Ex-Husband Charged With Murder Of California Mom Found Dead In Remote Desert

The ex-husband of a California mom of two who was found dead in a remote desert days after she vanished from her apartment has been charged with her murder.

Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko announced the murder charges against Zarbab Ali on Tuesday for the death of his ex-wife, Rachel Castillo.

Ali is also charged with a special allegation of lying in wait and the personal use of a knife after Rachel’s body was discovered Sunday in a remote part of the Antelope Valley.

“This was a young mother with a very bright future who was working on behalf of a local nonprofit provider while attending graduate school,” Nasarenko said in the statement. “Rachel’s murder is a tragedy for Ventura County and my office will be seeking justice for her two young children and entire family.”

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Rachel’s sister, Emily Castillo, discovered she was missing Thursday night after she came home to the apartment they shared together around 8:30 p.m. and found a “significant amount of blood,” Simi Valley Police said late last week.

Rachel’s cell phone, car keys and vehicle were still at the apartment but there was no sign of the missing 25-year-old, police said.

A police handout of Rachel Castillo
A police handout of Rachel Castillo

Rachel Castillo Photo: Simi Valley Police Department

Her body was discovered in Antelope Valley Sunday afternoon. That same day, Ali was taken into custody at his parent’s home in Victorville.

Rachel’s mother Robyn Castillo said she had spoken to Ali after her daughter disappeared and they had a “very normal conversation”, according to KABC.

"He had my grandchildren, I had texted him to ask how he was doing," she said. "He offered to video chat so I could see the boys. I got to see my grandsons and speak to them and he expressed his concern and I just told him we're doing everything we can. ... He said he was very sorry and hoped that she was okay.”

While she acknowledged the couple had “some difficulties,” she described their relationship as mostly amicable.

“I really didn’t expect it to turn out like this,” she said.

A police handout of Zarbab Ali
A police handout of Zarbab Ali

Zarbab Ali Photo: Ventura County DA

Her father Christopher Castillo said he now wonders whether there had been more to the relationship than they knew.

“Here’s a mom who divorced her husband, worked in a domestic violence prevention center and worked with battered moms … and you know, it’s kind of obvious why she probably divorced her husband,” he said. “I mean the guy ended up showing up and murdering you.”

Rachel had been taking online classes at Pepperdine University to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology at the time of her death and had hoped to one day become a marriage and family therapist, according to The Los Angeles Times.

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Her family is now hoping to remember Rachel in happier times and celebrate the live she lived.

"I'd like to not draw on what happened to her and who harmed her," Robyn said. "I really want to celebrate my daughter's life. She was a beautiful person. She was a wonderful mother, a wonderful daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend ... she was very important to so many people and she just she really just wanted to help people and be there for others, and I just want everybody to remember that.”

Ali was arraigned on the charges on Tuesday, authorities said.