Private investigators who worked the Rudy Farias "missing" case visited his Houston home repeatedly.
They found padlocked hallway doors and a suspicious letter in the teen's bedroom, they told Insider.
They never saw the two dogs that were a key detail in the original disappearance story.
It was a compelling detail from the "missing person" saga of Rudolph "Rudy" Farias: The teenager had left his northeast Houston home in March 2015 to walk his two dogs.
And while the dogs soon wandered home, Farias vanished for eight years, only to reappear last week.
Now, as this account unravels, volunteer private investigators who worked the original missing persons case throughout its first two years are wondering if anything they were told by Farias' mother was true.
Even the part about the dogs.
On Thursday, Houston police confirmed that Farias had returned home the very next day after the mom reported him missing — and had remained there all along.
Like much of mom Janie Santana's story, "Rudy's dogs" may also be fictitious, two private eyes told Insider.
"Where were those dogs?" licensed Texas investigator Martin Renteria wondered in a phone call on Thursday.
"Janie could not produce the dogs. She said she didn't know where the dogs were. We had no corroboration that there ever were dogs."
It was "the most unusual case we ever worked, trying to find Rudy," added Renteria, a retired Port of Los Angeles Police officer who worked the Farias case with his wife, Barbara Renteria, who is also a PI.
The two run the Checkmate Investigative Field Services Agency out of Spring, Texas.
"As is stands now, what we suspected is apparently coming true," the husband said. "All the leads we were given came from Janie. Therefore all those leads we have to consider to be false."
Rudy Farias' home had padlocks on some doors
The home where Farias allegedly remained for all those eight years is a little beige ranch, a three-bedroom built in 1975 and is worth about $175,000.
In the two years of their probe, "We've been to that house more times than you have fingers," Barbara Renteria said.
Much about the home never sat well, she said.
"There were padlocks on the doors in the hallway," she said. "And she would never let us speak to her mother," she said, a reference to Rosa Sosa Rodriguez, who lived there at the time, and who records show died in 2020.
The letter in Rudy's room
"We went to his bedroom" to look for clues, Barbara Renteria continued. "We do this with all missing children."
The teen's schoolwork was there, in his distinctive printed handwriting, she said.
"But I found a letter that was a letter from Rudy to his mother, written in cursive," she said.
"And we took it, and compared it to other pieces of Janie's handwriting, and realized she wrote it," she added. "It matched her handwriting perfectly."
In the supposed "Dear Mom" letter, Farias — or whoever penned it — "explained" that he'd run away on purpose.
That letter — and the "stormed off" scenario — was never passed along to authorities, the Renterias said. Instead, the mother went with a more sympathetic claim that her son had simply vanished in thin air, possibly at the hands of Mexican "traffickers."
Rudy's so-called "abduction"
"We asked Janie for permission to search the house, to search his room," Martin Renteria said. "We did just that."
"She'd let us go in there," in the first weeks of the case, Barbara Renteria agreed.
"And she had his cell phone that, supposedly, was found by a witness that saw a struggle between Rudy and a gang of kids." The cell phone was crushed, she said.
Santana hosted a fundraiser around this supposed "abduction" scenario, the PIs said, and the abduction "witness," a teenaged girl, spoke at the event.
"And she couldn't hold the story together," Barbara Renteria said of the girl. "So she just walked away. This was someone who Janie had forced into talking to us."
"Urine" on the couch
By 2020, the little ranch where Farias may have been hidden in plain sight had fallen into disrepair, according to allegations made during a 2020 Harris County, Texas, probate court battle over whether it was unsafe for his grandmother, then age 85, to live there.
Santana was fighting to become guardian of her mother, Farias's grandmother. An opposing petition was filed by Santana's half-sister, Sylvia Sanchez-Lopez, with whom the elderly woman was by then living.
Farias' Aunt Sylvia had this to say about Santana's little beige ranch, which she described as "not a clean, safe, or habitable residence."
While in the Santana home, the grandmother "slept on the couch, which smelled of urine," the papers alleged.
"The home had animal urine and feces throughout the house," the papers also alleged. Maybe Farias' dogs did come home, after all.
The grandmother passed away months after the court filing, while still living with Sanchez-Lopez, and before the guardianship could be resolved.
By Thursday, Santana had been questioned, but not charged, by Houston Police in her son's disappearance. She did not respond to Insider's repeated efforts to reach her. Sanchez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It was unclear on Thursday where Farias was, or whether he and his mother were together.
"I don't know, I'm trying to find out," community activist Quanell X told Insider on Thursday of Farias' location, a day after alleging to reporters that he'd been held captive all these years by his mother.
Private investigators wondered if Janie Santana killed Rudy
"At one point we wondered that perhaps Janie had killed her own son and buried him somewhere," Martin Renteria remembered on Thursday, of the darkest days of their investigation.
"I honestly thought she killed the boy," Barbara Renteria said. "I really did."
"And we did form the opinion that perhaps Janie is hiding him out there somewhere," said Martin Renteria.
At one point, the couple was so intent to learn what was going on, they briefly tried to follow Santana, they said.
"Any clue that was ever brought forward to us came from Janie herself, which was extremely, extremely odd," Martin Renteria said. "It's out of the norm, because usually we receive clues from other types of persons, phone calls or messages.
"But no, everything came from Janie herself," he said of a Santana's string of false leads, all of which ultimately lead to a dead end – including two "tips" that Farias was in the clutches of Mexican traffickers.
Houston Police, with whom the Renterias were in contact, appeared to find the case odd, too, the couple said. A police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Insider, but said Thursday during a press conference that Santana continued to "deceive" officers after Rudy returned.
Ultimately, there was never any concrete evidence of wrongdoing, and Farias, it turned out, had been 18 when he went missing, not 17, as Santana had first claimed to authorities, Martin Renteria said.
In the end, "he was an adult," he said. "Sometimes adults make their own decision, and if they want to remain lost, they remain lost."
"And since we were working pro-bono," he added, and given so many false leads, "after two years we couldn't spend too much more time on it."
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