Cops Find Possible Clue to Missing Woman

Carpet pieces could link woman to convicted sex offender, police say.

Dec. 14, 2008— -- New York State Police are working to determine whether pieces of carpet found near a highway could hold clues to the disappearance of a Brooklyn woman who was last seen with a registered sex offender.

State Police Lt. Pierce Gallagher said that on Saturday investigators searching for clues in the disappearance of 25-year-old Laura Garza found pieces of the carpet off the shoulder of Route 17 near Bloomingburg, N.Y.

"We're trying to assess the relevance to the case at this time," Gallagher said. "That's going to take some forensic analysis that hasn't been completed at this time."

Gallagher said he was not sure how long it would take to receive the test results.

Investigators hope that analysis will tell them whether the carpet is linked to Michael Mele, a convicted sex offender who has been named a person of interest in Garza's disappearance.

Garza was last seen leaving the Marquee, a Manhattan nightclub, together with Mele late Dec. 3.

Garza was later spotted in upstate New York.

According to Gallagher, the area where the carpet pieces were found is approximately 12 to 15 miles from Mele's Wallkill, N.Y., home.

The discovery of the carpet fragments didn't happen by chance. Police were combing the area after evidence gathered in the case suggested they search there.

Despite the discovery, police are still actively searching for other clues in the case.

"It's another piece of evidence. If it's something significant, it helps us, but we don't want to jump to any conclusions. We'll keep gathering evidence," Gallagher said.

Mele has not been charged in connection with Garza's disappearance. He is currently being held in the Rockland County jail on a probation violation.

Mele was convicted and sentenced to probation earlier this year on a forcible touching charge for inappropriately touching several women, in some cases attempting to masturbate on them.

Garza, a 25-year-old aspiring dancer, moved to New York five months ago from McAllen, Texas, a city of about 130,000 people, and settled in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

"She wanted to experience the big city environment. She was really excited when she left," said Eddie Garza, who is not related to Laura Garza, but is the manager of the Charlotte Russe clothing store where she works. "She was a very hardworking girl. She had morals. She's not some girl that goes to clubs and picks up guys."

Since his arrest, Mele has refused to speak with police.

He had what appeared to be bite marks on his hand and scratch marks on his upper back and shoulders when he was booked Friday evening, police said.

Police said they want to speak with any woman who may have come into contact with Mele in the last year.