SPOILERS for Episode 1 of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries.
Rey Rivera had his whole life ahead of him. A devoted son, a loving husband, an aspiring screenwriter; his dreams and his love lit up a room. But his life came to a tragic, abrupt end in 2006, when his body was found in a locked meeting room at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore. Rivera allegedly plummeted from several stories above and crashed landed in the lower-level room. He was 32 years old.
His death is the subject of a new episode of Unsolved Mysteries, the Netflix reboot of the classic true crime and paranormal investigative series. The first six episodes—released this week—vary in quality, but I have not been able to shake the story of Rey Rivera since I first watched my screeners for the show weeks ago. Something about his death, and the mystery around it, chilled me to my very core.
Here’s a rundown of what happened to Rey Rivera, why it’s so troubling, and why shows like Unsolved Mysteries are so important—because it centers and honors victims first and foremost.
What happened to Rey Rivera?
Rey and his wife Allison Rivera moved to Baltimore in 2006 so that he could work at his friend’s investment firm, after a failed attempt at screenwriting in Hollywood. Nothing seemed out of order until May 16, 2006. Allison was out of town on a business trip and a houseguest was the last person to see Rey alive. He answered a call that evening and ran from the house. His body was found a week later at the Belvedere.
Police were mystified. There was no paper trail whatsoever. The call Rivera answered was from his place of work, however, they were only able to trace it to a switchboard. This means no one knows exactly who he was talking to. His family reported nothing out of sorts; Rey Rivera had no history of mental illness and his job seemed pretty ordinary. Basically, there was no real motive. And in the subsequent weeks, as more and more came to light, it was clear this was no ordinary death. It was the sort of death to land you on Unsolved Mysteries.
Why is it so mysterious?
Rey Rivera’s body was mutilated from his “fall,” but many of his personal objects were entirely unharmed; fragile items, like his glasses and phone, weren’t even cracked and were found on the lower roof. The Belvedere is tiered, so if Rey jumped from the top roof to the one he allegedly crashed through, how on earth would his glasses have landed neatly above him, as if untouched?
Another odd detail? Rey always carried a money clip with him that his wife gifted him. It was nowhere to be found after his death, and has still never been uncovered. His family sees this as a key detail; Rey would never go anywhere without that clip.
But the most mysterious detail of all is a note found taped to Rey’s laptop weeks after his body was found. Allison discovered the note, folded multiple times and taped to the computer. It’s… well, it’s the thing that makes this case extra spooky. It doesn’t read like a suicide note, but like the note of a person lost in the depths of a severe delusion. Or a person who knows about something and is speaking in code.
It’s addressed to his “brothers and sisters,” references phrases and words associated with the Free Masons, alludes to movies commonly associated with Illuminati conspiracy theories—National Treasure, Eyes Wide Shut, The Matrix—and, most bizarrely, lists many of Rivera’s friends and talks about wanting to make them “five years younger.”
Rey Rivera’s family believes the note is a clue that he was murdered by some greater force. Did his job at the mysterious investment firm, which was previously tied to shady business, have something to do with all of this? Maybe. However, it’s just as likely—if not more so—that Rivera suffered some sort of psychotic break, one his family didn’t pick up on. Families are sometimes in denial about a loved one’s mental illness. And though it’s rare for schizophrenia to come on so suddenly and late in life, it’s not impossible.
Unsolved Mysteries doesn’t dig deep enough—but it gets at a different sort of truth
There are other details to wade through. The Rivera’s home alarm went off the night before Rey disappeared—which had never happened before. Allison notes in the episode that her husband did seem a little on edge shortly before his death; as if he stumbled on something he shouldn’t have, and was paranoid for her safety. And though it’s easy to blame this all on mental health, detectives were puzzled by so many little things: like how no security cameras showed Rey Rivera at the Belvedere that night. How his flip-flops had drag marks on them. And again, with his perfectly preserved phone and glasses.
It seems likely that we’ll never learn what actually happened to Rey Rivera. If it was a conspiracy-related death, then it would certainly be covered up in great detail. If it was mental illness, there’d be no way of knowing; there isn’t a blood test you can take for paranoid schizophrenia.
What’s remarkable about the episode, and the real reason it stuck with me more than the others, is that it shows Rey Rivera as a fully fledged human—not just a victim, as so many shows like this tend to do. The episode opens with footage from his wedding, talking heads of his family sharing what made him so remarkable. The episode closes with his brother talking about his kids, and how they’ll never know their Uncle Rey.
Unsolved Mysteries isn’t without its issues, but this new incarnation spends even more time humanizing the people whose lives were tragically lost, for whatever reason. Rey Rivera’s life is preserved here. And that’s reason alone worth watching.
Featured Image: Netflix