April 26, 2010 12:00 PM

After months of turmoil in their marriage, Bruce and Monica Beresford-Redman flew to Cancun with their two kids for what she hoped would be a relationship-saving vacation. “She was looking forward to it,” says Monica’s close friend Naygee De Lima. “It was a reconciliation trip.” But just days after checking into the plush Moon Palace Resort, something went horribly wrong. On April 6, the morning after several guests claim they heard the couple having a heated argument, Bruce, 38, a former Survivor producer, reported his wife missing. Two days later, on what would have been her 42nd birthday, Monica’s body was found in a sewer.

Mexican authorities quickly determined that she had been asphyxiated and struck in the right temple-and, just as quickly, they turned their focus on Bruce. Given the scratches on his face and arms, plus the couple’s alleged turbulent history, police briefly detained Bruce before releasing him on the condition that he not leave the country; the decision to arrest him is pending forensic-test results. Monica’s family, however, seems already to have come to their own conclusion. “If he didn’t want her anymore, he could have gotten divorced,” says her sister Carla Burgos. “Why would he do that?”

Some who were close to Monica are weighing one possibility: that he was having an affair. Sources say the woman may have been Joylynn Pierce, a casting producer on the reality show The Contender, for which Bruce was a co-executive producer. “If there was anything going on with them,” says Jeff Wald, another co-executive producer on the show, “they were discreet.” But De Lima says that when Monica, the owner of Zabumba, a successful Brazilian bar in L.A., confronted her husband with her suspicions about four months ago, he told her the 18-month-long affair was over. “Monica never believed it was over,” says De Lima. “She wanted a divorce,” says her sister, “but Bruce begged her to stay.”

Early on the pair had seemed a loving if slightly unusual couple. They met 12 years ago when Bruce walked into Zabumba. “Monica was the ultimate Brazilian queen,” says Quie Anthony, a deejay at the bar. “Always full of life. Even on a bad day, she would have a smile.” Bruce was her opposite. Quiet and reserved, Bruce “was one of the nicest producers. He never freaked out,” says a source who worked with him. As for Monica: “He was proud of her. He felt like he struck gold.”

They dated for a year before marrying in a lavish ceremony. Making their home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., the couple had two children, Camila, 5, and Alec, 3. With a live-in nanny, both parents remained on the go. Bruce traveled for shows like Pimp My Ride and Crash Course. Monica was at her bar most nights but was also a “shopaholic” for her kids. Yet behind their smiles, friends say the couple struggled after Monica began suspecting an affair. “They were fighting. I’d hear her talking about this girl, a co-worker of his,” says De Lima. She hoped the Mexico trip would help. “I was very happy they were on vacation.”

Mexican authorities said several guests overheard the couple arguing. The next day Bruce told police that Monica had left the hotel to shop and never returned. Bruce’s father, David, released a statement, saying his son “loved Monica and would never have harmed her.” Still, Monica’s sister Carla Burgos says the loss is overwhelming. “The children, they lost a mother,” she says. “Now they could lose a father. It’s very sad.”

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