Riverside County sheriff's use new technology to ID victim in 1996 cold case; hope to solve crime

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Friday, June 30, 2023
Riverside County sheriff's use new tech to ID victim in 1996 cold case
Riverside County Sheriff's detectives have been able to identify the victim in a 1996 cold case that has left investigators puzzled for decades. Now with the murder victim's identity, her family hopes to find their mother's killer.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- It's a cold case murder that's mystified Riverside County sheriff's detectives and investigators for more than 26 years: The death of a woman whose body was dumped alongside the 60 freeway in the remote hills of an area east of Moreno Valley known as the Badlands.

Not only have investigators been unable to solve the crime, but until recently they were unable to even identify the female victim.

"She didn't have a driver's license or anything else that had her name on it," said Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin. "And so really the investigators had nothing to go on."

But Hestrin said thanks to new technology, they've finally been able to identify the victim. The break came by using familial genealogical databases to analyze DNA taken from the original crime scene.

"We got a hit and by process of elimination we identified who she was," said Hestrin, who said by running the DNA through the database it identified several likely family members of the victim.

"You get relatives; that's why it's called genealogical forensic DNA. You get relatives or close relatives that come together and that gives the detectives a lead," said Hestrin

Armed with that information, investigators reached out to family members and got a break: family members said their mother, Juana Rosas-Zagal of Los Angeles, went missing some time before the body was discovered.

Now, by publicizing her name, Hestrin hopes that people who may have known her back in the mid-nineties will come forward with information that helps them solve the case.

"She was (in her) early 40's; she was a resident of Los Angeles. We do know that she worked as a seamstress, perhaps in the garment district of Los Angeles. But beyond that we don't have much information," he said.

Hestrin said it's possible that someone Rosas-Zagal was dating at the time might have information on her disappearance.

"Maybe someone that she was dating has information. Maybe someone has information about who she was dating. We want to question that person," he said.

Hestrin said as painful as it was to deliver the news to Rosas-Zagal's four daughters that her body had been identified, at least it provides information that helps give them closure.

"For all these years they just didn't know. There had been rumors that she had just left and gone to Mexico and they had lived with that all these years," said Hestrin. "Now they know for sure that's not what happened."

But one of the victim's family members told Eyewitness News that they hope now her mother's killer can be found and put behind bars.

"I really really want to know who killed my mother, and I really really wish that he can be in prison," the victim's daughter said.