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Sunrise Police Arrest Husband In Missing Woman Investigation

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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) — Sunrise police have arrested the husband of a woman who disappeared last month.

On Friday, Joseph Trager, 50, was charged with murder without premeditation, tampering with evidence, and lying to law enforcement in the death of his wife Jeneen Catanzaro.

The victim's stepfather, Michael Lenover, told CBS4, "I want to thank police for their good work and maybe this will give the rest of her family come closure."

The victim's father, Vincent Catanzaro, said Traeger had "destroyed" his only daughter and said that in the end "She finally had the strength to leave him after 10 1/2 years of marriage."

On Wednesday, detectives from the department's Criminal Investigations Section said they had reason to believe that Catanzaro, 50, was dead and had "begun a death investigation into the circumstances surrounding her disappearance."

Catanzaro's neighbors were relieved to hear an arrest had been made.

"Very good to know that. She was a very good person. She was very kind and very sweet," said Jessica Scholtz.

"We're glad they got him. I don't know what happened but that lady was super nice. She was always here, part of the Board," said Alex Machado.

Joseph Traeger
Joseph Traeger in custody at Broward's Main Jail. (Source: CBS4)

Traeger, who spoke exclusively with CBS4's Peter D'Oench on Thursday, denied he had anything to do with his wife's disappearance.

"I have to ask this. I have to ask you," said D'Oench. "Did you have anything to do with this disappearance?"

"Absolutely not," said Traeger on Thursday.  "Police have been here three times. CSI investigators went through the house and they [found] nothing to be suspect."

Joseph Traeger Mug
Joseph Traeger (Source: Broward Sheriff's Office)

It was Catanzaro's mother, Joanne Roma, who alerted the police to her daughter's disappearance.

Roma told them that Catanzaro suffers from anorexia and bipolar disorder and is on medication.

Jeneen Catanzaro
Jeneen Catanzaro (Source: Sunrise Police)

Traeger told investigators that he last saw his wife on November 29th when he left for work.

Police say he called 911 on December 2nd to report her missing.

Three days later, when questioned by police, Traeger said they had been having some marital problems over the last year due to his heroin addiction and their financial problems.

Traeger told the police he had tried to call her several times after she went missing but the calls went straight to voicemail.

When asked where she might be, Traeger said she frequented two gyms in Weston and it was "highly unusual" for her not to be at the gym. He added that she had left him her PNC credit card to use.

When police checked with the gyms, they were told the last time she had been at either was on November 27th.

A check with the bank found that the card had been used at a Publix in Oakland Park and a Speedway gas station in Ft. Lauderdale. Traeger confirmed he had made both transactions.

Police checked with Catanzaro's neighbors and found one had a security video of her arriving home on November 27th but never leaving the residence after that. The following day the video showed Traeger arriving at her home.

When police questioned Traeger again, they say he "provided a completely fabricated account regarding the whereabouts of Jeneen," according to his arrest report.

A check of cell phone site information showed Trager called Catanzaro three minutes before he arrived at her home and sent her two text messages which she didn't respond to - after that there was no activity on her phone.

On December 7th, police received a phone call from Lenover, who said he had been warning Catanzaro of Traeger's violent behavior.

"He stated he was one hundred percent certain that Joseph had killed Jeneen," according to the arrest report.

Lenover informed the police that Traeger had a violent past and was convicted of attempted murder when he strangled and raped his former wife. He said he made Catanzaro call him every morning to let him know she was still alive. He added that he constantly urged her to divorce Traeger.

Catanzaro ended up kicking him out of the house after he had become violent with her.

On December 11th, detectives went to Traeger's home. During a search, Traeger told them "You are not going to find her in a field or the Everglades, check my phone I was never there," according to the arrest report.

On December 17th, Traeger was questioned again. This time he reportedly admitted that he had lied during the initial interview.

Traeger said he went to Catanzaro's house on November 28. He said he went upstairs to take a shower and when he came downstairs he found her lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, according to the arrest report. He said he thought she had a seizure, fallen, hit her head, and bled out.
Traeger told investigators that he "panicked" and didn't call the police because with his previous conviction for attempted murder he didn't think they would believe him.

He said he placed Catanzaro's body in trash bags and then put it in a trash bin which he took to the curb for pick up, according to the report. He told investigators that once the trash had been picked up he knew her body would never be discovered.

A neighbor's security video shows him wheeling the trash bin out and it being picked up on November 28th.

A K-9 alerted to human remains at the landfill at 4400 State Road 7 on a pile of trash consistent with a November 28th dump.

In December 20th, police say Traeger contacted them and wanted to speak about the case. After speaking with detectives in a conference room at the department, Traeger reportedly wanted more time to decide if he was going to them what had really happened.

One of the detectives, who was wearing a concealed recording device, then invited Traeger out to dinner.

At the restaurant, Traeger told the detectives that the part about putting Catanzaro's body in the garbage bags and putting it in the trash bin was true, but how he found her lying in the pool of blood was not.

He said he did take a shower and when he came downstairs the couple argued when he asked to move back in.

Traeger said she grabbed a house phone to call 911 when he refused to leave. He said he 'snapped' and grabbed her to take the phone away from her," according to the arrest report.

He then reportedly forced her to the kitchen floor and put a hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

Traeger then allegedly told them he grabbed a knife off of the kitchen counter and stabbed her once in the back of the head, according to the arrest report.

"Traeger stated the knife went into her neck 'easily' and Jeneen died instantly," according to the report.

Traeger said she bled out. He said he tried to clean up the kitchen and placed the knife in the dishwasher. He then got rid of it by ditching it in a dumpster behind a restaurant.

After his alleged admissions, Traeger was arrested and charged.

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