A Hawaii man has been arrested after DNA technology helped investigators identify him as a suspect in the 1982 slaying of a 15-year-old girl who was abducted in Northern California from a bus stop, raped and killed, authorities said.
Karen Stitt was waiting for a bus in Sunnyvale when she disappeared in the early morning hours of Sept. 3, 1982. A delivery truck driver discovered her naked body among some bushes 100 yards away from the bus stop the next morning.
Last week, Sunnyvale police arrested Gary Ramirez, 75, in Maui after they say his DNA matched the blood from Stitt’s leather jacket and the 4-foot cinder block wall where the killer left her after stabbing her 59 times, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
Ramirez remains incarcerated in a Maui jail awaiting an extradition hearing Wednesday to bring him to California. It was not immediately clear if he has retained an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
Stitt was last seen by her boyfriend, who watched her walk toward the bus stop after leaving a visit at his house, investigators said. Worried he would be in trouble for missing curfew, he ran home before she boarded the bus. He was long considered a suspect, but the developments in DNA technology eventually excluded him.
Santa Clara County cold case investigators said they used DNA technology linked to family tree genealogy, the same investigative process that led to the arrest and guilty plea of the Golden State Killer in 2018.
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Three years ago, Sunnyvale police Detective Matt Hutchison teamed up with a genealogist who narrowed the DNA down to four brothers. Hutchison then sought out one of Gary Ramirez’s children and collected a DNA sample, which showed a high probability that the suspect was their father, he said.
After that, authorities used a search warrant to swab Gary Ramirez’s mouth for a DNA sample, which a crime lab confirmed matched the DNA found at the crime scene.
The detective said that when Ramirez was arrested, he appeared shocked.
Ramirez, a retired bug exterminator, had no criminal record, police say. His older brother, Rudy Ramirez, who also lives in Maui, said he can’t imagine that his younger brother would be capable of such a horrific crime.
“I’ve never seen him violent or get angry ever,” Ramirez’s brother told the newspaper. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Investigators are still looking for more information about Ramirez.
According to the DA's office, he grew up in Fresno before serving in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970s. After leaving the military, he frequented or lived in the Bay Area, San Diego, Colorado, and Hawaii.
If he is convicted, Ramirez faces a life sentence.
Hutchinson grew up in Sunnyvale, and said the case had long been important for him to solve. He was able to finally tell Karen Stitt's brother, her only living relative, that an arrest had been made.
"Behind every old murder file in every major police department, there is a person, heartbreak, and a mystery," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. "The mystery of Karen Stitt’s death has been solved thanks to advances in forensic science and a detective that would never, ever give up."
Anyone with information about Gary Ramirez is asked to contact prosecutor Rob Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Associated Press contributed to this report