DETROIT (FOX 2) - A team of authorities executed a search warrant Friday at a restaurant in Detroit in connection with a woman's 19-year-old disappearance case.
We're told Auburn Hills Police were executing a search warrant at the Galaxy Coney Island on Grand River, which is near Schaefer and the Jeffries Service Drive, with the assistance of Detroit Police, Michigan State Police and the FBI.
A source told FOX 2 the search was in connection to the disappearance of a woman dating back to 2001.
Then later in the day, Auburn Hills Deputy Chief Ryan Gagnon said police had probable cause to believe a woman by the name of Aferdita Gjergjaj was a murder victim and had been buried at the restaurant at some point in time. A spokesperson from the FBI confirmed to FOX 2 that, as an assisting agency, they helped dig up part of the floor in the basement Friday.
Gagnon said Gjergjaj was reported missing in February 2001 and that her ex-husband Binak "Kola" Gjerjaj has been a suspect in the case. He fled to Kosovo in 2001 immediately following her disappearance. The Oakland County Prosecutor issued an open murder warrant for his arrest.
In early 2019, an extradition agreement was signed. But while Kola was awaiting extradition, he died by suicide in jail.
Gagnon said Friday that remains of Aferdita Gjergjaj, who was known by the name Rita, were not found at the restaurant.
Police are now asking for the public's help with the 19-year-old case.
“I can tell you right now she has not been found here at this location. I want to ask the public’s health to bring closure to the family. If they know where the remains are, reach out," Gagnon said.
Multiple police vehicles were seen for several hours Friday morning and afternoon outside the restaurant, which has been taped off.
Back in 2001, when FOX 2 first spoke with investigators about the case, we were told Rita told her sister she was going to meet her ex-husband and children in the parking lot of an Auburn Hills movie theater. Surveillance cameras show she did arrive there, got out of her car and into another one where she sat for about half an hour. Then the vehicle drove away with her still inside. She was never heard from again.
Suspicions turned toward her ex-husband, who asked for a divorce in 1998, got physical custody of their then-young children and would be charged with felony assault for allegedly beating Rita.
"I think some information obviously gets regenerated with the death of Kola Gjerjaj in 2019. This is still an open investigation and since information continues to come with us, (it will be) until we can ultimately find Rita," Gagnon said Friday.
When asked, authorities didn't elaborate on what led them to their search at the Galaxy Coney Island.