DNA Evidence Leads To Malibu-Area Murder Arrest

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Gladys Arellano

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 21, announcing that law enforcement had made an arrest in a brutal murder that took place nearly 25 years ago in Topanga Canyon.

In January 1996, 17-year-old Gladys Arellano was reported missing from her home in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in east Los Angeles; two days later, her body was found at the bottom of a ravine in the Topanga Canyon area.

Last week, nearly a quarter-century after Arellano’s murder, a suspect in the case—identified as Jose Luis Garcia—was arraigned at Van Nuys Courthouse. The crime was solved due to the combined efforts of the LASD, Los Angeles Police Department and U.S. Marshals.

Arellano was described as “a loving daughter, sister, aunt and godmother,” who was “intelligent [and] radiant,” by family members who also spoke at last week’s press conference.

“Beautiful Latina souls from Boyle Heights should never be forgotten,” her niece and goddaughter, Samantha Moreno, said. “Acts of violence against women should never be forgotten.”

LASD Lieutenant Hugo Reynaga described the details of the case.

“On Jan. 30, 1996, the body of an unidentified female was found 30 feet off a main road at the bottom of a ravine in the Topanga Canyon area of Malibu,” Reynaga said. The body was found to be that of Arellano, who was last seen on Jan. 28 and had been reported missing on Jan. 29, 1996.

“During the autopsy, the deputy medical examiner determined Gladys had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled to death,” Reynaga added. At the time, DNA had been collected from Arellano’s body, but no match was found in the department’s DNA database.

A break in the case occurred after a domestic violence call about one year ago, when DNA was collected from Garcia by the LAPD-Mission Division. A match was made, which was eventually confirmed with a second DNA sample collected by LASD Detective Joe Purcell following questioning of the suspect, who would have been 19 at the time of Arellano’s murder.

“Detective Purcell alerted a U.S. Marshal task force in Dallas, Texas, that Garcia had possibly relocated to Dallas after questioning,” Reynaga described. On Sept. 29, 2020, the task force successfully arrested the suspect, Garcia, now aged 43, who was then relocated to Los Angeles County and charged with Arellano’s murder. Garcia’s bail was set at $1 million.

“We want nothing more than for him to pay for his brutal crime. We recognize that this will not bring Gladys back, but we are relieved to know that there will be justice for Gladys, who would have celebrated her 42nd birthday on Saturday, Oct. 24,” Moreno said.

“It’s been tough living with not knowing who took her life,” the victim’s sister, Elizabeth Arellano, said, later adding, “Now, at this moment, it still feels—I don’t know if this is really happening or not, but we look forward to looking for justice for her.”

The sheriff’s department later offered more details about Purcell’s work as a cold case homicide detective in information shared with the press: “The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau-Unsolved Case Unit is comprised of 12 retired homicide detectives who returned to work on a part-time basis. They use their collective experience of more than 500 years to continue solving stale cases.”