Gladys Arellano: 25 years after LA teen was raped and brutally murdered, DNA match leads to suspect's arrest

Gladys Arellano: 25 years after LA teen was raped and brutally murdered, DNA match leads to suspect's arrest
Gladys Arellano (LA County Sheriff's Dept)

Los Angeles County Sheriff's detectives on Wednesday announced the arrest of Jose Luis Garcia, 42, in connection with the sexual assault and murder of 17-year-old Gladys Arellano, a case that's reportedly been cold for almost a quarter of a century. On January 20, 1996, the body of an unidentified woman was discovered at the bottom of a ravine in the Topanga Canyon area of Malibu. Investigators immediately suspected sexual assault after noting that the body was partially clothed, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The body was soon identified as that of Gladys Arellano, 17, who was reported missing by her family after they last saw her two days earlier at her home in Boyle Heights. Arellano had been sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled to death, an autopsy later determined. “At the time of the initial murder investigation, serology evidence was collected from Glady’s body, and subsequently a DNA profile was uploaded into state and federal DNA databases as an unknown offender,” said Lt Hugo Reynaga at a press conference on Wednesday, October 21.

For over two decades, homicide investigators weren't able to get much further and the case remained unsolved. Luis Garcia, the accused killer, was arrested in November 2019 for domestic assault, and his DNA sample matched the DNA taken from Arellano's body in 1996. After facing several hurdles over the years, the case was ultimately solved by Detective Joe Purcell of the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau Unsolved Case Unit, which has 12 retired homicide investigators who work part-time solving murder cases by incorporating the latest technologies and using anonymous tips.

Purcell obtained a search warrant to get an oral swab from Garcia when detectives questioned him earlier this year, and sent the DNA sample for forensic testing. The processing was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and authorities learned that Garcia had moved to Dallas in the meantime. He was arrested by federal law enforcement in Texas last month after his DNA again matched the 1996 case.

“I definitely felt anger now that we have a face and a name...,” Elizabeth Arellano said of her sister’s killing, according to Los Angeles Times. Samantha Moreno, the victim's niece and goddaughter, spoke for the family at a news conference on October 21 with LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. "Gladys was only 17 when she was murdered ... [S]he had such big dreams for her life ... [I]t was extremely painful for us to lose her and live through 24-and-a-half-years of not knowing who killed her," Moreno said. "We are pleased to know that Jose Luis Garcia has been taken off the streets after 24-and-a-half years. We want nothing more than for him to pay for his brutal crime."

"We recognize that this will not bring Gladys back but we are relieved to know that there will be justice for Gladys Arellano, who would have celebrated her 42nd birthday on Saturday, October 24," she added. “Recognizing her life is important. Beautiful souls from Boyle Heights should never be forgotten. Acts of violence against women should never be forgotten.”

Following Garcia's arrest, he was extradited to California last week and arraigned for Arellano's murder on October 19. The suspect is currently remanded in custody in lieu of a $1 million bail.

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