Belen Pacheco was known to walk past the potted palms and marble entryway of the downtown high-rise where she worked as a janitor until midnight, and then trek five miles to her south Sacramento home.
Those were nights that she didn't want to trouble a family member for a ride.
The selfless gesture, however, may have led to her demise one year ago.
But that it is only a hunch Sacramento police detectives have. They know very little about how Pacheco, 47, left work one night and ended up dead and badly decomposed in brush beside the Capital City Freeway.
"It's a really a mystery," said Sacramento police detective Eric Schneider.
"It's really an unusual case," added his partner, detective Natalie Medeiros.
The detectives have hit a maze of dead ends, but were successful in gathering $56,000 in reward money, the bulk from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office. They are hoping it might jog the memory of someone who knows what befell a woman who led a virtually faultless life.
"This is the woman who cleans your office and then goes back to her own little life caring for her mom," Schneider said. "It was just this existence right below the radar."
Pacheco was last seen June 26, 2006. At midnight she called her mother to tell her she was working an hour of overtime and would be late.
Her co-workers at 555 Capitol Mall saw her leave at 1 a.m., but she never made it home.
Pacheco's family reported her missing the next day, Schneider said, and because Pacheco was not the type to disappear without notice police dived into the missing-person case.
Officers retraced her steps and interviewed her co-workers. They sought the usual information: Did Pacheco have a relationship no one knew about? Was she returning to her native Mexico?
Pacheco's family and co-workers tacked "missing" posters with her image on poles along her route home.
The investigation led nowhere.
After about six weeks, Schneider said missing-persons detectives sent the case to him and Medeiros. Pacheco was presumed dead.
The homicide detectives re- interviewed many of the same people, only learning that Pacheco, who spoke only Spanish, was a kind woman who led a simple life.
"From everyone we talked to, she was a very giving, unselfish individual who didn't want to impose on anyone," Medeiros said.
On Aug. 7, detectives got a tragic break: A CalTrans worker stumbled across a body at Ninth and X Streets, in brush adjacent to an underpass.
The body -- later identified as Pacheco's -- offered few clues. Detectives and forensic scientists could not determine how, when or where she was killed.
"This can be a frustrating type of investigation, because you're used to getting answers to those sort of things," Medeiros said. "You hear 'Don't you see CSI? Can't you get it in an hour?' No, in fact, you can't get it at all."
Still, Medeiros said the detectives have taken every shred of evidence as far as they can, still falling short of making an arrest.
They keep in touch with Pacheco's family, who are helpful but also crestfallen when they see the duo.
"They're crushed when they see us," Medeiros said. "It's an instant reminder."
She hopes, during the week that marks the one-year anniversary of Pacheco's disappearance, that she'll be able to bring them good news.
Anyone with information about the case can call Sacramento Police at (916) 264-5471 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP or (800)-AA-CRIME. Callers can remain anonymous.