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Suspect arrested in 1982 cold case murder of Palo Alto High student Karen Stitt

Suspect arrested in 1982 cold case murder of Palo Alto High student Karen Stitt
Suspect arrested in 1982 cold case murder of Palo Alto High student Karen Stitt 02:47

SUNNYVALE -- Using the latest advances in DNA technology, Sunnyvale cold case investigators announced Tuesday they have arrested a suspect in the September 1982 murder of 15-year-old Palo Alto High student Karen Stitt.

"I believe we have a responsibility to these victims no matter how old the case is," says Det. Matt Hutchison with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety.

Detectives said 75-year-old Gary Gene Ramirez was arrested on Aug. 2 at his current place of residence in the town of Makawao on the island of Maui.

Gary Gene Ramirez Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety

For nearly forty years, Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Detectives  investigated all potential leads related to the case.

In 2000, a DNA profile was obtained from physical evidence at the crime scene and run through CODIS, the FBI's national database, by SDPS. But there were no matches.

Utilizing a new investigative technique known as forensic genealogy, detectives eventually identified Ramirez as the primary suspect.

"Basically, what you do is build a family tree. You start with this DNA sample and the genealogist and the detective built out an entire family tree," said Rob Baker with the Cold Case Unit within the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

Ramirez' DNA has since matched evidence located at the crime scene. He is currently awaiting extradition back to Santa Clara County where he will face charges of first-degree murder with special circumstances.

Karen Stitt Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office

According to the district attorney's website, Stitt had recently moved to the South Bay from Pittsburgh who was easing into the social life of Palo Alto High in 1982.

She frequently road El Camino Real bus routes to and from her boyfriend's in Sunnyvale.

Sept. 4, 1982 was a Saturday, and Karen and her boyfriend were hanging out late, playing some video games at a 7-Eleven. Toward midnight they wandered over toward Golfland, a popular putt-putt course.

The teenager was wearing a leather jacket, a striped shirt, pants, and her boyfriend's baseball hat with a Rush rock band insignia.

A delivery man found her body the next day. Thrown over a four-foot wall near the now-gone Honey Bee Restaurant, Karen's naked body was bound with her own clothing. The hat lay nearby. She had been stabbed more than 60 times.

"The violent nature of this crime has always led me to believe that there could be other victims out there either before this case or after this case. And so that's my focus now," Det. Hutchison said.

A machinist working late that night noticed an unusual and out-of-place truck. It was white, an old-fashioned panel truck with a stripe along its side. There was a rectangular sticker on its bumper. It was parked near where Karen's body was later found. Its parking lights were on.

The case is still an active investigation. Anyone with additional information about this case is asked to contact Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Detective Matthew Hutchison at 408-730-7100.  

Devin Fehely contributed to this story.

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