No body found, but murder charge filed in case of missing man

TACOMA — Police have charged a 38-year-old woman with the murder of a Tacoma man who has been missing for six weeks.

“This case is still a bit murky, we don’t have a body,” Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said Tuesday. “But we do have a defendant based on credit card receipts and statements she made to witnesses and to the detectives.”

Margaret Effelberg pleaded not guilty in Pierce County Superior Court to first-degree murder, second-degree trafficking in stolen property and second-degree possession of stolen property. She was ordered held in the King County Jail on $500,000 bail.

Neighbors say the victim--  Santiago Sanchez Cortes, 59, of Tacoma -- was friends with Effelberg, and they would often see him in their neighborhood. According to detectives, his cell phone was used in the area on Oct. 1, the last time he had been seen. Later that night, his credit card was used at a nearby Home Depot.

“The defendant, using the victim’s credit card, purchased a saw, extra blades, garbage bags and Lysol wipes,” Lindquist said. “The detectives have drawn inferences from that.”

Detectives believe Arianna Pierrottet went to Home Depot with Effelberg, then helped her sell Cortes’ truck. She’s facing charges involving stolen property and identity theft.

“The co-defendant is charged just with the property crimes," Lindquist said. "There’s no evidence at this point to indicate the co-defendant was involved in the murder.”

But detectives allege Effelberg confessed to the murder to Pierrottet, telling her she was surprised Cortes’ body hadn’t been found since it was “close by.”

Lindquist said the investigation continues, and he hopes there will be more evidence by the time this case goes to trial.

“We have successfully prosecuted murder cases without a body before and we will do it again if we need to. But the search for the body is ongoing.”

Effelberg is due back in court next month.