A quarter-century after her nude body was found in the brush alongside a rural Fort Bragg road, the death of 20-year-old Georgina Pacheco finally has been solved.
DNA evidence last week implicated Pacheco's brother-in-law, Robert James Parks, then 27, a commercial fisherman who committed suicide 10 years after Pacheco's death by tying himself to a boat in Southern California, then sinking it.
"It's no longer an unsolved," Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said Tuesday during a news conference held to announce the conclusion of the case.
Pacheco's family is thankful but does not wish to comment, he said.
This is the third Mendocino County cold case in 10 years to be resolved with newer DNA technology, said Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Caudillo. About another 20 Mendocino County homicides dating to the 1960s remain unsolved, he said.
Pacheco's body was found by a man walking his dog Sept. 10, 1988, 10 days after she disappeared. An orange and black nylon cord was tied around her neck with an intricate, fishing-type knot, she had blunt force injuries to her head and she had been raped, law enforcement officials said. She was found wearing only one shoe, officials said.
Parks was the last person known for certain to have been seen with Pacheco before she disappeared. He had picked her up to give her a ride home from her job at a restaurant, but without definitive evidence detectives were forced to pursue other leads, including some that Parks apparently fabricated to throw investigators off his trail, officials said.
Parks was a longtime suspect in the homicide, but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him, and he passed a polygraph test, officials said.
Vaginal swabs taken from the victim proved inconclusive for blood type — the only result possible at that time — and the tests required that all the cotton from the swabs be used, reducing the chances of further testing.
"They needed very large quantities" back then, said state Department of Justice Senior Criminalist Meghan Mannion-Gray, who worked on the case.
But evidence technicians in 1988 preserved everything they had left, and DNA science has since made great strides.
Mannion-Gray said she was able to swab the wooden stick portion of the original swabs, where she found additional DNA.
The justice department laboratory in Richmond then was able to compare that DNA to samples taken from Park's daughter and wife, Mannion-Gray said.
The tests essentially determined the paternity of the daughter and then revealed a match of that DNA to the 25-year-old semen sample, she said.
Sheriff's investigators were dogged, never giving up on the case over all those years, Allman said.
"This case has never been bookshelved," he said.
Susan Massini, the district attorney at the time of Pacheco's death, said that the case has troubled her for years and that she's relieved it has been resolved.
"I'm so glad the family finally has an answer," she said.