Crime - Sacto 911

Twenty years later, police still investigating cold case of Sacramento restaurateur Henry Moreno

Mario Moreno stood solemn and grave while wiping the dust and dirt off the memorial plaque of his brother, Henry Moreno, who went missing 20 years ago Monday.

The nearby red oak tree the Moreno family planted in honor of Henry in East Portal Park has grown tall and leafy over the years, but Mario and his family are still no closer to finding out what happened to Henry when he vanished on Aug. 6, 1998.

On the 20th anniversary of his disappearance, the case is still cold. There’s been no word from Henry, no sightings, no bank activity, no calls on his cell phone, and no charges to his credit cards, said Detective Amy Crosby of the Sacramento Police Department, who took over the case in 2012. Moreno’s 1997 Nissan Pathfinder was also never found.

The last tip in the case was in 2016, she said, but nothing came of it.

Crosby has two binders on her desk filled with information that numerous detectives have collected on this case.

“I think this is a solvable case,” she said. “I think there’s somebody out there who knows something about it, and I’m hoping that enough time has passed that they’ll be willing to come forward at this point so that the family can have some closure.”

Henry Moreno was three days away from the grand opening of his dream restaurant, La Mansion del Rio, in a restored mansion along the Sacramento River, when he was reported missing.

On the day of his disappearance, he drove to a business in Courtland where he checked on the septic tank lid for the restaurant. He had lunch at the 524 Club, a restaurant he frequented in the Northgate area. An eyewitness account then puts him in the lumber department of the Home Depot on Truxel Road, accompanied by an unknown African-American man, according to the police report.

In the following days, Mario Moreno said his family searched frantically for Henry, even checking the Sacramento River for his body, but found nothing.

As the mystery dragged on, rumors and theories had Moreno absconding to Mexico with investor’s money, or the Mexican mafia having a hand in his disappearance, or that he was murdered and his body was hidden, Crosby and Mario said.

Mario said he dismisses the idea that Henry fled, leaving his family behind.

“I like people to know my brother was a stand up member of the family, probably the best of the family . . . whenever anything happened in the family, we all went to him for help and advice so he is greatly missed. I can’t see him leaving his family for any reason,” he said.

Henry also had a 16-year-old daughter at the time of his disappearance, and “she is the love of his life, he would not have left her for anything,” Mario said.

He said he thinks his brother “got stuck in a bad situation.” Henry had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into his restaurant and was in serious debt, according to a 2005 story in The Bee.

“We all expect to find out the truth someday, but we doubt we’ll see him alive,” Mario Moreno said.

On this anniversary of Henry’s disappearance, Mario plans to spend the afternoon at the park where his brother’s tree is planted.

“We don’t want to forget our brother,” Mario said. “We don’t want our brother to be forgotten.”

Molly Sullivan: 916-321-1176, @SullivanMollyM