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Crime News Breaking News

California Man Charged In ‘Horrific’ Murder Of Autistic Woman Found Hanging From Tree

Emma Roarke disappeared from her Rancho Cordova residence in January, and her body was found at a homeless encampment along the river days later. 

By Jax Miller
Emma Roark Pd

A man has been charged with the “horrific” murder of an autistic woman whose partially nude body was discovered hanging from a tree in northern California.

Emma Roark, 20, was reported missing by family members just hours after she left her Rancho Cordova residence — about 10 miles east of Sacramento — on Jan. 27, according to the Rancho Cordova Police Department. Authorities from multiple agencies participated in a four-day search for Roark, and eventually found her body in a secluded area near the El Manto River Access north of town.

Her remains were found about a half-mile from her family’s home, in an area where she frequently took walks, according to an arrest warrant cited by NBC News. Her partially nude body was bound by rope, wrapped in a series of tarps and raised towards tree branches off the ground.

Her cause of death was strangulation, according to NBC News.

On Tuesday, the district attorney’s office announced that they had charged Mikilo Morgan Rawls, 37, with Roark’s murder. Prosecutors also added “special circumstances” to the charge — which includes kidnap, rape, sodomy and the possibility that Roark was bound or tied during the sexual assault — making it a capital murder case.

Criminalists with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office matched evidence from the victim to “a known profile of Rawls,” according to a statement from the district attorney’s office, allowing the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office to obtain an arrest warrant for Rawls and detain him on Friday.

According to police, Rawls is a transient from Sacramento County. Prosecutors noted that he had a previous conviction in 2018 for first-degree burglary.

Mikilo Morgan Rawls Pd

The area where Roark's body was discovered has long served as an encampment for hundreds of unhoused people with few other options, and the presence of the camp is a longstanding source of discord between the people who utilize the space for housing and the advocates seeking their removal, as reported by The Sacramento Bee.

Two days after Roark’s disappearance, an unnamed man reportedly brought Roark’s mobile phone to investigators. He claimed Rawls sold it to him — after telling the witness not to say where he got it from — according to the arrest warrant. Rawls later told detectives he purchased the phone from someone else and denied ever seeing or meeting Roark.

The man who purchased Roark’s phone from Rawls allegedly also called the victim’s father and told him that Rawls sold him Roark’s phone, according to NBC affiliate KCRA.

While Roark was still missing, her family had created a GoFundMe page announcing that she was “at risk with autism.” In court documents obtained by CBS Sacramento, the family claimed Roark as “high-functioning” but not fully equipped to pick up on social cues.

“This type of violent crime tears at the fabric of community safety,” said Chief Deputy Jim Barnes of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. 

“The circumstances of this murder are horrific, and our sympathies go out to Emma Roark’s family,” said District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. 

Rawls was booked into the Sacramento County Main Jail last Friday, according to jail records. He is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Rancho Cordova Police Department at 916-362-5115 or leave an anonymous tip at www.sacsheriff.com.