Inside the Chilling Maleesa Mooney Homicide Investigation

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Maleesa Mooney’s Body Found in Refrigerator

It wasn’t like Maleesa Mooney not to answer her phone.

“When a week went by, we just knew something was off,” her cousin Bailey Babb told Los Angeles’ KTLA. “Her messages weren’t delivering and we knew something was up because we all have a special relationship with Maleesa.”

On Sept. 12, responding to her mother’s request for a welfare check, LAPD officers made a grisly discovery at Mooney’s downtown L.A. apartment building: The 31-year-old was dead, her body wedged inside her own refrigerator, according to an investigative summary report obtained by E! News.

Detailing the findings from a Sept. 17 autopsy, the report noted there was blunt force trauma to Mooney’s head, face, back and upper left arm, as well as ligature marks around her wrists and ankles where she’d been tied up with white charging cables, shoe laces and articles of clothing.

While the autopsy didn’t uncover “a clear mechanism of death,”  the medical examiner concluded in the report that Mooney’s death was caused by homicidal violence “inflicted by other(s).”

Who that other or other(s) may be remains unknown, however, and the LAPD’s investigation is ongoing. Police had no additional comment or update to provide when contacted by E! News after the autopsy report was released.

But here is what is known so far about the killing of Maleesa Mooney:

Who was Maleesa Mooney?

Mooney was a real estate agent and aspiring model, according to her family, and she had only moved into her fifth-floor apartment in the upscale Skye at Bunker Hill complex in early August. She would have turned 32 on Oct. 16.

Singer Jourdin Pauline, Mooney’s sister, described her as “a peacemaker in our family,” telling KTLA that Mooney had “always been the backbone, and making sure everyone’s getting together, loving on each other. So this is a really big piece of us that’s gone now.”

A GoFundMe page set up on behalf of Mooney’s mother, Margaret McDonald, by a friend who said she’d known the deceased and her sister since they were toddlers, described Mooney as “an extremely sweet and generous soul.”

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The friend continued, “She saw the good in everyone and lit up every room she entered. Maleesa was just as smart as she was beautiful and had one of the most compassionate and giving hearts you’d ever meet.”

Pauline had said Mooney was two months pregnant when she died and always wanted to be a mother, according to KTLA, but the autopsy findings showed no signs of pregnancy.

In a Sept. 14 Instagram post, Pauline called Mooney her “first best friend” and the one who taught her everything she knew.

“How is this even possible you won’t be here we was supposed to grow old together and have babies and cook off wars (you’re the best chef ever) this feels so surreal,” she wrote. “I keep waking up crying thinking I’m in a bad dream we will get justice for you my sister I promise you won’t be gone in vain!!! The people you touched and loved will carry on for you and keep your name alive in the most beautiful and loving light. You did not deserve this at all.”

What is known about what happened to Maleesa Mooney?

Surveillance video from Mooney’s downtown L.A. apartment building showed the model alive on Sept. 6, according to the investigation report obtained by E! News. Footage from the next day, per the report, showed an unidentified man using Mooney’s key fob to get into the elevator and then carrying plastic bags into her unit.

Detectives stated in the report that Mooney was supposed to go to her former residence on Sept. 9 to pick up some belongings but never showed up. Her sister called police on Sept. 10 to request a welfare check; per the report, LAPD officers knocked on Mooney’s door but there was no answer and, not seeing signs of “nefarious activity,” they did not go inside her apartment.  

On Sept.12, however, responding to another call from Mooney’s mom, officers had the building manager let them into her place. Seeing food that was “usually kept in the refrigerator” on the counter, according to the report, the officers opened the appliance and found Mooney’s body.

There was blood pooled underneath her and on the bottom of the refrigerator, the report detailed.

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Mooney was wearing a leopard-print romper and blue underwear when she was found, according to the autopsy findings reviewed by E! News. The report notes that various garments were found with the body, including an animal print dress around her lower thighs, a yellow bikini top joining her neck and ankles, two tank tops draped around her right ankle and a gray dress, three rags, a gold piece of clothing and a pink vest wrapped around her neck.

Part of the vest was in her mouth, the report continued, and a pink dress was partially wrapped around her face, while a pink sweatshirt partially obscured her head.

The coroner detailed cuts and bruises to her face and head, as well as other abrasions on her body, and noted there were no defensive wounds found on her hands.

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The blunt force traumatic injuries observed during the autopsy are generally not considered “acutely life threatening on their own,” the postmortem report stated, but given the circumstances of how Mooney was found, her injuries “suggest she was likely involved in violent physical altercation prior to her death.”

Toxicology tests also found traces of cocaine in her system; the coroner noted in the report that, again due to the violence she seemingly encountered, the “role that drugs and/or alcohol may have played in Ms. Mooney’s death, if any, is uncertain.”

Unable to pinpoint the exact injuries that killed her, the coroner ruled cause of death to be “homicidal violence.”

Authorities positively identified Mooney on Sept. 13 through fingerprints and subsequently notified her mother of her daughter’s death.

Is there any connection between Maleesa Mooney’s killing and the death of Nichole Coats?

Nichole Coats, also described as an aspiring model, was found dead in her downtown L.A. apartment, located about a mile away from where Mooney lived, on Sept. 10. Mooney’s body was found two days later, prompting speculation that the two deaths were connected.

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In a Sept. 19 news release, the LAPD stated that there was “no evidence to suggest that the deaths of Ms. Coats and Ms. Mooney are related to one another.” Police said they were not investigating Coats’ death as a homicide due to their preliminary assessment of the scene, but autopsy results were still pending.

Mom Sharon Coats told the Los Angeles Times that she believed her daughter had been killed due to what she saw when she found her.

“The bed was covered up and I went over there and I pulled the sheets back and I started screaming because there was blood everywhere,” she said. “I think it was foul play, and I’m not going to rest until I find the killer.”

The autopsy on Coats determined that the 32-year-old died of an accidental overdose of cocaine and alcohol, citing cocaine and ethanol toxicity as the cause, according to records shared by the L.A. County Medical Examiner.

What happens next in the search for Maleesa Mooney’s killer?

In the investigative summary released early last month, detectives stated there were no suspects in custody and that’s how the case stands today.

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Nearing two months since Mooney’s death, police are still investigating and have asked the public for any information that might help with the hunt for her killer.

LAPD Detective David Marcinek, the lead investigator on the case whose findings were detailed in the summary report, told KTLA on Nov. 2 that he’s never before worked a case where “homicidal violence” was the given cause of death.

In his opinion, Marcinek said, he believes Mooney died from the “totality” of her injuries. The detective said they’d received a number of tips and reviewed surveillance footage from the victim’s apartment but nothing yet has led to an arrest. He wouldn’t comment on whether they had singled out any persons of interest, according to KTLA, but he did say they believed this was an isolated incident.

“It’s honestly so stressful,” Mooney’s sister Pauline told KTLA in October. “I have thousands and thousands of scenarios in my head of what could have happened because we don’t know.”

Asked what she wanted most from police, her reply was “urgency.”

“I need them to get answers,” Pauline added. “There’s all this technology in the world and you’re dragging your feet. Someone’s life was robbed from them.”

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the LAPD’s Central Bureau Homicide unit at (213) 996-4150.

Watch E! News weeknights Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m., only on E!.

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