Year-long manhunt for a valley man accused of beheading his girlfriend is finally over

Local News

A year-long manhunt for a Los Banos man accused of killing his girlfriend with a sword is finally over.

Authorities say they pulled the killer’s body from a river last year but just confirmed his identity through a DNA match last month.

CBS47’s Joey Horta has reaction from the family of the victim in an eyewitness news exclusive.     

Together as a family, Katherine Cunningham’s mother, sister and grandparents walk into First Baptist Church in Winton.

“I believe that god was with her.”  This grieving mother, Jenifer Cunningham is referring to the day when her 26-year-old daughter was brutally murdered.

Her body found on Camano Island in Washington state. She was living there off-the-grid with her boyfriend Jacob Gonzales.

Her family believes he snapped. “I think she was trying to leave,” Jenifer says.

Investigators say Gonzales cut her head off.     

“His DNA was found on the sword that killed her,” Jenifer says. DNA was key in both connecting him to the murder and then identifying his badly decomposed body.

Authorities say Gonzales drowned.

He was pulled from the Feather River in Sutter County in April of 2018 but it would be another year before a DNA match would confirm his identity.

“I think he took the easy way out,” says Katherine’s sister Emma.

They grew up together in this church, were baptized in this very basin together and went to school in Atwater.

Emma even has two tattoos in memory of her sister.

“It says god is within her, she will not fall. It’s just kind of a reminder everyday that you can still conquer things,” Emma says.

She has another one complete with Tinker Bell that reads “those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us everyday.”

Now that Gonzales is no longer a threat, the family can finally focus on grieving.

“It’s closure but it’s not the closure we wanted,” Emma says. They want to know why he did it and to see him punished.

“And I don’t think that’s fair,” Emma says.

Her family now trusting in a higher power that Katherine is in a better place. “I think she’s healing in heaven,” Jenifer says.

All they can do now is try to move forward without her– forever changed.

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