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Orange County Team Has its First Cold-Case Arrest

carla photoCarla Salazar, a phone operator, lived alone in her Santa Ana apartment, where she was stabbed to death in June 1989.

After the killing, a man named Douglas Gutridge, 37 at the time, contacted detectives upon reading articles in the Register, claiming he wanted to help. Gutridge said he was the last person to see the 35-year-old transgender woman alive, Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas said.

“As the homicide detectives conducted their investigation, the case did go cold,” Rojas said. “No suspects were identified.”

It would become one of the roughly 1,000 cold-case homicides in Orange County. It’s also the first one to result in an arrest by the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force, formed in July. Santa Ana police on Thursday announced the arrest of Gutridge.

Detectives who investigate cold cases are often limited by insufficient budgets, large caseloads, time constraints and staffing.

The 22 homicide detectives from the Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Anaheim police departments and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department make up the new unit to more efficiently share information and resources.

The task force will launch a website in the coming weeks showing more information about current cold cases and will use modern crime lab technology and DNA testing methods to investigate old cases and find suspects.

As in the case of Salazar.

In 2008, detectives sent evidence to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab that turned out to be that of an unidentified male. Gutridge volunteered his DNA. In March 2009, Santa Ana police said the results of DNA testing placed him inside Salazar’s apartment at 1609 N. Bush St. The evidence was not enough to arrest him.

The new task force decided to make Salazar’s case among its first.

Using heightened DNA technology, forensic scientists at the crime lab were not only able to put Salazar inside the apartment, but also show that he placed his hands on her body.

“The ability of the crime lab to make the connection was the significant break in the case that led to an arrest and an ability to prosecute,” Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said at a news conference Thursday.

article_gutridgeGutridge, now 63, was arrested at his home in Lodi on suspicion of killing Salazar.

Salazar’s co-worker and friend Christine McFadden, 60, was tearful when she talked about her slain “sister” who made everyone laugh.

“I never thought they’d come to a conclusion,” she said during the news conference. “When I got that call from detectives, hope came into my heart. But I won’t be completely at peace until he’s put away.”

Salazar’s friend and former husband, Robert Dougherty, 60, received a call from detectives on Wednesday. He thought he was just getting some new updates and information.

Instead, he learned of the arrest.

It’s a relief,” Dougherty said. “I want other families to be able to feel that too.”

 

 

Courtesy of Alma Fausto, Orange County Register

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