Missing Mom-of-6 Made 'Cry For Help' Weeks Before Estranged Husband Was Charged in Her Murder
Jennifer Sanchez, 39, is still missing nearly three weeks after she was last seen on video with her husband, whom she had accused of domestic assault
On June 25, 2017, Jennifer Marie Sanchez posted a selfie on Facebook. A shocking contrast to images elsewhere on her page that reflected happy moments with family and friends, it showed the Houston mother of six with a swollen black eye.
“This is what happens when you don’t listen to the people who try to look out for you,” she wrote, according to her aunt, Yvonne Wiemann.
Sanchez’s post did not provide any further explanation. But those close to her assumed an assault by Joey Sanchez, the man she had secretly married without telling her mother. Joey, 44, was charged Sept. 14 with killing the missing 39-year-old, who hasn’t been seen in 18 days.
Family members, search volunteers and law enforcement continue to look for what they expect will be Jennifer’s body.
“We have a very big family,” Wiemann tells PEOPLE. “There were times she wouldn’t come around to the family functions” — which Wiemann believes was “because she was hiding her bruises or whatever abuse that he had done to her.”
Prosecutors so far have declined to provide a detailed explanation for the charge of capital murder against Joey, who made an initial court appearance Monday where he was denied bond, reports local TV station KHOU.
He is being held in a Harris County jail.
It could not be determined if Joey had entered a plea, and an attorney who might speak on his behalf could not be located.
Joey and Jennifer were last seen together on surveillance video as they left a bar in the early hours of Sept. 7, after Jennifer told her son around 1 a.m. that she was briefly stepping out. She did not indicate she was going to meet her estranged husband, a police spokesman previously told PEOPLE.
The video led authorities to arrest and jail Joey on Sept. 13 for violating the terms of a restraining order Jennifer had obtained against him. At the time Jennifer disappeared, Joey was due in court on a charge of domestic violence against her and he was pressuring her to drop the case, police say they were told by family members.
Wiemann tells PEOPLE that relatives sensed that abuse was occurring during the two years that Jennifer and Joey were a couple. Wiemann says that a family member told her that during one altercation with Jennifer’s 23-year-old son, Adrien, Joey allegedly grabbed a gun.
“Adrian was trying to take up and defend for his mom, and this man started shooting at my nephew,” Wiemann alleges.
A few weeks ago, on a group chat between family members, Jennifer “sent out a message saying ‘I really need my family, I really need you all,’ ” Wiemann says. “I said, ‘Jennifer, you know we’re there for you no matter what and we love you.’ ”
Jennifer did not respond and Wiemann did not push for details. But she says: “To me that was a cry for help.”
Joey has been accused at least twice of domestic assault on Jennifer, dating back to June 2017, police spokeswoman Jodi Silva told PEOPLE. In November he is alleged to have assaulted Jennifer in a bar, and he was due in court Sept. 20 on that charge, just days after Jennifer went missing.
Joey was previously convicted of aggravated sex assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in June 1996 and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Wiemann says she did not intervene in Jennifer’s apparently turbulent relationship.
“I never really said anything to her, other than every time I could see her, she would hug me and call me tia, and I would just hold her tight,” Wiemann says. “And I knew. But I always felt like if she wanted to say something, she would say it.”
“My sister [Jennifer’s mom] constantly told her, ‘You don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to put up with this, you can always come home,’ ” she says. “We just tried to assure her, ‘Your family’s here for you.’ ”
Wiemann did not know when the couple last separated, but Jennifer “was going back and forth, back and forth.”
The pair quietly married last year but did not tell Jennifer’s mother, Ofelia Gomez, who “did not care for him,” says Wiemann.
“[Gomez] could sense that there was something not right with him, but my niece wouldn’t listen,” she says. Jennifer “told my sister not to worry, that it would be okay.”
“There was something about his mannerism,” Wiemann explained of Joey. “There was one time when my sister went to go visit [Jennifer], and he just looked out the window and he gave her this very weird look, and it just made her uncomfortable. He opened the curtain, pulled the curtain aside and looked out the window and was just staring at her. Never opened the door. So my sister just left.”
Jennifer had raised her six sons as a single parent after a divorce from the boys’ father. The father later died in a car accident, Wiemann says.
A court document filed by the prosecutor’s office and obtained by the Chronicle alleges that Joey acted in “retaliation against Jennifer Sanchez” and killed his estranged wife “by unknown manner and means with unknown object.” The prosecutor’s office would not comment further to PEOPLE.
One of Jennifer’s sons, 18-year-old Noah, will graduate from high school next spring and Jennifer had recently bought his class ring for him.
“That Saturday when she went missing, they were supposed to get together for dinner because she was going to surprise him and give him his ring,” Wiemann says.
Jennifer was also “ecstatic” about becoming a grandmother, according to her aunt. Two of Jennifer’s sons will soon be parents to baby girls.
“She said, ‘Oh my god, I’m finally going to get my princesses,’ ” Wiemann recalls. “She was already talking to my sister about the baby showers.”
With Jennifer missing and presumed dead, the two expectant mothers are both considering naming the children after her. Before that time arrives, Jennifer’s family hope to have answers.
“We want closure, we want her back, we want to lay her to rest, we want peace for that,” Wiemann says. “But most of all, we want justice.”