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DNA Links Long-Dead Suspect To Two Women's 1980s Cold Case Murders In Southern California

Officials confirmed that Reuben Smith is the suspect in the 1987 murder of Shannon Lloyd and the 1989 murder of Renee Cuevas. He allegedly attacked a third woman in 1998, and died by suicide after his arrest. 

By Jax Miller
Police handouts of Shannon Lloyd and Renee Cuevas

Investigators say DNA has helped close the books on two unsolved murders in California in the late 1980s.

Authorities in Orange County say investigative genetic genealogy led them to identify Reuben J. Smith as the man responsible for the 1987 murder of Shannon Rose Lloyd, 23, and the 1989 murder of Renee Cuevas, 27, per a joint statement by the City of Grove Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

“The loved ones of Renee Cuevas and Shannon Lloyd have the answers to the question they have been asking for more than three decades,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. “The justice that every victim deserves was hidden away in DNA, but with advances in IGG technology, combined with the relentless dedication of generations of detectives and the talented prosecutors and forensic scientists at the District Attorney’s Office, we now know who killed Renee and Shannon.”

 According to officials, Smith died by suicide in July 1999 at the age of 39 after being arrested in a third vicious attack.

The investigation began when Lloyd was found dead on May 21, 1987 in the bathroom of her Garden Grove rented home — about 30 miles southeast of the city of Los Angeles. A postmortem examination revealed the victim was raped and strangled to death.

The case, however, grew cold until 2003 when the Orange County Crime Lab connected DNA from Lloyd’s crime scene to DNA collected from another homicide that had occurred in Orange County in 1989.

Renee Cuevas’s body was discovered along Lambert Road, not far from the now-defunct El Toro Marine Base in Irvine, on the morning of Feb. 19, 1989. Officials have not released further details in Cuevas’ murder.

In a press conference on Monday, Garden Grove officials confirmed the suspect’s DNA found at both crime scenes was entered into federal databases, but it yielded no results, leaving Lloyd and Cuevas’ killer unknown.

In 2021 — more than three decades after the women’s murders — the Orange County District Attorney’s Investigative Genetic Genealogy team used scientific advancements to identify Reuben as a possible suspect, according to officials. Through their investigation, authorities learned that, in 1998, Smith had been arrested in Las Vegas for the rape and attempted murder of a third woman, who managed to escape. She chose to make an anonymous statement this week.

“The evil in him. I know if I didn’t fight, I was going to die,” said the woman. “It was horrible. The things that he did, the things that he said. He told me he was going to kill me.”

According to officials, DNA collected during Smith’s 1998 arrest matched the DNA found at Lloyd and Cuevas’s crime scenes. He died before he could be tried in the third woman's attack.

“Justice does not have an expiration date,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer continued. “Whether a crime happened 40 years ago or four minutes ago, the residents of Orange County can have confidence that the law enforcement in this county will not rest until justice is served.”

Officials say Smith lived in Orange County throughout the 1980s before relocating to Las Vegas. They are now looking into the possibility that he could be implicated in other cases.

Anyone with information about Smith’s activity is urged to contact Garden Grove Police Detective T. Ramirez at 1-714-741-5839 or submit a tip to Orange County Crime Stoppers at 1-855-TIP-OCCS.

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