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Placentia cold-case murder suspect arrested in Las Vegas

November 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police made a cold-case arrest nearly 16 years after an Orange County woman was found dead in the trunk of her car. Investigators always suspected her roommate, who vanished. But he was arrested Wednesday hundreds of miles away from the scene of the crime, hiding in plain sight.

Sixteen years after Mary Ann O'Neill's murder, her family shared a moment with Placentia Police as an arrest was finally made after years of uncertainty.

"This is a wonderful day but it's bittersweet also, because we still don't have our mom," said O'Neill's daughter, Kelly Gaughran. "But at least someone is going to pay for what's been done."

Raymundo Pereda, 70, was arrested. He rented a room in O'Neill's home in Placentia for a year and a half. He moved out a month before her murder in 1995.

O'Neill was reported missing on November 16, 1995. Soon after, police discovered the 53-year-old's car in a Placentia parking lot. Officers found her body in the trunk. Authorities said she died of blunt-force trauma to the head.

Pereda was wanted for questioning.

Police tried to track down Pereda, but the case went cold until detectives submitted his driver's license thumbprint into a national crime database last June. They got a hit with a 2006 Las Vegas drunken-driving arrest of a man named Efran Castro.

"Not only was Pereda living under an assumed name, but he had adopted a different date of birth and had a Social Security number," said Placentia Police Chief Rick Hicks.

Investigators say Pereda was working as a carpenter in Las Vegas for more than 10 years. Police arrested him as he pulled into his driveway.

"We've never been the same, I will say that," said Gaughran. "It has changed our lives, it has changed who we are."

"It's a good day. They really put a lot of time into this case and I can't thank them enough," said another of O'Neill's daughters, Karen DeVaughn.

"We always believed it was him," said Gaughran.

Neither the family or police will talk about the motive, but for one sergeant on the case from the start, Pereda's capture helps bring some closure.

"I don't think there's been a day in my life since this case happened that I haven't given it some thought," said Placentia Police Sgt. Scott Audiss.

Detectives brought Pereda back to Orange County Wednesday. His bail is set at $1 million.

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