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Thursday 26 April 2018

Frantic woman calls family from boot of car before being found dead

Rita Maze, left, and her daughter Rochelle Maze pose for a photo in Great Falls, Montana (Lanni Klasner via AP)
Rita Maze, left, and her daughter Rochelle Maze pose for a photo in Great Falls, Montana (Lanni Klasner via AP)

A terrified US woman called her husband from the dark boot of a moving car to say she had been overpowered at a highway rest stop before she was found dead.

Rita Maze's call set off a frantic search by her family and law enforcement that ended when her body was found in the boot of her car, abandoned near Spokane International Airport in Washington state.

The 47-year-old from Montana was shot to death, a medical examiner said.

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 on Tuesday night. She had not returned to Great Falls from a trip to her home town of Helena 90 miles to the south, and she was not answering phone calls from her 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 mobile phone to help determine her location.

Her family learned her bank card had been used to make purchases at petrol 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 on Thursday.

Rochelle Maze said her mother told her she was overpowered by a "massive guy" who was about 6ft 5in tall and wearing a black hoodie.

She said her mother was terrified because he had access to her gun - a 9mm Ruger she kept in her purse for protection.

"The phone just cut out after about 10 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 boot.

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 realise she had her mobile phone 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 on Sunday.

"I'm getting married in nine months," an emotional Rochelle Maze said. "She's just going to miss a lot."

Rita Maze is also 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.


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