Correction: A previous version of the story said Ramirez would be extradited to California but that is still being determined. The story has been corrected.
HONOLULU (KHON2) — In 1982, a 15-year-old girl from Palo Alto, California, was last seen by her boyfriend walking to a bus stop in Sunnyvale. The next morning, a truck driver making a delivery discovered her body in the bushes at the base of a blood-stained cinderblock wall. According to the detective who investigated the case, she had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 59 times.
For nearly 40 years, there were no leads in the investigation until Aug. 2 when Hawaii resident Gary Gene Ramirez was arrested in connection with the death of Karen Stitt.
Get Hawaii’s latest morning news delivered to your inbox, sign up for News 2 You
Ramirez, 75, was arrested at his home in Makawao, Maui, and will appear in court on Wednesday. He faces murder, kidnapping and rape charges. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Despite extensive investigation, there were no leads for decades. In 2000, after the advent of DNA analysis, swabs were taken from the crime scene, as well as from items collected from Stitt’s body. However, there were no matches to anyone in the system at the time.
Then in 2021, Sunnyvale DPS Detective Matt Hutchison received a tip that Stitt’s killer was likely one of four brothers from Fresno where Ramirez grew up and attended high school. After serving in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970s, he frequented or resided in the Bay Area, Colorado and Hawaii.
Early this year, Detective Hutchison found one of Ramirez’s family members on social media. DNA sample was then obtained from the family member and sent to the lab for comparison. Ramirez was identified as the likely source of blood and bodily fluid left at the crime scene. The Santa Clara County DA’s Crime Lab confirmed that identification last week.
“The genealogist said it’s one of these four brothers, and that’s when the case and our investigation shifted,” said Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker.
It took months of planning before they could arrest Ramirez on Maui. The operation was a coordinated effort between Santa Clara County, Maui and federal law enforcement authorities.
Officials said the case was unsolvable 10 years ago but advancement in DNA technology allowed this to happen.
“It’s not doing the DNA analysis anymore, because that is really cookie cutter, we have robotics doing it. We do it in batches, which makes it way more efficient,” said Kari Inda from Chaminade University Forensic Science.
The case is still an active investigation. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Detective Matthew Hutchison at 408-730-7100 or the DA’s Office Cold Case Prosecutor Rob Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out more news from around Hawaii
“We never forget, we never forget the victims and we always want to see justice for the victims, their family and their friends,” said Baker.