An Oxnard man was arrested and charged this week in connection with two 1981 “cold case” homicides in which he is accused of strangling the young women, including one who was raped, Ventura County prosecutors said.
Tony Garcia, a 68-year-old Navy veteran and karate teacher, was taken into custody Tuesday by authorities and charged with two counts of murder, as well as an enhancement for alleged rape, according to Ventura County Dist. Atty. Erik Nasarenko.
“This suspect has been hiding in plain site for more than 40 years,” Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said at a Thursday news conference announcing the charges.
The arrest is the culmination of a decades-long investigation into the deaths of Rachel Zendejas, who was 20 when she was killed on Jan. 17, 1981, and Lisa Gondek, 21, who was killed in December of the same year.
Zendejas, a mother of two, was killed after a night out in Camarillo. She had hired babysitters that evening to take care of her young daughters, authorities said. The single mother, who was taking industrial art classes at Oxnard Community College, drove the babysitters’ home and was accosted while returning to her car, investigators believe.
Her body was found the next morning by a pair of delivery boys, who called police. Zendejas’ cause of death was strangulation, and the medical examiner also found that she had been sexually assaulted, Fryhoff said.
On Dec. 12 of the same year, just 10 miles away, Lisa Gondek was dropped off at her apartment in Oxnard around 1:30 a.m. after a night out with friends, Police Chief Jason Benitez said.
An hour and a half later, a neighbor called police alerting them to a fire coming from her apartment. Firefighters found her body in the bathtub, and her cause of death was determined to be strangulation, according to Benitez.
“Two generations of detectives have been working on this case,” Benitez said about Gondek’s killing. “We’ve been familiar with this case for many years and are glad to see it closed.”
Despite the similar nature of the homicides, the cases were not connected until 2004, when forensic investigators found a link between the suspect DNA profile in the two cases. But both cases went cold again when detectives ran out of leads.
It took another 19 years before investigators were able to pin down Garcia as a suspect in the murders using “genetic genealogy,” which is the creation of family history profiles using DNA and traditional genealogical methods.
Prosecutors and investigators declined to give additional information on what led them to Garcia.