Body found in East Bay hills in '91 identified
May 30, 2008
San Francisco Chronicle
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Alameda County sheriff's investigators said Thursday that they have solved a 17-year-old mystery - the identity of a woman whose badly beaten and burned body was found in a car on a remote road in the East Bay hills.
Now they're asking for help in solving another mystery - the identity of her killer.
Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Dudek identified the woman as 24-year-old Vicenta Sanchez-Orellana of Oakland, whose body was found Jan. 27, 1991, in a ravine off Palomares Canyon Road on unincorporated land near the border of Sunol and Castro Valley.
"Now that we know who she is, some of the pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together," Dudek said at a news conference.
Sanchez-Orellana had no identification on her when her charred body was found, and dental records entered into a national database didn't lead to a match at first.
It was all a mystery until October, when a niece in Texas found an online posting on the "Doe Network," a missings persons site that described the unidentified victim and a distinctive Mandarin-style burgundy jacket she had been wearing, along with a gold ring inscribed with the initials "O.M.O." Investigators later determined that the initials were those of her husband, Oscar Manuel Orellana, Dudek said.
Sanchez-Orellana's parents were flown from her native El Salvador to Texas two weeks ago and because of their age and health problems, weren't told until Thursday morning, when they were with family members, that she was dead. Her cremated remains have been located in Fremont, and two detectives will fly to Texas to hand them over for a proper burial, authorities said.
Sanchez-Orellana had two children, a daughter who was 6 and a son who was 2 at the time she was killed. She cleaned houses for a living.
Orellana, who now lives in Stockton, reported her missing a week after her body was found - not to law enforcement officials, but to relatives in El Salvador, Dudek said. He told the couple's children that their mother may have simply vanished, the sergeant said.
A relative didn't formally report her missing to the Oakland Police Department until 1998, and Orellana didn't file a missing person report until he needed the paperwork to marry someone else around that time, Dudek said.
Orellana is among several "people of interest" in the case, Dudek said. No arrests have been made.
Sanchez-Orellana was probably hit in the head numerous times with a rock before she was set on fire, Dudek said. Authorities were led to the scene by witnesses who mistook her burning body for a pile of flaming leaves.
A passer-by also reported seeing a Toyota pickup parked on Palomares Canyon Road, near where the body was found, between 11:30 p.m. and midnight the night before.
Dudek said Thursday that investigators were trying to find a man who was acquainted with Sanchez-Orellana, Israel Zelaya. He is not a suspect, but Dudek said he may have been "more than a friend," which might have had something to do with why Sanchez-Orellana was killed.
This is the latest cold case that Dudek and his team of investigators have worked on that has resulted in new leads many years - even decades - later.
In 1994, Jenny Lin, 14, was found dead in her Castro Valley home. The case languished until 2006, when Dudek identified the prime suspect as a convicted murderer now in prison. Alameda County prosecutors have declined to charge him, however.
Dudek is still seeking Miguel Angel Nunez-Castaneda, 28, in the slaying of Yesenia Nungaray, a 16-year-old girl from Yahualica, Mexico. For three years she was known only as Jane Doe after her body was found behind a Castro Valley restaurant in May 2003.