Suspect arrested for killing Karen Stitt after 40 years

So much time had passed that Karen Stitt’s father never knew. His elder sister never died.

But last week, her aunt got a call from Sunnyvale police det. Matt Hutchison. They had traveled to the Hawaiian island of Maui and arrested just one person they believe kidnapped Karen from a bus stop on El Camino Real when she was just 15. , then brutally killed him.

Chachi had waited 40 years for this news.

“Thank you,” Robin Stitt Morris said repeatedly while speaking on the phone from his home in Tampa. “Thank you for not giving up.”

Santa Clara County cold-case investigators say they have solved one of their most gruesome murders using DNA technology linked to family tree genealogy, the same kind of modern police work that led to the 2018 Golden State killer’s death. Arrest and guilty plea took place. Hutchison eventually followed a multi-state victim until last week, he came face-to-face with a 75-year-old man with a bad hip who was so shocked he could say little more than “oh my gosh.”

Sunnyvale police collected this undated photo of a young Gary Jean Ramirez, who was arrested on August 2, 2022, at the age of 75, at his home in Maui for the 1982 murder of 15-year-old Karen Stitt of Palo Alto, a The arresting police finally solves the cold case of 40 years.  (Courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office)
Sunnyvale police collected this undated photo of a young Gary Jean Ramirez, who was arrested on August 2, 2022 at the age of 75 for the 1982 murder of 15-year-old Karen Stitt of Palo Alto, at her home in Maui. Police say the arrest finally solved a 40-year cold case. (Courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office)

Last week, a 38-year-old detective who had followed the case since growing up in Sunnyvale tracked down Gary Jean Ramirez at a guest house in Maui and secured himself handcuffs. In all his years, Ramirez had no criminal record, police say, not so much as a shoplift. His 79-year-old brother, Rudy Ramirez, who also lives in Maui, can’t imagine that his younger brother — an occasional waiter and retired bug exterminator — would be capable of such a horrific crime.

“I’ve never seen him violent or angry,” Ramirez’s brother said. “That won’t hurt a fly.”

But police say Gary Ramirez’s DNA matched that of Karen’s leather jacket and the 4-foot cinder block wall next to the old Woolworth Garden Center near Wolfe Road, where the killer had left her dead. The suspect had raped her and stabbed her 59 times in the early hours of September 3, 1982. Ramirez is incarcerated in a Maui prison awaiting an extradition hearing Wednesday to be brought to California.

At this point, the case relies almost entirely on DNA evidence, which, says cold case prosecutor Rob Baker of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, is “overwhelming.”

Baker and Hutchison, who worked together on the case, say that Ramirez spent time in the Bay Area in the 1980s when Karen died. Still, they are seeking more information – and hoping for suggestions – to move the case forward. Specifically, they would like to know if anyone has information about a white-paneled truck with a stripe that a witness saw near the crime scene.

The case was first featured on the county website in 2014 when District Attorney Jeff Rosen resurrected the Cold Case Unit. It reported that Karen had recently moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to California, to live with her father and brother and attend Palo Alto High. She regularly traveled by bus, and on the evening of September 2, 1982, met her boyfriend at 7-Eleven before heading to nearby Golfland, then going for a walk to nearby Ponderosa Elementary School. Police say that around midnight, the lover took her towards the bus stop before parting ways.

Karen Stitt, 15, in an undated photo recently moved from Pennsylvania to Palo Alto after she was stabbed 59 times and left for dead next to Sunnyvale garden center.  Police say they have her killer in Maui on hand to solve a cold 40-year-old case.  (Courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office)
Karen Stitt, 15, in an undated photo recently moved from Pennsylvania to Palo Alto after she was stabbed 59 times and left for dead next to Sunnyvale garden center. Police say they have her killer in Maui on hand to solve a cold 40-year-old case. (Courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office)

The next morning, a delivery truck driver saw her body 100 yards from the bus stop. Police say she was thrown down a wall, naked in the bushes. His wrist was tied to his own striped shirt. His jacket was tied around his left ankle.

The boyfriend, David Woods, now in his late 50s, remained suspicious for two decades until DNA technology ousted him in the early 2000s. He is living with the pain of leaving her alone, running away home to enforce the curfew.

“For 40 years I have been heartbroken by the horrific loss of a beautiful girl I loved,” Woods said in an email. , “I hope this leads to some closure for his family, me and his other loved ones.”

In Maui, Rudy Ramirez said in an interview with Bay Area News Group that police showed up at his door shortly after his brother was arrested last Tuesday.

He and Gary were two of four brothers from what they called a middle-class “failed family” in Fresno, where their father worked as a heavy equipment operator for the county. Gary was the favorite son, he said.

“He wasn’t like some violent kid or a misdemeanor juvenile delinquent,” said Rudy, who moved to Maui when he was 18.

Sunnyvale police collected this undated photo of a young Gary Jean Ramirez, who was arrested on August 2, 2022, at the age of 75, at his home in Maui for the 1982 murder of 15-year-old Karen Stitt of Palo Alto, a The arresting police finally solves the cold case of 40 years.  (Courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office)
Sunnyvale police collected this undated photo of a young Gary Jean Ramirez, who was arrested on August 2, 2022 at the age of 75 for the 1982 murder of 15-year-old Karen Stitt of Palo Alto, at her home in Maui. Police say arrest The police finally solved the cold case of 40 years. (Courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office)

Four years younger, Gary joined the Air Force. Rudy says he lost track of his brother in the 1980s, when Gary was in his 30s and Karen Stitt was murdered. Gary was living in Fresno with his mother in the late 1980s when his older brother convinced him to join Maui.

Gary has married twice, fathered two daughters and has lived there ever since. With hip trouble, which is almost crippling, Rudy said, Gary lived on disability for a time and painted landscapes. As a young man, Gary stood about 5-foot-11 with average build, his brother said, but has dropped about five inches in his older age.

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