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Elderly Suspect Arrested in 1983 Cold Case of Former Teen Pageant Winner Who Was Beaten to Death
Years after she’d claimed the title of “Miss Burlingame” in a California beauty pageant as a teenager, Noelle Russo’s long-unsolved 1983 slaying made headlines.
Thanks to DNA evidence, an arrest has been made in the mysterious murder of a former teen beauty pageant winner who was clubbed to death with a piece of lumber more than 40 years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Alfredo Carretero Jr., 65, was arrested in the cold case slaying of Noelle Russo, who vanished in 1983, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced last week.
Russo was last seen alive on June 24, 1983 by a friend whose Santa Rosa house she’d stayed at that night. The friend divulged to police that Russo had shown up at her home after she’d gotten into a fight with her boyfriend.
The friend said she later drove Russo to Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa, where she had planned to take a bus back to her home in Rohnert Park. Russo was never seen again, and authorities suspected Russo had been intercepted by her assailant before she could board her bus.
Russo’s battered body was found days later by a 7-year-old boy behind a real estate office at the intersections of Petaluma Hill Road and East Cotati Ave., according to San Francisco-based news site SFGATE. Officials later determined Russo had been beaten to death with a piece of lumber taken from a nearby woodpile.
The trail of Russo’s killer, however, quickly went cold, despite police pinpointing Carretero as a person of interest in the unsolved murder.
How was Noelle Russo's alleged killer, Alfredo Carretero Jr., caught?
Between 2010 and 2023, investigators submitted multiple evidentiary items for forensic analysis at the Santa Clara County Crime Lab, as well as the Serological Research Institute. These efforts ultimately allowed investigators to link Carretero to Russo’s homicide, although officials haven’t specified what exact evidence implicated Carretero in the long-unsolved case.
“Deputies and detectives collected a significant amount of evidence during this investigation, and numerous interviews were conducted,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an October 3 statement. “Detectives developed certain persons of interest over the years, but no arrests were made.”
Carretero was taken into custody on October 2 in Lakeport after authorities obtained a warrant for his arrest. Officials noted Russo’s family had been alerted to Carretero’s arrest. It’s unknown if or how he knew Russo.
“The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office are both dedicated to justice for murder victims, whether the case is new or old,” the sheriff’s office's statement added. “The [Violent Crime Investigations] Unit continues to investigate many cold cases and relentlessly pursue justice for the victims of violent crime.”
Dominique Espinosa, the daughter of one of Russo's friends, Laura Serbin — who was one of the last people to see Russo alive — also welcomed news of Carretero's arrest. Espinosa said her mother had been with the California woman the night she vanished.
"They kind of liked to bar hop a little bit and just like anybody in the area have a little bit of fun, and that's what they were doing the night that she went missing," Espinosa told ABC7 Los Angeles. "They split up, she said Noelle may have been talking to an ex-boyfriend but she didn't think it was him that she went off with — but somehow they got separated at night and she couldn't get ahold of her the whole next day and then they of course found her."
Carretero is being held without bail at a Santa Rosa detention center, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com. His next court date is scheduled for October 18. It’s unclear if he’s retained legal representation to comment on his behalf.
"The Sheriff’s Office cold case investigations are ongoing and being reviewed by detectives on a regular basis," the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office told Oxygen.com in a statement on Tuesday. "Detectives are not only looking for additional evidence but also new, updated opportunities to analyze that evidence. As technology advances, there are more opportunities to analyze evidence that may not have been usable previously and provide answers in the hopes of bringing closure for victims loved ones."
Noelle Russo's Beauty Pageant Past
Russo grew up in San Mateo County. In 1962, at the age of 16, Russo was named “Miss Burlingame” of a local beauty pageant.
“I couldn’t have been more surprised,” Russo told the San Mateo Times after winning the beauty pageant title. “I never in the world thought I’d win. I just entered to please mother.”
According to the newspaper, Russo aspired to be a model. The newspaper reported her “favorite sport” was dancing the twist. She also enjoyed biking. A black and white photo of Russo from the pageant shows the slain beauty queen sporting a wide smile while clutching a bouquet of flowers. A bow was affixed atop her head.
Russo later married and divorced twice. She also had a son. Prior to her death, she worked a stint as a forest ranger trainee in Colorado before enrolling at Santa Rosa Junior College in the Bay Area. Russo’s loved ones described her as warm and gregarious.
“She was a real chatterbox,” one friend said in an interview with The Press Democrat, SFGATE reported. “She never stopped.”
Anyone with any information related to Russo’s murder is asked to contact the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office by calling 707-565-2185 or by submitting an anonymous tip here.