I-Team: ‘Where do you begin?’ Dirt on tires sparks investigators to track Lesly Palacio’s accused killer to desert

I-Team

22-year-old Lesly Palacio murdered in Aug. 2020

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Detectives say dirt on Erick Rangel-Ibarra’s tires and hours of surveillance video led them to a specific area in the desert to search and then find the body of 22-year-old Lesly Palacio.

It turns out Rangel-Ibarra, the man wanted for her murder, led them right to it.

“I knew before seeing the video that we were investigating a homicide,” Metro police homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said.

We do not know what happened inside the Rangel home on Tipper Avenue on the east side, but we know what happened after, thanks to a neighbor’s surveillance camera pointed at the street.

The video evidence presented to a grand jury earlier this year shows Rangel-Ibarra and his father, Jose Rangel, moving Palacio’s body on Aug. 29, 2020, according to documents obtained first by the I-Team.

According to court transcripts and video footage, prosecutors believe Rangel-Ibarra returned to his home with Palacio around 6 a.m. after a night of drinking. Video shows a man, whom prosecutors identify as Rangel-Ibarra, helping a woman, identified as Palacio, get out of a truck parked in front of his home, court documents said.

An hour later, the same camera from a home down the street captures two men, whom prosecutors identified as Rangel-Ibarra and Rangel, dragging a body from the home and into the same truck. A few minutes later, the video shows the truck leaving, and a man, whom prosecutors identified as Rangel, hosing off the walkway.

Crime scene photos from inside the home show a stripped bed and some blood splatter, though investigators have yet to determine the source of the blood, documents said. Investigators also shared photos of gloves and cleaning supplies in the home.

Rangel initially told police he thought Palacio had died from an overdose, but then told police he initially saw the body when Erick dragged it down the stairs of their home on a bed sheet, documents said.

“We didn’t have any idea where she was,” Spencer recalled about the early hours of their investigation. “We had video of the car returning with dirt on the tires, so basically we start working backward.”

Lesly Palacio (KLAS)

From when the truck returned to Tipper Avenue, detectives pieced together all the video evidence they could, tracking Rangel-Ibarra in reverse.

Investigators track the truck’s route to the interstate exit for the Valley of Fire. Video from a business at the exit showed the truck entering and exiting the highway within 10 minutes, Spencer said. Using a stopwatch, detectives timed out where the truck could have traveled in that time.

“We basically split the time in half,” Spencer said. “The time for hiding the body and then getting back in the car and leaving.”

From that point, it was a matter of beating the clock and the summer heat. Police and volunteers canvassed hundreds of acres. On their second search, they found Palacio’s body hidden near a bush.

“It’s a horrible outcome, but that’s why we did everything we could to at least bring the family some closure,” Spencer said.

Real closure for the Palacio family will come once Rangel-Ibarra is in custody. Within 48 hours of Palacio’s death, he was in Mexico, police said.

“Am I confident that we will capture him and bring him back eventually? Absolutely,” Spencer said.

Police captured Rangel near the southern border earlier this year. Rangel is charged with being an accessory to murder and destroying or concealing evidence. His trial was set to start earlier this month but was postponed due to scheduling issues. A new date is expected to be set Friday.

Erick Michel Rangel-Ibarra, left, and Jose Antonio Rangel. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)

Rangel-Ibarra is wanted on charges of murder and destroying evidence. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (702) 385-5555.

Palacio’s official cause and manner of death are listed as undetermined. Investigators have not elaborated on what evidence inside the Rangel home led them to determine Palacio is the victim of a homicide. An undetermined cause and manner of death means there is not enough evidence on a deceased person’s body to clearly determine how they died.

In this case, prosecutors said Palacio’s body had been exposed to the elements for nearly two weeks. Investigators told a grand jury during a hearing in February that the body was severely decomposed.

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