Karen Stitt was last seen alive on September 2, 1982. She spent the evening in Sunnyvale, California with her boyfriend – at a mini golf course and playing video games at 7-Eleven.
Stitt had been out until almost midnight, when she caught a late-night bus home to Palo Alto, about 10 miles away. But after her boyfriend dropped her off near a bus stop – as he was rushing home before curfew – Stitt was kidnapped, raped and stabbed at least 60 times. Her naked body was left behind by a barrier wall 100 feet from the bus stop, her wrists tied behind her back by her own shirt, court documents said.
For nearly four decades, California authorities have struggled to solve her murder. No suspects and few clues could lead detectives to identify one.
But justice for Stitt’s loved ones may finally have arrived this week, when the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that the alleged teen killer had been arrested in Hawaii.
Gary Ramirez, 75, was detained at his home in Maui last week. He now faces murder, kidnapping and rape charges, a criminal complaint affidavit filed in California said.
“Behind every old murder record in every major police department, there is a person, heartbreak, and mystery,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “The mystery of Karen Stitt’s death has been solved thanks to advances in forensic science and a detective who never gives up.”
That detective, Matthew Hutchison, received a tip in 2021 that “Rose Aguilera Ramirez’s son” had killed Stitt, and began stalking all four of her sons, court documents said. He uses newspaper announcements about family obituaries, online census databases, and Facebook posts to locate family members.
Hutchinson downplayed the four brothers to Gary Ramirez and another as a potential suspect. Next, the detective found Ramirez’s grandchildren on Facebook and received their DNA for testing blood and other bodily fluids found at the scene of Stitt’s murder.
That DNA, sent to a lab in April, came back as a match last week, with Gary Ramirez as the suspected killer.
Local officials in Santa Clara and Maui Counties teamed up with federal law enforcement to find Ramirez and arrest him August 2.
Ramirez, who officials say is an Air Force veteran, now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said the operation was primarily funded by a grant given by the US Department of Justice last year to investigate cold cases.