Twenty-three years ago Aurelio Montano picked up his young daughter from a relative's house in Aurora where she'd spent the night, and he gave her some bad news: Her mother, Guadalupe, had run off with another man.
"I always suspected something happened to her," Maribel Montano Barajas, now 33 and a mother of two, recalled Monday as she testified in a Kane County courtroom.
Aurelio Montano, 55, of Aurora, was charged in summer 2008 with strangling his wife with a rope, rolling her body in a rug and burying her at a horse farm off Hobson Road in Naperville.
Authorities say he later dug up and moved the body, which has not been found.
Montano's trial began Monday, and even if he is acquitted, he won't go free. He is serving a life sentence after being convicted of ordering the murders of two people from Texas in 1996 who were trying to collect a drug debt from him.
Barajas was 10 when prosecutors say Aurelio Montano took her to a relative's house on July 9, 1990, and then killed his 35-year-old wife. The next day, Barajas's dad picked her up in his wife's car, which he rarely drove.
It was more than a decade before Barajas recalled signs of foul play: The missing area rug, her mom's purse sitting on a bed with her driver's license in the wallet, rings that she always wore on a makeup dresser.
"Then the pieces came together," Barajas said.
Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Greg Sams told the jury there are other pieces to the puzzle that will lead to Montano's conviction.
In his opening statement, Sams said Montano's sister will testify that she saw Guadalupe's feet sticking out from the rolled up rug and Montano later proclaimed, "I sent the snake to hell."
Sams said Montano's nephews will testify that he asked one of them how to acquire a woodchipper, and that he forced another to take a ride with him to throw a plastic grocery bag -- supposedly containing Guadalupe's head and hands -- into a field off Route 59 in West Chicago.
Finally, Sams said authorities conducted a forensic dig at the farm in 2007, finding the area rug along with torn remnants of rope and twine. Specially trained cadaver dogs detected the scent of human decomposition on the rug and rope, Sams said.
Assistant Public Defender Brenda Willett questioned the motives and truth of the statements made by Montano's relatives. She said Guadalupe was dating another man and wanted to move back to Mexico so much that she had her husband buy her a plane ticket.
As for the bag containing the head and hands, "You will hear no evidence that the bag containing the head and hands were recovered -- because it's not true," Willet said.
Kane County prosecutors had once sought the death penalty in Montano's case, but dropped the request after Gov. Pat Quinn abolished it in Illinois. The trial is expected to conclude this week.