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DNA Evidence Leads To Arrest In 32-Year-Old Castro Valley John Doe Baby Homicide

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A 52-year-old Salida woman has been charged with killing her newborn baby boy, whose body was dumped in the bushes along side a Castro Valley Road in 1988, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department announced Monday.

Alameda County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said that Lesa Lopez of Salida, Calif., was being held in Santa Rita jail on a single count of murder after DNA linked her to the case.

The death had remained unsolved until recent advances in DNA technology gave investigators hope of locating a suspect.

Alameda County investigators enlisted the help of a private DNA laboratory out of Oklahoma City and the FBI in 2019. Using their technology, investigators began searching through publicly available genealogy sites which allow law enforcement usage and found a possible match.

Nearly a year later, after conducting extensive genealogy research, physical surveillance, and through DNA analysis of surreptitiously obtained discarded trash, investigators identified DNA evidence linking Lopez to the DNA evidence found at the crime scene.

On July 16, cold case investigators obtained a warrant for Lopez's arrest for murder. On July 23, investigators contacted Lopez at her residence and spoke with her about the case.

Lopez, who was 20 years old resident of Castro Valley at the time of the incident, told investigators she hid the pregnancy from her family and friends and provided details of what occurred on May 15, 1988.

The arrest brings some closure in the case that began at 5:30 p.m. on that May day. Two young juveniles were walking north on "old" Madison Avenue, just north of Seaview Avenue, in Castro Valley when they made a grim discovery.

At the top of an embankment of a nearby creek, amongst the trees and bushes, the pair discovered the lifeless body of a new-born baby boy found inside a bag.

Medical personal responded to the scene, as did Alameda County sheriff's deputies. The Alameda County Fire Department subsequently pronounced the baby dead at the scene.

Based on evidence found at the scene, investigators suspected the baby was the victim of homicide. An autopsy later revealed the baby was alive at birth and was in fact the victim of homicide. Without an identification, investigators referred to the victim as Baby John Doe.

In the days and weeks following the discovery of Baby John Doe, investigators contacted local hospitals, provided press releases, and conducted follow-up investigation in an effort to identify the mother of the victim, but were unsuccessful.

Evidence was processed by the ACSO Crime Laboratory in an attempt to help identify a suspect, but no suspect information was developed at the time.

Several news outlets, including The Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Oakland Tribune, wrote articles about the case, with each one of them urging anyone with information to come forward and contact investigators. Tips that came in were followed up on, but no viable leads into the identity of the mother or killer were developed.

The case went cold for 17 years, until 2005 when DNA evidence was identified from the crime scene by the ACSO Crime Laboratory. A female DNA profile was identified and entered into the national Combined DNA Index System, but there were no hits to an offender. Investigators believed the unidentified female DNA profile belonged to the mother of Baby John Doe, who was also a suspect in the case.

The DNA profile remained in CODIS, with no hits until the summer of 2019 when cold case investigators re-opened the case.

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