The decomposed body of a teenage girl with special needs who had been missing for three years was found wrapped in plastic in an Oklahoma basement.

Oklahoma police are investigating the death of Margarita "Maggie" Sandoval, who was only 19 years old when her family first reported her missing in 2018. "We knew something was wrong when she stopped calling my mom," Taylor Hearon, Sandoval's sister, told Local News 9.

In May, police received a tip to search a home near the University of Oklahoma in the city of Norman for a dead body, News on 6 reported, citing a police report. In the basement, police found a large black box, and inside it laid a body "wrapped in numerous layers of a thick plastic, possibly 20-30 layers."

According to a search warrant, Norman Police Detective Sean Judy said that officers spotted liquid leaking from a box, followed by "insects escaping" and "an odor of decomposition."

Investigators confirmed the victim to be Sandoval, but the Oklahoma medical examiner has yet to determine the cause of death.

The owner of the home where the remains were found told police that he knew nothing about the dead body. But he allowed authorities to search his home and is cooperating with the investigation, according to police.

The homeowner, Miguel Munoz, told detectives he had moved into the house in 2019, The Oklahoman reported, citing an affidavit for a search warrant.

He allegedly allowed a friend, 34-year-old Octavio Sanchez, to store some items in the basement but hadn't seen him since May last year when the friend tried to "get into the house uninvited." Munoz said he had to call police to get Sanchez to leave.

Sanchez is allegedly a relative of the deceased who was living at an address where Sandoval had been receiving social security payments. She was getting monthly payments because she had a mental disability.

Sandoval's sister said some family members had wanted to become her legal caretaker to receive the payments. "She was getting passed around," Hearon said. "I did believe that as soon as Maggie turned 18, no one saw her but as a big dollar sign."

Sandoval was last known to be alive and residing with Sanchez and his wife in an apartment, investigators said. Sandoval once described him as her brother in a 2018 police report accusing him and his wife of abusing her, investigators reportedly wrote in the affidavit.

In May, investigators executed a search warrant at Sanchez's home and recovered documents allegedly showing he and his wife were receiving social security benefits intended for Sandoval, the report said. Sanchez was also charged with an unrelated weapons charge after police found a handgun inside a trash can in the garage.

Sanchez has not been charged with Sandoval's death, and his exact relationship to the victim remains unclear. Norman Police Department spokesperson Sarah Jensen said the investigation into her death is ongoing.

"Due to the current status of the case, information is limited at this time," Jensen said. "Detectives are actively completing a thorough and detailed investigation. Once completed, we will present the case to the District Attorney's office, who will review the case and file the appropriate charges."

Police Line
Police Line. Representational Image Photo: AFP / Johannes EISELE