Lake Stevens woman arrested in connection with 1999 homicide in Florida

LAKE STEVENS — A Lake Stevens woman was arrested Monday in connection with the 1999 death of a missing Florida girl.

Pilar Rodriguez, 4, has been missing since she went on trip with her babysitter Melissa Cooper in Punta Gorda, Fla. On Monday, detectives from the sheriff’s office in Charlotte County, Fla., along with Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives arrested Cooper, who has since married and changed her last name to Harding-Jones.

She was booked into the county jail for investigation of being a fugitive from justice. Harding-Jones has been charged with the girl’s death, according to officials with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Florida detectives came to Snohomish County in October to interview Harding-Jones, who is now in her early 30s. She has been living in Lake Stevens since at least 2006, county property records show.

According to reports from Florida, Harding-Jones and her boyfriend Keith Wilson were questioned early on in connection with the girl’s disappearance. Pilar was staying with the couple at the Trail Apartments in Punta Gorda. Her father reported her missing about two weeks later.

Harding-Jones allegedly told investigators that Wilson beat the girl and then buried her. Wilson denied the allegations.

Detectives in Florida searched some property owned by Wilson’s family in Punta Gorda. The seaside town is in southwest Florida, about 100 miles south of Tampa.

Later in March 1999, deputies drained a lake near Charlotte County Airport. They found what were believed to be traces of the girl’s remains. Sheriff’s detectives began investigating the case as a homicide.

Pilar’s body has never been recovered. She would have turned 15 in February.

Florida cold case detectives continue to investigate the case. They have reason to believe that there are people with information about the crime who have not come forward. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the cold case team in Florida at 941-575-5361.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463;

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