Fourteen years ago, Rita Colon’s husband of less than a year died from a stab wound to the neck. Now, she’s the suspect in the fatal stabbing of a UNLV professor.
Her former brother-in-law thinks one man’s death could shed light on the other’s.
The Clark County coroner’s office and the North Las Vegas Police Department said the stab wound was self-inflicted, but Edwin Colon Jr.’s brother said he’s not convinced.
“We had more questions than answers right from the get-go,” Luis Colon said about his brother’s death.
In early 2019, he helped persuade the coroner’s office to take another look at the case because of Rita Colon’s connection to a Henderson murder investigation, Colon said in a March interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Suspect in Peru
The Henderson Police Department announced in January that Rita Colon, 44, is the suspect in the death of 76-year-old Leroy Pelton, whose body was found in his home in December 2016. In December 2017, Colon, believed to be a former student of Pelton’s and also his girlfriend, was apprehended in Peru, where she awaits extradition.
Henderson police, citing the open investigation, have declined to answer questions about why her arrest was not confirmed until January.
According to Rita Colon’s arrest warrant, Pelton was likely killed on Nov. 15 or Nov. 16, 2016. The coroner’s office determined that he had died from stab wounds to the neck. He had another stab wound to his liver as well as defensive knife wounds on both hands.
Investigators allege her motive was monetary. She tried to access Pelton’s $1.1 million retirement account after he was killed, the warrant states.
Luis Colon said Pelton’s stab wounds raised red flags for him.
The coroner’s office in 2005 ruled that Edwin Colon’s death was a suicide caused by a stab wound in the neck.
“I couldn’t tell you why our doctor ruled it a suicide, other than the investigative findings were indicative of a suicide,” Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said in March.
Fudenberg said the case is under review, but he declined to give further details, citing the ongoing investigation.
When the coroner’s office determines that a death was a suicide, examiners will consider whether the person had a personal or family history of depression, suicidal thoughts or a past suicide attempt, but Fudenberg declined to say whether any of those indicators were present for Edwin Colon.
“That information is not something that’s public record in any case,” he said.
‘It was a shocker’
Luis Colon said he had no knowledge of the murder charge Rita Colon faces until he was contacted in October by a Las Vegas private investigator who was looking into her background on behalf of a client.
“You get a call from Las Vegas out of the blue asking about Rita Colon, a person we didn’t want to have anything to do with,” he said in January. “It was a shocker.”
According to North Las Vegas police documents released to the Review-Journal this month, officers were called to the Colon home on Ana Raquel Avenue, near Ann Road and Camino Al Norte in North Las Vegas, the night of Feb. 2, 2005.
The 37-year-old was pronounced dead in his kitchen at 12:35 a.m. Feb. 3, according to Edwin Colon’s death certificate, provided to the Review-Journal by Luis Colon.
The police record indicates Edwin Colon’s wife called 911 and asked neighbors for help before police arrived. She told neighbors and detectives that Edwin Colon had stabbed himself.
The knife was moved by neighbors before officers arrived at the request of dispatchers, the report said.
Rita Colon’s name is redacted in the investigation report, but Clark County marriage records show that Edwin Colon Jr. signed a marriage certificate with a Rita Maldonado-Alania that lists their marriage date as May 15, 2004.
The night Edwin Colon died, his wife told detectives that he had held a knife to his neck and that she had cut her hand while trying “to get it away from him.” Her husband followed her into the bathroom to help clean her cuts, then he “walked into the kitchen and stabbed himself,” the report states.
Investigators found a trail of blood from the kitchen to the bathroom, but there were no apparent signs of a “fight or struggle where things were out of place,” the report states.
The three-page report goes on to describe Rita Colon as “hysterical,” noting that she later vomited during an interview and was “not able to continue” talking.
“(Rita Colon) told me that Edwin and her were having problems in their relationship,” the detective wrote in the report. “She said that for some reason Edwin couldn’t handle the problems.”
During the interview, she said her husband “came at (her) with the knife.” The report doesn’t detail what the fight was about.
The detective who wrote the report also attended Edwin Colon’s autopsy, describing a wound on the man’s upper right chest.
“The knife blade appeared to have been pointed in the upward direction,” the report said. “As a result of the autopsy it was determined the wound could have been self inflicted.”
It’s unclear whether the knife wound on his “upper right chest” refers to his cause of death: a stab wound to the neck. The report does not indicate whether detectives talked to Rita Colon after the autopsy.
It instead ends a few sentences later, with the detective writing, “I determined that Edwin Colon committed suicide. Case Closed.”
Push for cremation
Luis Colon said he and his parents didn’t meet Rita Colon until after his brother’s death. The family, from New York, flew to Las Vegas in hopes of taking Edwin Colon’s body home to be buried at a national cemetery on Long Island, to honor Edwin Colon’s service in the National Guard.
“My first impression was, for lack of a better word, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” he said about his former sister-in-law. “She didn’t seem normal. You could say, well, she was distraught, but at the same time she wasn’t coherent.”
She also didn’t want Edwin Colon’s body to return to New York.
“She was adamant that my brother said that he wanted to be cremated,” Luis Colon said. “Matter of fact, that was even said at the funeral. She made a point to say, in her words, that this was between husband and wife, and that he wished to be cremated.”
Both Edwin Colon’s best friend and his brother said that he had never described feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts. He was a shy, private man, they said. He had issues in his marriage, but the suicide ruling came as a shock to everyone.
“From the very beginning, we never thought that he was capable of doing something like that,” said David Gonzalez, Edwin Colon’s best friend.