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Law enforcement officials in California signaled last week the end to the mystery that has baffled investigators and locals alike surrounding the unidentified corpse of a woman who was likely stabbed to death in 2003.
The Mono County District Attorney announced on August 13 that it had placed Diego Santiago Hernandez-Antonia, 47, under arrest and was holding him without bond for the murder of Isabel Sanchez Bernal, who was 30 years old at the time of her disappearance.
The Puebla, Mexico woman, whose skull was discovered in May 2003 by a man walking his dog by the Shady Rest Campground near Mammoth Lake, was only recently identified through DNA technology.
After Bernal's skull was discovered, investigators found the rest of her remains buried nearby in a shallow grave, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times. Her body was wrapped in tattered plastic bags; investigators said they believed she'd been there for at least one winter.
According to a file with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, Bernal's body was found with a single gold hoop earring, a silver and gold water resistant Jaclyn Smith brand watch from Kmart, size 1/2 jeans from the Watch LA brand, a black lace bra with a red rosette in the middle, an off-white shirt with a lace section, and a blue fleece jacket in a women's size small. Investigators determined that she was fairly short, and she'd carried at least one pregnancy to term before her death.
Originally, employees at the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Center told police — who disseminated the tip — that they were concerned the body belonged to an Asian woman who approached them in October 2002, according to the LA Times. They said the woman had indicated to employees that she was a mail-order bride who was being physically abused by her husband; they had given her information about a woman's shelter while her husband had been inquiring about campgrounds in the area — including the one where the originally unidentified body was found.
The tip did not pan out for investigators.
In 2006, the LA Times reported that Mammoth Lake investigator Sgt. Paul Dostie was attempting to use then-cutting edge forensic techniques to identify Bernal's remains, working with two anthropologists, two DNA analysts and, a stable-isotope geochemist from Canada and forensic skull reconstruction.
One of the scientists Dostie contacted determined that Bernal had Native American ancestry; another performed a second autopsy and determined that she had been stabbed; a third narrowed her ancestry to Mexico or Central America; a fourth placed her in southern Mexico as a child; then, a fifth scientist found a potential genetic match to her on Oaxaca.
Dostie retired from the Mammoth Lake police force before Bernal was identified.
The Mono County district attorney is still seeking more information in the case following Hernandez-Antonia's arrest. It is unclear if he has an attorney to speak on his behalf.
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