Hawaii man arrested in Karen Stitt murder cold case in California

Authorities in Northern California have arrested a 75-year-old Hawaiian man in connection with the rape and murder of a teenager in Sunnyvale nearly 40 years ago, using forensic genealogy to identify the suspect from his family tree.

Gary Ramirez was arrested Aug. 2 at his home in Makawao on the island of Maui, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday. Upon extradition, he faces charges of murder with rape and kidnapping under special circumstances, and is armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon while committing a crime.

Karen Stitt, 15, of Palo Alto was last seen on the night of September 2, 1982. She and her 17-year-old boyfriend met at a 7-Eleven just before 9 p.m., went to a miniature golf course, and continued on to Ponderosa Elementary School, according to Sunnyvale Det. Matthew Hutchison.

Hutchison’s testimony was attached to the indictment documents filed against Ramirez. Stitt’s then-boyfriend has not been identified.

Around midnight, Stitt’s boyfriend took her back from school to the area near the supermarket so she could catch a bus back to Palo Alto, Hutchison said.

The friend “later told police he felt bad for leaving her alone, but he didn’t want to get in trouble with his parents for being late for home,” the statement said.

Around 10:45 a.m. the next morning, a truck driver discovered what he believed to be the naked body of a woman lying in the bushes at the base of a concrete block retaining wall along the entrance to the Woolworth Garden Center, where he was making a delivery, Hutchison said.

Stitt’s wrists were bound with her shirt behind her back, her jacket was tied around her left ankle, and a bloodstain was found on the cinder block wall just above her body.

A coroner found she had been stabbed 59 times in the neck, chest, abdomen and back, Hutchison said. The cause of death was determined to be “stab wounds to the chest and neck.”

Stitt’s body was found about 100 yards from the bus stop, and investigators found leaves and dirt around her feet being moved and kicked, “suggesting she was alive when her body was taken there.” said Hutchison.

An extensive investigation failed to identify a suspect, and the case went cold for 20 years.

By 2000, DNA analysis technology allowed investigators to create a suspect’s genetic profile from a sample taken from the bloodstain on the concrete block wall, Hutchison said. Swabs from the crime scene, as well as items collected from Stitt’s body, were also sent to the Santa Clara County Crime Lab.

Investigators found that an unknown man’s DNA, taken from the sample on the wall, matched the profile for DNA found on Stitt’s jacket and from sperm found on vaginal sections taken during her autopsy became.

A DNA sample from Stitt’s then-boyfriend didn’t match, and he was ruled out as a suspect, the detective said. No matches were found after the unknown profile was checked against a national DNA crime database.

Hutchison said that in 2021 he received a tip that a male member of the Ramirez family may have killed Stitt, beginning his genealogical search.

U.S. census records and other public databases showed that the family lived in Fresno, about 160 miles from Sunnyvale, as early as 1950, according to the detective.

Hutchison found that there were four living Ramirez brothers; Further investigation ruled out two of the brothers, and he couldn’t definitively rule out a third, leading him to focus on Gary Ramirez.

In early March, Hutchison took to social media to identify Ramirez’s daughter, and he “received” a sample of her DNA on April 8. Court documents did not say how the detective got hold of the sample.

Investigators found “very strong statistical support” linking DNA from Ramirez’s daughter to unknown male DNA from the Stitt crime scene, the detective said, identifying Ramirez as the prime suspect. Hawaii man arrested in Karen Stitt murder cold case in California

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