The brutal rape and murder of a California teenager, whose body was dumped in a canyon in 1996, baffled authorities and the woman’s family for decades, until DNA led detectives to her alleged killer this year.
On Jan. 30, 1996, Gladys Arellano’s partially clothed corpse was found in Topanga Canyon. The 17-year-old had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Her family had reported her missing a day earlier, according to county authorities.
At the time, detectives, who conducted an “extensive investigation,” were unable to catch her killer, and for nearly a quarter-century her slaying went cold. Late last year, however, investigators received their first breakthrough in the case in years.
In November 2019, Los Angeles police arrested Jose Luis Garcia on a domestic assault charge. A DNA sample taken from Garcia later matched a profile collected from Arellano’s body in 1996, according to authorities. Police later questioned Garcia in the teen’s disappearance and collected another DNA sample from him, which they said was also found to be a match.
Garcia, who was 19 at the time of Arellano’s murder, reportedly lived in “close proximity” to the teenager’s family, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Garcia later fled Los Angeles. He was arrested by a fugitive task force in Dallas, Texas on Sept. 29 and was extradited back to California. Garcia, 43, was arraigned on murder charges in connection to Arellano’s murder in a Los Angeles County Superior Court in Van Nuys on Oct. 19. Garcia is being held on a $1 million bail, authorities said.
“This case is typical of the type of cases that the unsolved detectives are faced with on a daily basis,” Lt. Hugo Reynaga of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. “We are gratified that we were successful in bringing this tragic case to a close.”
Arellano’s family, who described the late teen as a “beautiful soul,” appeared alongside county authorities at the news conference.
“We are pleased to know that Jose Luis Garcia has been taken off the streets,” Samantha Moreno, Arellano’s niece and goddaughter said. “We want nothing more than for him to pay for his brutal crime. We recognize that this will not bring Gladys back, but we are relieved to know that there will be justice for Gladys.”
Had she still been alive, Arellano would have turned 42 on Oct. 24, her family said.
“Recognizing her life is important,” Moreno said. “Acts of violence against women should never be forgotten.”
Arellano’s sister, Elizabeth, also said Garcia’s arrest has brought their family some closure.
“It was very painful for everyone to lose her and to wait 24-and-a-half years without knowing who robbed her of life,” Elizabeth Arellano, said in Spanish.
She described the long-awaited moment as “quite surreal.”
“It still feels — I don’t know if this is really happening or not — but I look forward to justice,”
There are roughly 15,000 unsolved cold case murders in Los Angeles County, according to KNBC.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.