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DNA links Southern California man to 1981 killings of 2 women: "This suspect has been hiding in plain sight for over 40 years"

68-year-old man charged for two cold case murders from 1981
68-year-old man charged for two cold case murders from 1981 03:20

A Southern California man was charged Thursday with killing two women in 1981 after DNA evidence linked him to the crimes, prosecutors announced Thursday. Tony Garcia, 68, of Oxnard appeared in court but his arraignment was continued to Feb. 23, the Ventura County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.

It wasn't immediately clear whether he had an attorney to speak on his behalf.

Rachel Zendejas, left, and Lisa Gondek  Ventura County District Attorney's Office

Garcia, a Navy veteran and former martial arts teacher, is accused of kidnapping, raping and strangling Rachel Zendejas, 20, in Camarillo in January 1981 and strangling 21-year-old Lisa Gondek in Oxnard in December 1981.

CBS Los Angeles spoke with Zendejas' older brother back in 2011.

"Everybody's very angry," said her brother Roy Rodriguez. "Nobody has really recovered."

Zendejas was found dead in a carport in Camarillo and Gondek was found in bathtub after a reported apartment fire in Oxnard, authorities said.

Investigators said the single mom of two daughters and a friend had gone out to Huntington's Night Club in Oxnard the day Zendejas was killed, CBS Los Angeles reported. Authorities believe she was attacked as she got out of her car after dropping off the babysitters. 

Investigators believed Gondek was killed by the same man after visiting the same bar as Zendajas, just nearly a year after the single mom was found dead, the station reported. 

Garcia lived for decades only a few miles away from the crime scenes until he finally was linked to the killings, authorities said.

"The fact is, this suspect has been hiding in plain sight, for over 40 years," Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said at a news conference Thursday.

In 2004, investigators determined that the same person killed the women but couldn't find a DNA match in a law enforcement database. Authorities said Garcia became a suspect in 2019 after cold case investigators turned to genealogical DNA, which compares crime scene DNA with commercial databases that might include profiles submitted by relatives of the killer.

Garcia is charged with two counts of murder with special allegations that they were multiple killings and that one involved kidnapping and rape. The District Attorney's Office hasn't decided whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

"After more than four decades, the long arm of the law has brought justice to the Gondek and Zendejas families," said Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko.

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