Gary Gene Ramirez, a 75-year-old Hawaiian man, was arrested and charged in the 1982 rape and murder of a Palo Alto teen, the Santa Clara district attorney’s office announced on Tuesday.
Karen Stitt, 15, was waiting for a bus in Sunnyvale, California, the night of Sept. 2, 1982. She was last seen by her boyfriend who dropped her off at a bus stop.
Karen was sexually assaulted and stabbed 59 times in her neck, chest, abdomen, and back. The stab wounds to her neck ruptured her larynx, trachea, and esophagus; the 18 wounds to her chest punctured her heart; the 10 wounds pierced her lungs.
A delivery man found her body behind a cinder block wall about 100 yards away from the stop the next morning.
Despite an extensive investigation, police had no leads until receiving a tip, and Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Detective Matt Hutchison determined that Karen’s killer was likely one of four brothers from Fresno.
Sunnyvale police arrested Ramirez in his home in Maui on Aug. 2.
“Genealogy work began in 2019 building the family tree of the perpetrator. In 2021, the genealogist identified the perpetrator as one of four brothers, but couldn’t say which one. That’s when the detective began traditional investigative work to figure out which of the four brothers was the source of the crime scene evidence,” Deputy District Attorney Robert Baker said in an email obtained by the Palo Alto Weekly.
Blood and bodily fluid from the killer were discovered on Karen’s body, and a bloodstain thought to be from the killer was discovered directly above her body on top of the cinderblock wall. Karen was still breathing when her body was left at the location, as evidenced by kicked up leaves and dirt, according to a July 29 criminal complaint (pdf).
DNA found at the crime scene also shows “very strong statistical support” of a link to Ramirez. Ramirez was identified as the likely source of blood and bodily fluid left at the Karen Stitt crime scene.
According to the Santa Clara district attorney’s office, Ramirez will be charged with murder, kidnapping, and rape after being extradited. He would be sentenced to life in jail without the possibility of release if convicted.
The DA said Ramirez served in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970s. After leaving the military, Ramirez frequented or resided in the Bay Area Peninsula, San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, and Hawaii.
“Behind every old murder file in every major police department, there is a person, heartbreak, and a mystery,” Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen said. “The mystery of Karen Stitt’s death has been solved thanks to advances in forensic science and a detective that would never, ever give up.”