By Rich Pollack
Neighbors west of Pompano Beach first noticed the 2013 Hyundai Sonata in a vacant field in April, shortly before the body of affable Highland Beach resident Elizabeth Cabral, 85, was found in her apartment across from the ocean.
Cabral’s car, recovered after someone called the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to report a suspicious vehicle, is just one piece of evidence Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives have collected as they try meticulously to piece together what is thought to be only the second homicide in the history of the small coastal community.
Late last month, the Sheriff’s Office released a one-page, heavily redacted report that confirmed Cabral’s death was a homicide, something many in Highland Beach — including many of her neighbors — had long suspected.
Although the Sheriff’s Office has been unusually tight-lipped about the case, the report provides a glimpse into what may have happened to the woman known to friends and relatives as Betty.
The murder weapon, according to the report, was either a knife or a sharp cutting instrument and there were no signs of forced entry into the condominium. In fact, the door to the unit in the Penthouse Highlands condominium along State Road A1A was unlocked on the night of April 30 when a Highland Beach police officer went to check on Cabral after the car was found.
In addition to homicide, the report states the suspect or suspects committed armed robbery and auto theft.
The crime has left residents and relatives wondering why anyone would want to hurt Cabral.
“She was a wonderful woman,” said Alan Croce, president of the Penthouse Highlands Association and a retired high-ranking law enforcement official in New York. “She was the most outgoing person you’d ever meet.”
Croce said he saw Cabral, who used a walker to get around and was often helped by aides, about a week and a half before police discovered her body.
“She gave me a big hug and a kiss,” he said. “One of her aides was with her.”
Robert Cabral, a nephew of Betty Cabral’s late husband, William, said the couple were comfortable financially, but suspected there was nothing of great value in the apartment that would be taken in a robbery.
“They were not very extravagant,” he said.
The couple, who lived in Cambridge, Mass., before moving to Highland Beach 22 years ago, were together for about 50 years and had no children, Robert Cabral said.
William Cabral worked for the city of Cambridge, mostly with veterans, his nephew said, while Betty held administrative positions at a hospital in town.
After her husband, who suffered from dementia, died in 2017, relatives urged Betty to move into an assisted-living facility. But she chose to stay in her home and remain independent.
Croce said she was friendly with other residents in the building, but didn’t have many visitors other than her aides and a financial adviser who visited regularly.
In recent years, Croce said, Cabral stopped driving and relied heavily on her aides to get around. The aides, he said, would drive her car.
Robert Cabral, who lives on the west coast of the state, said he didn’t know his aunt had died — and didn’t know the circumstances of her death — until very recently.
“Months went by and we knew nothing,” he said. “We don’t even know where the body is.”
He said he and other relatives hope to reach an out-of-state relative of Betty Cabral’s whom the Sheriff’s Office most likely notified of her death.
Deputies towed Cabral’s Hyundai Sonata from near Pompano Beach to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office headquarters for processing. The keys were on the floorboard.
Like Robert Cabral, Croce is seeking more information about Cabral’s death, hoping to calm other residents in the usually quiet building.
Major crimes are rare in Highland Beach, a town that has a full Police Department with officers routinely on patrol. Highland Beach has repeatedly been rated among the top 10 safest cities in Florida by organizations that conduct ratings.
Highland Beach’s only other confirmed homicide occurred in 1994 when someone fatally stabbed Richard P. Ramaglia, 49, in his home in the 4000 block of South Ocean Boulevard.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies later arrested Mary Juhnke, 23. Juhnke told detectives an argument over whether she should have an abortion led to the stabbing.
Juhnke later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 17 years in prison in December 1994.