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20 Years Later, Refrigerator Lady's Murder Still Baffles San Joaquin County Investigators

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) — It's one of the most baffling cold cases ever to hit Northern California—a woman was found gagged, with her hands taped in a refrigerator.

More than 20 years later, a soft breeze whispers through the Delta Canal as nearby fields sit dry and dusty with no crop. It's a fitting landscape for the mystery that still haunts the quiet slice of San Joaquin County.

The victim's body was found on March 29, 1995, stuffed inside a refrigerator.

Det. John Huber described her as a white female with curly strawberry blonde hair, standing about 5'8."

More than 20 years have passed since he stood where scavenger hunters would drag the muddy refrigerator to shore.

"The refrigerator was just probably half way out and they drug it all the way past to this place," he said.

Huber thought he's have her identified in the first week.

"A week became a month, a month became a years, and now here it's 20 years later and we still don't have a name on her," he said.

They had a wide approximate age, between 29 and 41 years old, and they could tell she died from blunt force trauma to the head. They also had plenty to work with from the scene, including jewelry in her pocket and what she had on her feet.

"The socks were multi-colored blue black and they had toes in them, and I had never seen socks that had toes in them," he said.

Over those socks were expensive hiking boots.

"There were $100 boots, and they had hardly been worn. The soles were brand-new on the bottoms," he said.

Her Levi cutoffs were also fairly new, leading Huber to think this was no street person. The diamond ring still on her finger likely meant it wasn't a robbery gone bad.

Huber traced the refrigerator to a manufacturer back east and found it was sold in Oakland. The ice was sold to liquor stores and bait shops near Discovery Bay and the Antioch area. Five small milk cartons were the type only sold to schools and correctional institutions somewhere in the East Bay.

"I know where the Glacier Ice was made, I know where the Crystal Milk was delivered—the little cartons only sold to institutions," he said.

Yet she still has no name.

Her attire gives an image of a free spirit perhaps attending concerts and festivals in the area who simply ran into the wrong people.

DNA evidence and dental records didn't turn up much. Lifting fingerprints was never an option.

"Water is a really bad thing for homicide cases," he said.

Huber thinks the woman had been entombed in the refrigerator underwater for several months leading to a state of body decomposition called adipocere.

"It's kind of where the body turns to soap—she was almost like styrofoam. She was hard to the touch," he said.

It's been a hard case to let go.

Huber, long into his retirement, hasn't abandoned who he respectfully refers to as his "refrigerator lady."

He's even in touch with other law enforcement agencies. Even more recent cases like the kidnapping and discovery of Jaycee Lee Dugard have been investigated by Huber to see if there could be any connection to the people behind that crime and his unnamed murder victim.

"I contacted them I thought this could be a child that they kidnapped a long time ago, and he outgrew his fantasies and his sickness and they needed to get rid of her," he said.

That wouldn't be the case.

For now, he holds onto his hand-scribbled notes as a symbol of the hope he won't ever let go.

"If we get a name on this gal, I really believe that we'll solve it," he said.

If you have information on this case, contact the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department.

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