., it was pinged at his house.
Monday, June 1, 2009: After maintaining a search warrant for Hataway’s home, Olson and other investigators could not find any of Tracy’s articles, including her car key or her phone.
Officers found a marijuana bong, and Hataway was arrested on charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, also confiscating his computer for search. Later on, it was discovered Hataway had been searching for several hours on how to commit suicide, over the weekend before police had received the search warrant.
INVESTIGATION PART THREE: RACHEL CLARKE
Five minutes after the image of Hataway in cuffs hit the news, Olson said he received a phone call from a woman named Rachel Clarke, claiming she recognized Hataway.
Olson said Clarke informed him she was a victim of a battery about a year earlier and Hataway was the suspect.
Clarke’s story is shockingly similar to Tracy’s.
Clarke said she gave Hataway a ride home from a bar and as they were pulling into the apartment complex, he grabbed her and began to choke her. Although she was able to exit and escape from the vehicle, Hataway chased her and tackled her to the pavement, where he began to strangle her, banging her head against the curb, saying, “Don’t make me kill you.”
When neighbors heard Clarke’s calls for help and came out to investigate, Hataway ran away.
Although Clarke filed a report with the police, they had been previously unable to locate him.
“It made me think I got the right guy,” Olson said in a previous statement. “I have him. The incidents were too similar. Both young girls, attractive girls, giving this guy a ride home, and one got away, and one didn’t.”
The officers in Seminole County reopened Clarke’s case the next day, and Hataway was immediately extradited from Ocoee. The drug charges he was being held on were dropped, and he then faced charges of attempted murder.
Monday, May 9, 2011: Hataway was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He was also found guilty on charges including burglary, robbery and false imprisonment.
The Ocasios said they attended each court session; Hataway would not make eye contact with them.
“If there’s any comfort it’s that he’s behind bars and he won’t destroy another family like he destroyed our family,” Joe said.
INVESTIGATION PART FOUR: BLACK BOOT
Wednesday, June 3, 2009: A massive search was launched a week into the investigation involving K-9 units, horses and four-wheelers, who fought against the Florida terrain and its wood inhabitants, even bringing in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office dive team to search the area lakes.
Monday, June 29, 2009: It had been a month since Tracy was last seen.
Olson received a call from an employee who worked at Disney World who was driving into work and had seen something suspicious the morning of May 27.
The witness said he saw a bright yellow vehicle parked on the shoulder, facing the opposite direction of traffic, off the road with its headlights on. The area was rural and adjacent to a lake.
Police searched the swamp area but found nothing.
The Ocasios conversed with Olson and put together a mounted team to explore a new wooded area, a location where Hataway often dumped yard debris. Almost immediately, they spotted a woman’s black boot in Tracy’s size, but nothing else was recovered.
Tracy’s family and friends were asked to come into the Ocoee station to identify the shoe. Joe said he was confident the shoe belonged to his daughter; friend Taryn Anthony confirmed they looked similar to one of Tracy’s favorite pairs.
“I was very emotional,” she said in a previous statement. “You’re looking at something that potentially … (was) the last thing your best friend was wearing before she went missing.”
Ocasio’s disappearance remains an open case.
Ocoee Police Lt. Mireya Iannuzzi said the department is planning to resubmit evidence to the lab to see if the newer technology can pick up anything previously missed.
Gray, who took over the case when Olson was promoted, said to move forward, the department needs somebody who may possibly have information on Tracy to come forward.
“I believe someone knows,” Gray said of Tracy Ocasio’s whereabouts. “I don’t know if they are in fear, which they shouldn’t be, because James Hataway is doing life without parole. But I think someone knows, and hopefully one day, they’ll come forward and give us the information that they know — at least so the family can get closure.”
Joe said he and his wife pray one of these days they can bring Tracy home.
“This week 13 years ago, we lost our precious daughter,” Joe said. “During that horrible time of our lives, one thing that stood out to us was the kindness and support of our community, the Ocoee Police department and many others from around the state. From volunteering to search, donating water and food for the searchers, offering comfort, and more. We will never forget, and it gives us hope.”
CAN YOU HELP?
If you have any information as to the whereabouts of Tracy Ocasio, contact the Ocoee Police Department at (407) 905-3161 or Crimeline at (407) 423-TIPS.
Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series on unsolved crime cases in West Orange.