Authorities confirm family's fears

Authorities confirm family's fears

June 17, 2008
Valley Times, CA
By Sophia Kazmi

Maira Gorman made the call to the Alameda County Sheriff's Department hoping she was wrong, that the description of a nameless dead woman she read on an Internet database would not turn out to be her aunt.

The family of Vicenta Turcios Sanchez-Orellana still hoped the mother of two was alive somewhere, even though she had disappeared when she was 24 and no one had heard from her in 17 years.

But it was the ring with the initials "OMO" that was found with the body that made Gorman pick up the phone. The gold wedding band sounded like the one Gorman remembered her aunt taking off when she would garden or do the laundry in their native El Salvador.

After reading the description on the Doe Network in October, Gorman called the sheriff's office to ask about their Jane Doe, whose badly beaten and burned body was found Jan. 25, 1991 off a ravine on Palomares Canyon Road near the border of Castro Valley and Sunol.

The dead woman had no belongings or identification, just what she was wearing. Detectives had put a description of the items, and the fact that she had near perfect teeth, on the Doe Network — a site that lists unnamed homicide victims — last year with the hope that someone might recognize them.

Gorman, who now lives in Texas, said she turned to the Doe Network because her aunt never returned to El Salvador to look for her parents or children.

"She loved her kids and her parents a lot," said Gorman,

DNA confirmed the Jane Doe was Gorman's aunt, sheriff's deputies said last month at a news conference. She had been living in Oakland at the time with her husband and two small children. She was an undocumented resident who cleaned homes in Oakland and Berkeley for a living.

Gorman said her grandparents, Sanchez-Orellana's parents, were "destroyed" by the news that their daughter was dead.

Now that the family has finally found her, they must go through the process of burying her cremated remains. They have the option of burying her in a public cemetery in El Salvador, but the family fears she would not rest in peace there. Gorman said that in public cemeteries, older bodies are sometimes dug up to make room to put new ones in the plots. In a private cemetery, her remains would never be disturbed.

"The only thing we have are the ashes. ... She would get confused with the dirt," if her remains were dug up, Gorman said.

The family doesn't have the $4,000 to pay for a plot at a private cemetery, but they have set up a fund to help pay for Sanchez-Orellana's burial expenses.

Although they now know her name, there are no new leads in the case, Sgt. Scott Dudek said. Detectives have questioned various people, including her former husband, Oscar Orellana. They are also trying to find a man named Israel Zelaya, who was a close friend of Sanchez-Orellana.

There is a possibility, Dudek said, that Zelaya may have been threatened and left the country. Sheriff's investigators are asking anyone with information to call them.

Gorman said her aunt was a loving and kind person. Her family doesn't know who would have wanted her dead.

Sanchez-Orellana's parents are grateful to the detectives who have spent so much time on the case, Gorman said.

"My grandmother says they are like angels from heaven for us," Gorman said. "We have been looking for my aunt for 17 years and they actually found her and they helped us in many ways."