What we know, and still don’t know, about Maleesa Mooney’s murder

The City of Angels is rough around the edges. It’s filled with personality, attitude and grit. It’s a big city filled with small neighborhoods and communities. It’s also Hollywood and celebrities and CRIME and ghosts of the past.

No doubt it’s been host to some of the most gruesome and unusual crimes the world has ever seen: the Manson murders, the Black Dahlia, the Night Stalker, the Hillside Strangler.

Not much fazes us. We’ve seen it all. Until we haven’t.

KTLA has been doing in-depth original reporting on the murder of model Maleesa Mooney in Los Angeles – Mooney, found dead in her downtown Los Angeles high-rise apartment.

The story is right out of a future Dateline episode.

Maleesa Mooney, a 31-year-old aspiring model and real estate agent was found dead in her downtown Los Angeles apartment on Sept. 12, 2023. (Jourdin Pauline)
Maleesa Mooney, a 31-year-old aspiring model and real estate agent was found dead in her downtown Los Angeles apartment on Sept. 12, 2023. (Jourdin Pauline)

Aside from the fact that she was an aspiring model, our first tip that this wasn’t the typical murder came on a Saturday morning at a local L.A. Fitness, in the sauna.

A guy relayed a story to me about a conversation he’d just had with a security guard at a downtown building. The security guard told him they had a model murdered in the building that week and her body was found in the refrigerator. His story was unbelievable yet incredibly believable and wild in the way he told it.

We started working on that tip the very same day.

Pregnant model found dead in downtown L.A. died from ‘homicidal violence’

Maleesa Mooney was last seen alive on security video at her apartment complex on September 6th. Her family hadn’t heard from her in days and requested two different welfare checks.

On the second check, LAPD officers entered the apartment and made the discovery. Maleesa Mooney would become case number 2023-12242 in a city where murders happen nearly every day.

Police often keep investigations under wraps, and this has been no exception.

Days of requests. Days without answers. How did Mooney die? Should other tenants be concerned?

We heard from people actually moving out of the building because a fellow tenant was murdered and there was a killer on the run.

Maleesa Mooney, a 31-year-old aspiring model and real estate agent was found dead in her downtown Los Angeles apartment on Sept. 12, 2023. (Jourdin Pauline)
Maleesa Mooney, a 31-year-old aspiring model and real estate agent was found dead in her downtown Los Angeles apartment on Sept. 12, 2023. (Jourdin Pauline)

KTLA requested the autopsy report hoping it would provide answers. It took weeks to arrive…and it DID provide answers.

Yet even more questions.

The autopsy report arrived late on a Friday afternoon. It was gruesome in detail and told the story of a woman who met an unimaginable fate:

Wrists tied. Ankles tied. Gag in the mouth. Signs of a brutally violent struggle. And right there -in the middle of the autopsy- page 8:

”They found Ms. Mooney’s body wedged inside the refrigerator.”

I was stunned.

This poor woman was savagely attacked and stuffed into the refrigerator in her own apartment. The random tip from the sauna at the L.A. Fitness was spot-on.

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Mooney’s cause of death was listed as “homicidal violence”… not a shooting or stabbing or blunt force trauma. It’s something one seasoned detective leading the case told me he has NEVER seen in his entire career.

In the days after the murder, Mooney’s family told us about the bright and thriving young woman. They told us another thing as well: that she was pregnant and expecting her first child.

The autopsy report showed otherwise. Mooney wasn’t pregnant. Police aren’t sure why the family said so.

What we DO know is they were robbed of their loved one in the most brutal of crimes.

Lead Detective David Marcinek of LAPD tells me they have surveillance video from the building, and a lot of it. And, he says, they’ve received numerous tips from the public, although none have led to an arrest thus far.

As for whether they’re closing in on a person of interest, he won’t say. Should the public be concerned? Marcinek tells me there’s reason to believe this is an isolated case.

But he added: There’s a killer on the run, and so there’s always that risk.

I asked Marcinek about the autopsy and the ruling of “homicidal violence” and he said he believes in his opinion that the “totality” of things Mooney experienced led to her death, but he also referred us back to the Medical Examiner for their professional opinion.

The Medical Examiner is not commenting on the case. So we took the files to a forensic pathologist who does private autopsies. His company 1-800-Autopsy has dealt with dozens of high-profile cases in the past.

Vidal Herrera actually thought I must be calling about Matthew Perry. No, we had questions about the murder of Maleesa Mooney –  the daughter, sister, and aspiring model.

Herrera has been in this business for years, and yes, he has a 1-800 number to reach his company about autopsies. He knows his stuff.

Herrera walked through the report with me line by line. His conclusions -not official but based on years of expertise- were that Mooney was the victim of a violent struggle, that this was no stranger who did this, that she was actually still alive at least for a while when the killer hid her inside the refrigerator.

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Herrera pointed out that a sexual assault kit was used by investigators examining Mooney. Those results aren’t listed in the autopsy and our follow-up questions to the coroner referred us back to LAPD for the answers.

Going through the autopsy with Herrera got me to notice things I hadn’t before.

Mooney had just moved into the building in August. In fact, she was still moving things in.

She was last seen on Wednesday, September 6th in the elevator of her high rise. The very next day, Thursday, September 7th, a man was seen using her key FOB to access the elevator, and then carrying plastic bags into her apartment.

Who is he?

Mooney wasn’t seen that Saturday. She hadn’t been answering calls or texts. Her family was getting worried.

The LAPD knocked on the door that Sunday at the family’s request. There wasn’t any answer at the door, and no sign of anything wrong, so police left. It would be another two days before they checked again at the urging of her family.

This time the building manager accompanied the police and opened the locked door with a key. No sign of Maleesa Mooney. But there WAS something unusual.

“They then observed food that is usually kept in the refrigerator on the kitchen counters.”

So police opened up the fridge and made the shocking discovery.

On Tuesday, September 12th at 4:25 pm, the police sergeant determined she was dead. Detectives notified Maleesa Mooney’s mother the following day.

Mooney’s family tells us she was kind and loving and “opened her arms up to so many friends,” and that she was “the backbone of the family.” Her sister, a well-known singer, Jourdin Pauline, says life without Maleesa isn’t the same – and never will be.

Two months after she was last seen alive, it seems certain LAPD must have information on the man seen using her key FOB and accessing her apartment.

Who is he? How did he know Maleesa Mooney?

Is this mystery man the prime suspect or even a person of interest in her murder? We don’t know.

By the way – just how rare is a ruling of “homicidal violence?” We wanted to know.

The Medical Examiner DID get back to us on that. Out of all the homicides in L.A. County over the last five years, 4,341 were ruled homicides. Only 5 were ruled homicidal violence.

Maleesa Mooney: Department of the Medical Examiner case number 2023-12242.

She was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend. And her killer remains on the run.

The Los Angeles Police Department is requesting the public’s help in identifying any and all persons responsible for Maleesa Mooney’s death.

Anyone with additional information is urged to call Detective Pierce or Marcinek, Los Angeles Police Department, Central Bureau Homicide, at (213) 996-4150. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (1-877-527-3247). Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call the LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go directly to www.lacrimestoppers.org.

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