Homeowner: Man accused of burying 1-year-old daughter said body was pet cat that died

It was not a particularly unusual request when New Mexico landscaper David “DJ” Zuber Jr. called a client, Thomas Dunn, and asked if he could bury a cat in Dunn’s backyard, which Dunn and his roommates treated as a pet cemetery.

Dunn, who was on vacation when Zuber contacted him in late December, told KOAT in Albuquerque that he was stunned when law enforcement officers knocked on his door in early January and asked to dig up the yard.

What crime scene technicians found buried behind Dunn’s home Jan. 4 was not a cat, but Zuber’s 1-year-old daughter, Anastazia Zuber.

Credit: Albuquerque Police Department

Credit: Albuquerque Police Department

"It was buried in the backyard underneath the remains of a dead dog," Dunn told KOAT. "The body was inside two layers of a white plastic trash bag inside of a black duffel bag."

Zuber and his girlfriend, Monique Romero, 23, have both been charged in their daughter’s death. Romero is charged with child abuse resulting in death and Zuber is charged with tampering with evidence and abandonment or abuse of a child.

Romero was released on bond from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center Friday. Zuber was released Sunday.

>> Related story: Missing infant found buried in yard, parents arrested

"It's truly devastating, to be honest with you," Dunn told the news station of the discovery. "Every time I see this, I wonder why."

Dunn said Zuber did work around his home, like pulling weeds, cutting the grass and trimming the bushes. He told KOAT that he and his roommates noticed Zuber was not himself lately.

"We noticed that before the Christmas holiday," Dunn told the news station.

A criminal complaint obtained by the Albuquerque Journal stated that Zuber's family called police Dec. 18 and asked that officers conduct a welfare check on Anastazia, who they were concerned about. When officers went to the couple's home, Romero told them the toddler was with her sister, the complaint said.

Credit: Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center

Credit: Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center

A missing person report made public by Albuquerque police officials Jan. 2 stated that the baby had last been seen Dec. 18, when Zuber told his mother Anastazia had drowned in the bathtub.

"Police were not called and cannot confirm if the child is alive or safe," the missing person alert said.

It was not clear why investigators did not seek the public's help finding Anastazia after the Dec. 18 welfare check failed to produce signs of the child's location. Albuquerque police officials have launched an internal investigation into the matter, the Journal said.

At the time of the Jan. 2 alert, police officials were also looking for Zuber and Romero, as well as the couple's two additional children, Athena and David III. They had last been seen in Farmington, officials said then.

>> Related story: Family vanishes after father claims 1-year-old drowned in bathtub

Two days later, Zuber, Romero and their two remaining children were found at an apartment in Albuquerque, the Journal reported. When questioned, Zuber ultimately told investigators where to find his daughter's body.

"It's tough for detectives to go out to a location, dig a hole and find a dead baby in a bag, and then have to build a case around it -- just horrible," Albuquerque police spokesman Simon Drobik told the newspaper.

The Journal reported Romero told investigators she had left the baby in the bathtub with her 2-year-old daughter on an undisclosed day in December. When she returned to the bathroom, the younger girl was unresponsive.

Zuber's mother told police her son told her Dec. 17 that he'd drowned the baby, according to the criminal complaint obtained by the newspaper. When she did not believe him, he insisted the girl was dead.

Zuber later told his mother he was “making up the story,” the complaint said.

Zuber's brother told investigators he went to his brother's apartment the next day to check on the baby. Zuber, Romero and the other children were there, but Anastazia was nowhere to be found, the Journal reported.

When the brother asked where the baby was, Zuber got angry, picked up a crowbar and denied killing his daughter, the complaint said. According to the Journal, Zuber refused to talk about the topic any further.

The complaint stated that Romero told her sister during a video chat Dec. 21 that everyone was all right and that they planned to visit relatives for Christmas.

When questioned following her arrest, Romero told detectives that neither she nor Zuber called 911 after she found Anastazia dead in the bath, the Journal reported.

She said Zuber took the baby’s body and left, according to the complaint. When he returned, he told her “it was taken care of,” the document said.

Anastazia’s siblings were placed in the custody of New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department.

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