Using his own pain to help missing kids
Joe Padilla, a retired Denver police captain, truly understands what it feels like not knowing what happened to a loved one. His 42-year quest for answers in the double murder of his brother, Lance Corporal Rodney “Rocky” Padilla, and a fellow Marine who were based in Hawaii has led him to a new mission in life: Helping families of missing children search for answers of their own.
Padilla is now a consultant for Team Adam, a specialized unit of retired law-enforcement officers here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) who are deployed to assist in critically missing children cases around the country.
He was recruited by another Team Adam Consultant (TAC), Bruce Warshawsky, who had reviewed the murder case in Hawaii when he was an NCIS cold case homicide detective. He met Padilla years later and thought, with all that experience, he could turn his heartbreak into something good.
“I met Joe about three years ago when I was invited to speak at a cold case homicide conference in Hawaii,” said Warshawsky, 70, who joined Team Adam 14 years ago after retiring from NCIS. “I started telling him he would bring a good perspective to it because he’s a member of a victim’s family.”
Team Adam Consultants are deployed to assist law enforcement in critically missing children cases.
Team Adam currently has 140 consultants who, like Padilla and Warshawsky, have retired from local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies. TACs, who live in nearly every state in the country, offer their expertise, fresh eyes and NCMEC's vast free resources for what can often be time-consuming, complex investigations.
The rapid deployment team was named in memory of 6-year-old Adam Walsh who was abducted in 1981 from a shopping mall in Florida and later found murdered. His parents, John and Reve′ Walsh, co-founded NCMEC in 1984.
At the time his brother, 21, and Lance Corporal Larry Marten, 19, were found beaten and shot to death on Sept. 8, 1980 at Manualua Beach Park, Padilla was just beginning his law-enforcement career, working at the Westminster Police Department in the Denver suburbs.
“When I received the call from my mother, my world fell apart,” Padilla, 68, said of hearing the devastating news. “I remember lying next to his casket, losing it.”
Lance Corporal Rodney “Rocky” Padilla
His brother, an excellent athlete with a strong desire to serve his country, had been living with Joe’s young family in Denver before he joined the Marine Corps. He was at the top of his class in basic training and was about to be promoted to sergeant when he was murdered, his brother said.
Padilla said his brother and Marten, based at Kaneho Marine Corps Air Station, didn’t know one another very well but had both been recently assigned to kitchen duty. On a day off, they jumped in Marten’s car and headed to Waikiki to buy some beer and hopefully meet some girls. A fisherman found their bodies the next morning near the water’s edge.
Police at the time said there appeared to be some kind of confrontation and struggle, but they had no suspects and no motive for the double murder. The case remains unsolved.
The Marines were found beaten and shot to death at Manualua Beach Park.
Being a police officer himself, Padilla was frustrated that he couldn’t assist in the investigation but he didn’t have jurisdiction in Hawaii and wasn’t about to interfere.
As he joined the Denver Police Department and rose up the ranks, his brother’s case grew colder, but Padilla did everything he could to keep the case alive, writing letters every few years to Honolulu police in an effort to spark interest in the case and get it reopened.
“It was frustrating and extremely difficult to stand by and not be involved,” Padilla said. “I was able to assist in death investigations in my own city, but I couldn’t help my own brother.”
At long last in 1990, Padilla was successful in getting the case reopened but, despite the renewed efforts, it remained unsolved. Years later, NCIS took over the cold case and invited Padilla in 2016 to a news conference where a reward was announced for information in the case. Still, no resolution.
Three years later, in 2019, both Padilla and Warshawsky were invited to speak at a Cold Case Homicide Conference in Hawaii, where they met and became fast friends. Although retired from NCIS, Warshawsky continues to help out on the case several days a week. Now the two men both spring into action – Warshawsky from North Carolina, Padilla from Colorado – when called on to help with missing children cases.
"It's given me the empathy and dedication to help these families find justice," Padilla said of being the relative of a homicide victim. "I'm hoping for justice in Rocky's case, but I also want to find justice for other families."
If you have any information about the case, please contact the NCIS Hotline at 1-877-579-3648 or Honolulu Crime Stoppers at 1-808-955-8300.