FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Since Martha Martinez Maxwell vanished nearly 20 years ago, her relatives have been left without answers, without a body to bury, without evidence of any crime - just their suspicions of a husband they say repeatedly abused her.
Now that investigators have reopened the missing Texas woman's 1992 case following her former husband's weekend arrest on charges of abducting and torturing another woman, Martinez Maxwell's relatives believe they may finally find out what happened to her.
"It's been emotional and brings some comfort that justice is finally taking place ... but I feel bad for the person that had to go through that," Martha's brother, Javier Martinez of Denver, said of the woman authorities say was recently rescued after being tortured for two weeks on a rack used for skinning deer.
Jeffrey Allan Maxwell, who divorced his wife in 1995, has never been charged in Martinez Maxwell's disappearance. But since his arrest Saturday, authorities have indicated he's under investigation in that case, as well as one involving a woman who went missing in 2000.
Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler said Tuesday that Maxwell did not yet have an attorney.
Martinez told The Associated Press that his sister wouldn't leave Maxwell despite repeated abuse after they married in 1981 because she was afraid he would take their young son.
Then in 1987, Martinez Maxwell disappeared from her Fort Worth-area home and was found near Ardmore, Okla., her throat slashed from ear to ear. The severely injured woman told police that her husband bound her with duct tape, drugged her and sexually assaulted her, although she said she couldn't remember details of the attack that happened after she was drugged.
Martinez said that after his sister's ordeal, she and her son stayed in Mexico with their parents for a few months. But after Maxwell wrote letters saying he was sorry and missed her, she returned to Texas with their son, although "everybody tried to convince her not to go back," Martinez said.
Maxwell had been charged with aggravated assault, but his wife was no longer cooperating with authorities and a grand jury in Fort Worth later declined to indict him.
After that, Martinez Maxwell kept in touch with her relatives by phone and visits, Martinez said, so her parents knew something was wrong in May 1992 when they received a letter saying she was leaving her husband. They figured the letter couldn't have been hers or that she was forced to write it, Martinez said.
"It was odd because she would have just called us, and where would she go?" Martinez said. "We got worried and I talked to Jeff. He said she left, and he hung up on me. I knew then that he did something to her."
Martinez said he flew to Texas and filed a missing persons report. A detective worked hard but could find no evidence, Martinez said.
Through the years, Martinez said, he lost touch with his sister's son, now in his late 20s. But a few years ago, Martinez found his nephew and re-established the relationship by sharing happy memories of the young man's mother. He said he didn't discuss his suspicions of the young man's father - until Maxwell's recent arrest.
"He called me and told me that his dad had been arrested, and he said, 'I need you to be honest about what happened to my mom,'" Martinez said.
The son did not return a phone message from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Maxwell, 58, remains jailed in Parker County on two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of aggravated kidnapping with bond set at $400,000.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Maxwell told a Texas Ranger after his arrest that he abducted the woman at gunpoint from her Parker County home about 50 miles west of Fort Worth, handcuffed her and drove her more than 100 miles east to his Corsicana home. Maxwell said he "strung her up" on a homemade rack in his garage and sexually assaulted her, according to the affidavit.
Fowler, the sheriff, said the rack was an electric device that enabled Maxwell to hoist the woman off the ground. Fowler declined to elaborate on other details in the affidavit, including Maxwell's alleged claim that he was paid $2,500 from unnamed individuals to make the woman "go away." Authorities have not indicated that they're investigating anyone else.
Authorities say Maxwell moved to Corsicana from Parker County in 2007 and had a history of harassing the woman. Investigators believe he also set her house on fire after he abducted her.