HELENA — A terrified Montana woman called her husband from the dark trunk of a moving car to say she had been overpowered at a highway rest stop and didn’t know where she was.
The call set off a frantic search by her family and law enforcement that ended when Rita Maze’s body was found Wednesday in the trunk of her car, abandoned near Spokane International Airport in Washington state. The 47-year-old was shot to death, a medical examiner said Thursday.
Authorities and family members believe the abduction was random, and a suspect has not been found.
“It makes no sense,” her 23-year-old daughter, Rochelle Maze, said. “They could have taken the car, could have taken money from her. And then they leave the car there, and that’s because this is an evil monster of a person.”
Bob Maze reported his wife of 26 years missing Tuesday night. She had not returned to Great Falls from a trip to her hometown of Helena 90 miles to the south, and she wasn’t answering phone calls from family.
About two hours later, his phone rang. To his relief, it was Rita, but she was frantic.
“She said through my dad that she had been hit and she was in a trunk and she didn’t know if it was her trunk or not,” Rochelle Maze said. “She didn’t know where she was and [said] that she had been driving for a really long time.”
While Rita Maze was on the phone with her husband, Rochelle Maze called the police officer who had taken the missing person’s report.
“Every single thing my mom was saying to my dad, my dad was saying out loud and I was telling the officer,” the daughter said.
Law enforcement officers pinged Rita’s cellphone to help determine her location. Her family learned her bank card had been used to make purchases of about $25 at gas stations in the towns of Kingston, Idaho, and Ritzville, Washington.
Investigators have said they were looking at surveillance video from the stations, but none was released Thursday.
Rochelle Maze said her mother told her she was overpowered by a “massive guy” who was about six feet, five inches tall and wearing a black hoodie. She said her mom was terrified because he had access to her gun — a 9 mm Ruger she kept in her purse for protection.
“The phone just cut out after about ten minutes,” Rochelle Maze said. “We don’t know if she hung up or what.”
They were not able to reach Rita Maze again. Her car was found three hours later, her body in the trunk. An autopsy found she died of a single gunshot wound to the chest and abdomen. The coroner’s office did not say what type of gun was used.
It was not clear if she was knocked unconscious when she was abducted or how she came to realize she had her cellphone with her.
“By the time we contacted [police] at 8:30, she had been gone for nine hours, and we didn’t even know it,” Rochelle Maze said.
Rita Maze had worked as an aide, a crosswalk attendant and a cook at schools in Great Falls. She was the “lunch lady” at Morningside Elementary from 2005 to 2009. Her birthday is Sunday.
“I’m getting married in nine months,” an emotional Rochelle Maze said. “She’s just going to miss a lot.”
Rita Maze also is survived by a son, Michael, 25, who is in the military and stationed in Germany. He is married and has two daughters.
Investigators were checking the car for fingerprints and DNA to see if they could find a match to a suspect with a criminal record, Rochelle Maze said.
“My mom had no enemies. Nobody would want to hurt her. There’s an outpouring in this community that you would not believe,” she said.