Arrest Made in 1996 Topanga Canyon Murder

Pictured, from left: Lieutenant Hugo Reynaga; Elizabeth Arellano, Gladys' sister; and Samantha Moreno, Gladys' niece and goddaughter

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 21, announcing that they 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; two days later, her body was found at the bottom of a ravine in the Topanga Canyon area.

This 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, LAPD 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 the 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.

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.

“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 42, who was then relocated to Los Angeles County and charged with Arellano’s murder.

“We are pleased that there will be justice for Gladys Arellano, 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.”