Staci Jazvac was overjoyed on her last day of life, a Thursday. She loved to run and had just learned that she had made the Lauderdale Lakes Middle School track team. But when the pretty, blue-eyed sixth grader came home from tryouts after 5 p.m., there was little time for celebration. An A student, she had homework to do and needed some poster board for a reading project. So she asked her mother, Nancy, if she could run to a store just a few blocks from her house. Nancy assented, and before Staci left, they taped a flashlight to the girl's ten-speed bicycle because it was getting dark. At roughly 6:15 p.m. she set off with $3 in her pocket.
After taking a shortcut through a field, Staci, who weighed a scant 60 pounds, arrived at the Super X drugstore near the corner of State Road 7 and Oakland Park Boulevard. She paid for the poster board and started home. At about 6:30 a man named Rickey Mudd noticed a red pickup truck leaving the field through which Staci had ridden. The truck left a cloud of dust as it sped away, Mudd later told police. He also noticed the red glint of a reflector about 100 feet from the road. Mudd investigated and found a ten-speed bicycle on the ground with a still-shining flashlight fastened with duct tape to the handlebars. Although he considered the scene peculiar, he went on his way.
By 7 p.m. Nancy was beginning to panic. It wasn't like Staci to be late. So she headed for Super X and looked around the field, calling for her daughter. Distraught, she reported the missing girl to BSO, which soon began a massive search of the area. Staci was gone.
The disappearance was the talk of South Florida. Volunteers working with the Adam Walsh Foundation (named for John Walsh's son, who had been abducted and killed in 1981) distributed pictures of Staci everywhere they could. Numerous psychics surfaced with improbable theories. BSO took calls from tipsters, hearing about dozens of would-be child killers and Staci sightings. None of the tips seemed promising until a puzzling figure entered the picture.
On the night of February 7, a woman named Star Peck called deputies saying she had just received an obscene call from a man who told her he had killed Staci. Peck said the man called himself Tony and had phoned her numerous times in the preceding months. Tony, who had a whiny and begging voice, always began by telling Peck he was wearing pantyhose and a body suit. "Talk to me," he'd plead while masturbating. This time, however, he didn't beg for conversation. He told her he had accidentally killed Staci, the girl on the news. When he saw Staci on her bike, wearing "silky shorts," he couldn't resist. Tony told Peck that he placed an ether-soaked rag over Staci's face to knock her out and then dragged her into a van. The ether somehow killed Staci, he said, but he "put it in her" anyway, apparently meaning he had intercourse with the girl. Peck told deputies Tony kept repeating, "I didn't mean to kill her" and sounded very sorry for what he'd done. When Peck asked the caller where he had put the body, he first told her it was where nobody would ever find it, then admitted he'd dumped it in Lake Okeechobee.
Peck told detectives Scheff and Amabile that she believed Tony was a former employee of a company she owned that sold pots and pans door-to-door. On this lead they tracked down Rivera, who had worked briefly for Peck. A criminal-records check revealed a long history of sex offenses. It was time, the investigators decided, to talk with Michael T. Rivera.
Rivera admits he was a very sick man at the time of his arrest. He was addicted to drugs and spent hours at a time exposing himself to women and children, and his fantasies were becoming increasingly violent. On a few occasions, he'd even used a chokehold. His story, which follows, is culled from court records, psychological evaluations, and an hourlong interview with New Times.
Rivera was born in the Bronx on June 25, 1962, to parents he describes as "really restrictive and very overprotective." His father, a Puerto Rican immigrant, owned a gas station, and his mother raised their four children in an apartment in Westchester County, New York. Rivera, the second-born son, went to Catholic schools but was often absent because of illness. He was close to his mother but alienated from his dad, who was emotionally distant and drank heavily. Rivera once told a psychologist that his father "was God and mother was Jesus. You had to go through Mom to get to my dad." Rivera says this distance led him, at the age of nine, secretly to look through his father's bedroom dresser, where he found a book of pornographic stories. Rivera took the book and, while reading it, masturbated for the first time. Soon he was doing it several times a day and now considers it his first addiction. "It was like a drug," Rivera says.