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Specks of Glitter Help Lead to Man Who Murdered College Student After 4th of July Fireworks
Megan Barroso had celebrated the 4th of July holiday with friends. Soon after, her car was found, but there was no sign of Megan.
Megan Barroso, a 20-year-old part-time college student in Moorpark, California, celebrated July 4, 2001 by watching fireworks with her friends.
But after she left the festivities, her rental car was found on a center median near a highway underpass.
“The vehicle was running and was unattended; there was nobody to be found in the area,” investigators told Homicide for the Holidays, airing on Oxygen True Crime.
There were five bullet holes in the car, most of them in the windshield. There was also blood on the seat, the gearshift, and the steering wheel. Megan's phone and purse were still in the vehicle, as was her sandal, according to Rick Barrios, Commander, Ventura County Sheriff's Office.
Shell casings with a green tint and a cleaning rod from a rifle were also found near her car.
Investigators scoured the area to see if Megan had crawled away from the scene or was hiding, but she was nowhere to be found.
What Happened to Megan Barroso?
Sheriffs interviewed Megan’s family, who said that she was a well-liked and kind-hearted young woman without enemies. They also interviewed her best friend, Lindsay Gross, who’d spent July 4 with Megan.
After a holiday barbecue with Lindsay’s family, she and Megan had met high school friends at Silver Strand Beach, Lindsay told police. She said a young man had flirted with Megan, who expressed her disinterest.
The fireworks display ended around 10:30 p.m. and they hung out after at a friend’s apartment. Megan turned down Lindsay’s offer to stay at her house, and she left for home around 2:45 a.m.
That was the last time she saw her.
“We knew she was injured fairly significantly because of the amount of blood we found,” said Tim Lorenzen, a retired detective with Ventura County Sheriff's Office who worked the case. “It was very important that we find her as soon as we could.”
But they couldn't find any sign of her. On July 6, sheriffs began questioning people who spent July 4 with Megan.
They all had solid alibis, including the man who’d been rebuffed by Megan.
“We were confident that he was not a suspect in the crime,” investigators said.
On July 10, when investigators got word from the car rental company that the vehicle Megan was driving was equipped with a data recorder, a device similar to a plane’s black box.
While the recorder showed that Megan was traveling at a high speed before hitting the median, presumably because she was being chased by another driver, it revealed no further useful information.
Then, nearly two weeks after Megan’s disappearance, Ventura County's ballistics team returned the results on the shell casings found at the crime scene. It enabled them to connect the shells to an AK-47 assault rifle.
Vincent Sanchez Connected to Megan Barroso Murder
Another break soon came from a separate investigation.
While detectives were looking into Megan’s disappearance, an investigation into a series of rapes and kidnappings that began in 1996 in Simi Valley was already underway. The rapist’s victims were teenage girls and young women with dark hair. These crimes were committed just 13 miles from Moorpark.
Investigators considered the possibility that the cases were linked, and Lorenzen reached out to Simi Valley police, who updated him on a recent development.
On July 26, 2001, Vincent Sanchez was arrested for burglarizing his neighbor’s house. While in custody, Sanchez had called his roommate and asked him to get rid of a bag filled with personal items. Those items turned out to be videotapes of Sanchez assaulting women.
The roommate contacted the Simi Valley Police, who confiscated the tapes. They recognized women in the recordings as victims of the Simi Valley rapist.
Lorenzen and Barrios interviewed the roommate, who mentioned that he had an AK-47 rifle, which Sanchez had taken it weeks earlier.
Ventura County sheriffs immediately saw that the cleaning rod was missing.
Shell casings with the firearm looked just like the ones found at the scene where Megan vanished.
Investigators suspected that they’d found their man.
They obtained a search warrant for the residence and for Sanchez’s truck. They found a green jacket with an orange lining — just like the one Megan was wearing when she went missing – in a trash bin outside the home. It had a bullet hole in it.
Some glitter also further confirmed their theory: When the rifle was processed, a flake of glitter was found on it. The same glitter was found on the front seat and back of Sanchez’s truck. The vehicle also showed blood in the back and on the passenger seat.
Authorities reached out to Lindsay, who recalled that she’d sprinkled Megan’s hair with red glitter on July 4. She brought the container with the glitter to detectives. Forensic analysis determined that Lindsay’s glitter was the same as the one on the gun and in the truck.
Investigators theorized that Sanchez spied Megan on the road in the early morning hours of July 5. He chased her in his truck and overtook her, then shot into her car before dragging her into his vehicle.
On August 3, a search team found a body near a dump site 15 miles from where Megan was abducted. She was identified by a claddagh ring she was wearing. The white capri pants she’d been wearing on July 4 were not there, which suggested a sexual assault may have occurred.
“Her remains were deteriorated to the extent that they couldn't do a medical legal examination,” said ela Henke-Dobroth, former chief deputy DA for Ventura County. “But during the autopsy, pixie dust was found in Megan’s hair.”
Vincent Sanchez was charged with the first-degree murder of Megan Barroso, while being held for 14 separate sexual assault charges.
As the trial approached, prosecutors decided to push for the death penalty, and proceedings began in 2003.
Lindsay testified that Megan was wearing white capris on July 4, 2001. and prosecutors argued that since those pants were not on Megan’s body, it was a strong indication that a rape occurred.
On July 29, 2003, Sanchez was found guilty of murder with special circumstances — the sexual assault. He was sentenced to death row.
Executions in California were frozen by a court order in 2006, though. Sanchez will now live out his life in prison.
To learn more about the case, watch Homicide for the Holidays, on Oxygen True Crime.