Nearly 25 years after LA teen's death, DNA leads to arrest

On Monday, prosecutors charged a 42-year-old man, who was then 19, with murder in the girl's death


By Lila Seidman
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Nearly 25 years after a Boyle Heights teenager was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted, authorities say they have identified the man who killed her and dumped her body in a ravine.

The partially clothed body of Gladys Arellano was discovered Jan. 30, 1996, in Topanga Canyon. An autopsy concluded the 17-year-old had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled.

Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva, left, and Elizabeth Arellano, sister of victim, right, walk past image of homicide victim 17-year-old Gladys Arellano, for a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.
Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva, left, and Elizabeth Arellano, sister of victim, right, walk past image of homicide victim 17-year-old Gladys Arellano, for a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

On Monday, prosecutors charged Jose Luis Garcia, 42, with murder in the girl's death. He was 19 when the crime occurred.

Elizabeth Arellano, Gladys' sister, said Wednesday that the latest developments in the case still seem unbelievable.

"It was quite surreal, and now at this moment, it still feels — I don't know if this is really happening or not — but I look forward to justice," Arellano said during a news conference in downtown Los Angeles at the county Hall of Justice.

When Gladys' body was found, DNA taken as evidence was uploaded into state and federal databases. No match to her killer was identified at the time, and the case remained unsolved for decades.

There are about 15,000 unsolved cold case homicides in Los Angeles County, according to sheriff's Lt. Hugo Reynaga, and investigators got a break in Gladys' case last year.

On Nov. 10, Garcia was arrested by Los Angeles police on suspicion of domestic assault. During his booking, Garcia's DNA was collected and uploaded into a state database. It matched the sample from the 1996 slaying, and Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives in the homicide bureau's unsolved cases unit were alerted.

In February, Dets. Joe Purcell and Shaun McCarthy questioned Garcia about Gladys' death at his Fontana home. The two lived "in near proximity" when the girl went missing, Reynaga said, although it was not immediately clear whether there was some other connection between them.

When detectives questioned Garcia earlier this year, they collected an additional DNA sample to submit for forensic testing. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, processing was delayed, Reynaga said.

In July or August, while Garcia's latest DNA sample was still being handled, detectives learned he had moved to Dallas. Last month, after his DNA again matched the 1996 case, he was arrested in Texas by federal law enforcement officials.

Garcia was extradited to California last week and was arraigned Monday. He is being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

"I definitely felt anger now that we have a face and a name ...," Arellano said of her sister's killing.

Samantha Moreno, Gladys' niece and goddaughter, said her aunt had "a radiant smile" and was beautiful and intelligent. She would have turned 42 this Saturday, Moreno said.

"Recognizing her life is important," Moreno said at the briefing. "Beautiful souls from Boyle Heights should never be forgotten. Acts of violence against women should never be forgotten."

Another 1996 cold case recently caught a break using DNA evidence, with the August arrest of a suspect in the brutal rape and death of a 67-year-old woman in her Covina assisted-living home. Sheriff's deputies assisted local law enforcement in the investigation.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

(c)2020 the Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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