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DNA helps identify woman found buried in Southern California desert in 1994 but "mystery" remains unsolved

Tracing family trees to catch killers
Tracing family trees to catch killers 01:56

A woman found dead and partially buried in the Southern California desert nearly three decades ago has been identified after her DNA was matched with one of her surviving children, prosecutors said. The Riverside County District Attorney's Office announced Monday that the remains belonged to Patricia Cavallaro, 57, of Bellflower.

The victim in a 1994 cold case death has been identified through a DNA sample. On Oct. 24, 1994, a female was found...

Posted by Riverside County District Attorney's Office on Monday, January 3, 2022

"Without the use of forensic genealogy, this victim may have never been identified," the DA's office said in a statement.

Investigators with the county's Regional Cold Case Homicide Team now hope to solve her murder.

Senior Investigator Mike Thompson told the Desert Sun that the lack of evidence near where the woman was found indicated she had likely been killed elsewhere and buried in the desert. Sheriff's deputies found the remains on Oct. 24, 1994, near the community of Thousand Palms.

"How she got from Bellflower to Thousand Palms is a mystery," Thompson told the Desert Sun.

Officials said Cavallaro's remains are among about 700 the cold case team hopes can be identified if more people who are missing a relative contribute DNA profiles to databases investigators can access.

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