August 30, 2021 | By Michael Tracey
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Sanjuana Moreno loved spending time with her family. Juana, as she was known, made sure to be home for lunch every day after her morning shift at a local convenience store.
On August 9, 1988, in the small town of Wharton, Texas, Juana never came home from work. Her body was found in the convenience store a couple of hours after she opened at 5 a.m.
Her murder has never been solved.
Juana was a married 24-year-old Mexican immigrant working hard to accomplish her number one goal of becoming a mother.
“Being a mother is what she wanted to do,” said her younger sister, Nohemi Carter. “She wanted to be a mom more than anything.”
Now her dream of motherhood will never come true.
Juana came to the U.S from Mexico in 1975 with her family. She was a 12-year-old fifth-grader when she moved.
Juana was a great sister, a loving daughter, and an all-around upbeat personality. She had a kind soul and was raised by her parents to love everybody.
Juana was also a passive person who did not spend any time in the drama of adolescence. As Nohemi was the closest in age, she would often try to create fun-hearted sisterly conflict. But Juana would never budge.
“I would try to argue with her a lot, at times even fight,” Nohemi said. “She would turn her back and not even be bothered with me. She just wanted peace all the time.”
Juana was excited about everything. She was excited about life. Juana wanted to travel and see the world with her husband.
But instead, she chose to stay home and focus on building a family. Juana spent most days at her job but she said she wanted to stay home to raise her children when they were born.
Juana worked at the Kwik Chek Drive-Inn on the barren stretch of road known as Highway 59. It is a long, lonely Texas highway set up among vast fields of farmland in every direction. Decades later, only two businesses occupy the space within a mile of where she worked: a concrete supplier and tractor dealer.
In the early morning hours on the Tuesday of her death, a robbery took place after her opening shift began. Her body was found fatally stabbed behind the counter by a customer, and there was $220 missing from the store.
It was a shock to the town of Wharton. The small police department 60 miles outside of Houston did not know what to do and was ill-equipped to solve the case. Nothing like this had ever happened before in the community.
Nohemi was affected tremendously by the loss of her sister. She was the first in the Moreno family to arrive at the scene that day, though, it wasn’t intentional. It was around 8 a.m., and Nohemi was planning to surprise her older sister at work before heading into Houston.
“When I got closer, I saw cops, ambulances, and tons of people everywhere. My first thought was, ‘oh, the alarm went off,’” Nohemi said. “And just as I was walking towards the front door, the owner of the store comes running towards me saying, ‘They’ve killed Juana!’”
“I thought I was in the middle of a nightmare.”
Over three decades later, Juana’s family trudges on.
Nohemi no longer lives in the area but has siblings who are still in Wharton. She has taken Juana’s positive influence and applied it to the rest of her life. One of the most important lessons she learned from her older sister was forgiveness and never to count on the next moment in life.
In remembrance of Juana, she said, the message she would want to leave is that it is essential to be mentally healthy to provide for family and the community.
“Don’t be angry, and just live life in a good way, the positive way,” Nohemi said.
“Be a good person in this world, help one another.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Sanjuana Moreno, please call the Wharton County Sheriff’s Office at (979) 532-1550.
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