'Lady in the fridge': Woman killed 27 years ago is finally identified through DNA evidence
In March 1995, the body of a young woman was found inside a refrigerator partially submerged in an irrigation canal in the San Joaquin County community of Holt.
Investigators said the woman had been "entombed" underwater for several months, leading to "an advanced state of decomposition."
There were signs that the victim had suffered some type of blunt force that led authorities to rule her death a homicide, the San Joaquin Sheriff's Office said in a news release. They did not elaborate on the cause of death.
For nearly three decades, the "lady in the fridge," as she was dubbed by investigators, went unidentified and the case went cold.
But using DNA evidence, authorities late last month finally got the break they needed and were able to identify the woman: Amanda Lynn Schumann Deza, a Bay Area mother of three who was 29 at the time of her death.
"Our team was so excited when we were able to get results from DNA, identify her and her family members, and we were able to reach out to them," Sheriff Patrick Withrow said at a news conference last week.
Using investigative genealogy, a combination of DNA analysis and genealogy and historical records, the Sheriff's Office was able to develop leads that put them in touch with family members who confirmed Deza's identity.
Officials are hoping that Deza's identification can help lead investigators to her killer.
"It gives us a place to start," Lt. Linda Jimenez said. "It's kind of hard to investigate who killed someone if you don't know who [the victim is].
"Once you have identified them .... you can dive into their lives and get all the details of what was going on [in] their life during that time frame," Jimenez said. "That usually leads us to who was responsible for taking their life."
Investigators said Deza was separated from her husband at the time of her death. She was last seen at an apartment complex in Napa with a person she had met at a rehabilitation facility, the Sheriff's Office said.
No missing persons report was filed, Jimenez said at the news conference.
Her family looked for her and was "concerned for her welfare" but "didn't get very far," Jimenez said.
"She was a 30-year-old woman and out on her own and had her own life, and so the family just didn't know," Withrow said.
"She was involved in some challenging times," Jimenez said, "and we're hopeful Amanda was on her path to handle those challenges and make her life a lot better."
The Sheriff's Office has asked for the public's help in resolving the decades-old homicide case.
"It all starts with people trying to get us those pieces of the puzzles of her life — where she was, who she was with and what she was doing," Withrow said. "That will quickly help us get to the end that we're all hoping for."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.