Chapter one: Andreen McDonald goes missing; investigators suspect foul play
Andreen Nicole McDonald never showed up to work on Friday, March 1. She also never returned to her residence on the north side of Bexar County.
That day, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said no friends, family or business associates had seen or heard from McDonald since the Thursday before her disappearance. The sheriff told reporters he believed the 29-year-old could have been a victim of foul play.
The following day, Sheriff Salazar announced that McDonald's husband Andre, currently serving as a major in the U.S. Air Force, is a person of interest in the case. He was taken into custody due to a "possible mental issue," the sheriff's office said.
On March 3, just days after her disappearance, Andre McDonald was arrested and charged with evidence tampering. BCSO executed a search warrant at the McDonalds' home and found a shovel, an ax, work gloves and gasoline that had been recently purchased. Salazar said this led them to believe that Andre McDonald was going to dispose of a body.
Sheriff's deputies also observed human blood on the light switch and floor of the master bathroom. Andreen's personal belongings - such as her purse, ID, and keys - were left behind at the home.
The arrest affidavit goes on to show that a friend of Andreen's told investigators that Andreen told her multiple times that if anything were to happen to her, it would be because Andre killed her.
"At this time, we believe Andreen McDonald is no longer living," Salazar said
Meanwhile, hundreds joined investigators in the search for Andreen. Investigators learned that Andre had entered Camp Bullis after Andreen was already reported missing on a day he did not have any official business scheduled there.
Crews searched inside the Camp Bullis training grounds, where they were assisted by the airmen of the 502nd Air Base Wing as well as around 200 volunteers.
During the search, Andreen's family members told reporters they remained supportive of Andre. The husband, however, wasn't cooperating with investigators and remained in jail.
Chapter two: The FBI joins the search; Andre released from jail
Eight days after McDonald's disappearance, family and friends honored Andreen at an emotional vigil. Friends spoke of a woman who gave so much to her community; she owned Starlight Homes Assisted Living and was called a "beast" and "goddess" by those who knew her.
Others called for her husband, Andre, to come forward and give answers.
"I hope he experiences God's mercy as much as he can," one friend said.
Three weeks pass, and volunteers haven't given up hope. Authorities had called in help from Texas Search and Rescue to help in the efforts to locate McDonald, but organizers say deputies told them their help is no longer needed.
A $5,000 reward is offered for information regarding Andreen's disappearance. The Federal Bureau of Investigations joins in the search. One FBI investigator tells reporters that McDonald's disappearance has drawn international attention.
He also says Andre, now the prime person of interest in her disappearance, has shown no remorse or no concern about the whereabouts" of Andreen.
At a bond hearing, prosecutors argued that McDonald was a flight risk, calling him "the 1 percenter of San Antonio...He has huge resources." McDonald's defense argued that he had very little liquid cash and that all of the couple's automobiles have been seized and are being held as evidence.
At the outcome of the hearing, a judge agreed to reduce the $2 million bond set against McDonald.
Malinda Pennell, a former military police officer, female entrepreneur, and mom, had volunteered during several searches for Andreen. Pennell also attended the bond hearing, where she witnessed Andre "laughing and smiling as if he won the lottery," she told KENS 5.
"None of this is funny. There is a woman missing, his wife, the mother of his child is missing."
On March 27, Andre was released from the Bexar County Jail after posting a reduced bail of $300,000. He was placed on full house arrest. Meanwhile, Joint Base San Antonio released a statement on the investigation, saying that McDonald was "still a member of the Air Force family, and will be treated as such and afforded the same rights as any Airman."
McDonald is ordered to have no contact with the couple's young daughter.
While on house arrest, McDonald speaks to KENS 5. He is on house arrest wearing a GPS monitor and is only allowed to and from work. He told a reporter he had no comment and was just relaxing. That day also happened to be his daughter's 7th birthday. When asked if he would like to say anything to his daughter, Andre said he didn't have anything else to say.
Days later, on April 4, a hiker came upon charred human remains along Highway 211 on the northwest side of the county. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said investigators are "cautiously optimistic" the remains might be Andreen. At this point, McDonald has been missing for five weeks.
"We've been working like crazy to get some closure for Andreen's family," Salazar said. "I'll tell you exactly like it is: We are hoping that it's her. But we have to remain open-minded."
Nearly 30 hours later, investigators determined that the remains would belong to a woman between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-4 in height. Salazar said height is one thing that played a role in BCSO being “fairly certain” the remains do not belong to McDonald. According to him, she was closer to six feet in height. The body is later identified as 39-year-old Norma Pacheco.
In the following weeks, volunteers continued their search for Andreen. The FBI distributed a new plea asking for any and all information in her case. At that time, FBI Special Agent Michelle Lee said that as time passes, the investigation does become more difficult for investigators.
"We just want to remind the public to not give up hope," Lee said. "We are never going to give up. We will always remember."
Chapter three: Andreen's remains discovered; Andre charged with murder
122 days into the search for Andreen McDonald, potential key evidence is uncovered by an organization called Chain Breakers, which was created in the early days of the search for Andreen.
In a GoFundMe page, searchers couldn't disclose where and what exactly was found but they're hoping the public will help fund an excavation of the area to continue the efforts to find the woman that left a lasting impact.
Eleven days later, on July 11, human bones were discovered on a private property inside a 20 square mile area where investigators were searching for McDonald. Investigators said a man searching for cow bones stumbled upon the remains.
At the time of the discovery, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar stressed that there's a long process to produce a definitive identity.
"What we have is several scattered human bones that are pretty sun-bleached," Salazar said. "We're hopeful that this is who we are hoping it is."
On Saturday, July 13, Salazar held a news conference, in which he announced the search for Andreen was "officially over."
Medical examiners were able to use dental recorded to confirm the identity of the remains found just days earlier as McDonald.
In the overnight hours, investigators worked on a warrant for her husband, Andre. He was then taken into custody and charged with his wife's murder.
At that conference, Salazar said that it was too early to specify the nature of Andreen's suspected homicide. Meanwhile, the warrant for Andre's arrest, obtained by KENS 5, details the early evidence against him and the early days of the search for Andreen.
Evidence in the arrest warrant suggested the McDonald's daughter witnessed Andre attempt to dispose of his wife's body. One family friend who often helped care for the couple’s daughter told investigators that multiple times the child “made comments about Andre hurting mommy.”
That same friend also told investigators that she had seen the McDonalds' daughter “playing in the backyard with her doll and placed her doll in a circle of rocks, broke some small sticks, and placed them over the doll…and asked for ‘the fire.’” This alleged observation mirrors the manner in which Andreen’s remains were discovered on Thursday when investigators “noticed the human remains appeared to have been covered with wood and bones from a nearby deceased cow and set on fire.”
After investigators confirmed that McDonald's body had been found, family and volunteers met at the property where she was discovered for a vigil. They made a cross for the mother, and left it there for all to see.
Family members told KENS 5 the focus now on finding justice for the mother and the couple's daughter, who hadn't seen either parent since March 1.
"She will need guidance for the rest of her life," Andreen's cousin Cheryl Spencer said.
A pre-trial hearing for Andre is set for September 3; for now, Andreen's family is making funeral arrangements for the late San Antonio mother and businesswoman found 133 days after her disappearance.