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‘He was saying on scene that she had committed suicide’: Live-in boyfriend identified as zip tie murder suspect more than a month later

Joel Bauza, Joysee Cartagena Clemente

Joel Bauza (Sanford Police Department), Joysee Cartagena Clemente (LinkedIn)

The former live-in boyfriend of a mother and JetBlue customer support specialist found dead with a zip tie around her neck in mid-July is now accused of murdering her and trying to steer the investigation towards a suicide probe.

Sanford Police said that Joel Bauza, 50, was arrested “without incident” Thursday after the totality of the evidence showed that Joysee Cartagena Clemente, 49, was manually strangled to death in her Florida home on July 17.

A 911 call was made by her employer after Joysee never signed on to her computer for work that day.

“It’s very unlike her to just disappear, and I want to make sure she’s okay,” the 911 caller said, according to WESH.

When authorities got to the scene in the afternoon, they found the victim with a “large” zip tie around her neck.

“On July 17, 2023, at 2:10 p.m., Sanford Police received a 911 call reporting that the caller found Joysee Cartagena, deceased, at her home located in the 3000 block of Saltmarsh Loop,” cops said. “Sanford Fire and Rescue advised upon their arrival they found Joysee inside her home with a large zip-tie around her neck.”

Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith said in a statement that the suspect “made efforts during the initial investigation to push this case towards a suicide investigation.”

More Law&Crime coverage: Former live-in girlfriend locked up after 3-year-old boy died from severe head trauma

“Through the great work of the Lake County Medical Examiner’s Office and our Major Crimes Investigators, it was clear that Joysee didn’t take her own life,” Smith said. “She was a radiant woman who made a positive impact on so many lives in this community.”

Cartagena’s death devastated her son Steven Rivera Cartagena, a University of Central Florida student who said he felt as if his body was “a piece of glass, it was just cracked, shambled, and shattered in every single way.”

Steven and Joysee

Steven and Joysee (GoFundMe)

The son said he “felt like an orphan,” given that Joysee was his “only immediate family” member in Florida. He vowed to become a doctor to honor the memory of his mother, whom he called “my world.”

Police Chief Smith said the department is “saddened that Bauza’s actions took her from loved ones so prematurely.”

“We hope he will now receive the justice he deserves,” he said.

Authorities said in July that they considered Joysee’s death “suspicious” and the “possible homicide” investigation “very active.”

In an update Thursday, police announced the arrest of Bauza, adding the detail that “[h]e was saying on scene that she had committed suicide,” according to Sanford Police Department spokesperson Tammy Townsend.

Joysee, born in Puerto Rico, was survived by her mother, son, and three siblings.

“Joysee will be remembered for her kindness and her ability to make others smile. Many of her friends and coworkers describe her as a ‘shine of light’ in everyone’s day,” her obituary said. “As the oldest of 3 girls, she was a very loving and protective sister and the 3 of them formed an unbreakable bond. She was also an amazing mother who always put the needs of her son first.”

Seminole County Sheriff’s Office records showed that Bauza was held without bond at the jail on the charge of first-degree premeditated murder.

Those same records said Bauza was expected in court at 2 p.m. Friday.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.