Search For Missing Woman Ends in Sorrow

Hunters find her body near her house
Lilia Aucapina was found dead in the woods a quarter-mile from her house in Sagaponack on Saturday.

Lilia Aucapina, a Sagaponack woman  who had been missing since Oct. 10, was found dead, an apparent suicide, Saturday morning in the woods behind her house, according to Southampton Town police.

Her body was found by hunters at around 7:30 in the morning in a heavily wooded area between Sprig Tree Path and Toppings Path in Sagaponack, about a quarter-mile from her house on Toppings Path, said Southampton Town Police Lt. Susan Ralph.

The area had previously been searched by officers on all-terrain vehicles, by air, and on foot, some of them aided by K-9 units. “We had not only multiple searches, but multi-agency searches,” Lieutenant Ralph said. “During that time frame we were doing all the searches, there was heavy foliage in the area.” Between the “heavy foliage and thicket and the ground cover, we missed her.” Wind direction can also prevent canine units from picking up a scent, she said.

Police believe Ms. Aucapina, also known as Esperanza, a 40-year-old mother of two, took her own life, Lieutenant Ralph said, but “we’re waiting for confirmation from the M.E.’s office.” While she could not confirm how Ms. Aucapina had died, she said the preliminary determination of the cause of death was based on “what was observed at the scene.”

Ms. Aucapina’s body was found hanging from a low-lying branch, police said.

Colin Astarita, who has been representing Ms. Aucapina’s estranged husband, Carlos R. Aucapina, since he was charged with violating the order of protection his wife held against him, shared the news on Saturday afternoon.

Police did not say exactly when she died, but said they would need dental records for a positive ID. According to Mr. Astarita, the body’s decomposition was consistent with exposure to the elements over the six-week period.

Police made a tentative identification and notified the Aucapina family Saturday afternoon. In a statement, Detective Sgt. Lisa Costa, who was on vacation this week, said Ms. Aucapina’s death did not appear “criminal in nature, but is still actively being investigated.”

In a brief phone conversation on Monday, Mr. Aucapina said that final funeral arrangements had not yet been made. “We are together,” he said, referring to his and his late wife’s immediate families. The close-knit ties between the two sides of the family became strained after police questioned Mr. Aucapina the night his wife was reported missing. “We are on the same page, now,” he said Monday.

Ms. Aucapina, an Ecuadorian native who had lived on the South Fork for about 20 years, had been granted a stay-away order of protection from her husband just days before her disappearance. The couple had been living separately, but were not in the process of getting divorced, according to Mr. Aucapina, who spoke extensively with the press two weeks ago.

After being questioned about his wife’s disappearance on Oct. 10, Mr. Aucapina was arrested twice, once by the Southampton Town police, then by East Hampton Town police, for allegedly violating the order of protection. He ended up spending several days in jail, before his family could raise the $10,000 bail amount set in each jurisdiction. The house he was living in, next to his wife’s, was searched, as was his work truck.

Mr. Aucapina was among the last people to see Ms. Aucapina on the morning of Oct. 10, when he allegedly confronted her and a man she was with, Angel Tejada, in the parking lot of the Meeting House Lane Medical Practice in Wainscott while she was being dropped off to pick up her car. Mr. Aucapina was joined by his wife’s brother, Carlos Parra. The two left when Mr. Tejada called police.

Ms. Aucapina’s family reported her missing 12 hours later. Her car was parked in the driveway of her house, with her purse and keys in it, according to Mr. Astarita. He said she had sent her children, a 21-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, a text message telling them to remember that she would always love them.

While she had never left her children before, her family had held out hope that she was still alive. Speaking to the press two weeks ago, her husband had vowed to help in the search, and said that he, too, believed she was still alive.

“It is very sad,” Lieutenant Ralph said. “It’s that time of the year; it’s the holiday season. It’s definitely not the outcome we wanted.”

“We remember you how you always were,” Martha Parra Parra, who identifies herself as a family member of the late woman, wrote in Spanish on her Facebook page. “A great woman, a daughter of God, sister, friend, mother, wife, you were and always will be a cornerstone in our family. . . .”