TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A suspect identified following a decades-long Tulare County cold case murder of a 10-year-old.
According to Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, in 1994 Ramiro Villegas kidnapped, raped, and killed 10-year-old Angelica Ramirez of Hanford. Although a breakthrough in the case led to identifying the suspect, detectives do not feel like justice was served because Villegas died in 2014. Officials said it was DNA technology that led detectives to Villegas.
Ramirez’s family embraced one another as Boudreaux named her killer.
“At least now we have a face to the killer,” said Ramirez’s sister McKayla. “We don’t have to worry about this person doing it to someone else.”
March 3, 1994, Ramirez wore her favorite shirt with the words “kool kat” on the front and her Beauty and the Beast Mrs. Pots earrings to the Visalia Flea Market.
Ramirez’s job was to watch her siblings as her mother worked the booth. The 4th grader walked to the bathroom alone but she never came back.
“I remember that day because I also was assigned to search,” said Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. “I remember the desperate feeling as we tried to locate this young girl.”
Family, friends, and officers searched the swap meet, but the only trace of the 10-year-old was her high heel footprints to the parking lot.
Two days later on March 5th, 30 miles south of the market, a farmworker found Ramirez’s lifeless body in a canal near Pixley.
“Later it was determined that she died from strangulation and sexual assault,” said Boudreaux.
The brutal murder rocked the community. Detectives spent thousand of hours following leads. DNA cracked the case.
“The case of Angelica Ramirez is officially closed,” said Boudreaux.
Officials stored the DNA of the killer for years. Similar to the Golden State Killer case, investigators used the DNA to create a sketch of the suspect. Officials tried to match the DNA with databases for decades but nothing came back.
Officials said this last year, it came back with a match to a family and specifically 5 brothers in Southern California. Investigators were confident one of those brothers was the killer.
Officials tested four of the brothers and it came back negative. The last brother, Ramiro Villegas, died in 2014 from Valley Fever. Officials are confident Ramiro Villegas is the killer because of evidence and a timeline that places him in the area in 1994.
Villegas spent 2 years in prison for drug and child endangerment charges. He was deported back to his home country of Mexico in 2004 after his sentence ended. Officials said the investigation revealed that Villegas molested several children in the 1980s but those incidents were not reported to law enforcement.
“We feel like justice was not served,” said Boudreaux.
Ramirez’s sister McKayla said officials told the grieving family that Villegas’s family knew information about him.
“We are pleading with families, don’t let things slide,” said Villegas. “Speak up, notify someone because this could have been easily prevented had someone spoken up.”
Officials said that DNA was not taken of Villegas when he was arrested and convicted. Investigators believe that if it would have been, they could have solved this case a lot sooner.