A 75-year-old resident of Hawaii has been arrested and charged with the rape and murder of a 15-year-old Palo Alto girl in 1982, authorities announced Tuesday.
Karen Stitt was last seen by her teenage boyfriend walking at night toward a Sunnyvale bus stop between El Camino Real and Wolfe Road, in early September 1982.
The next morning her naked body was found concealed behind a blood-stained cinder block wall roughly 100 yards away from the bus stop. The 15-year-old Palo Alto girl had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 59 times, according to an announcement by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
There were no significant leads in the case until the arrest Aug. 2 of Gary Ramirez at his home in Makawao on the island of Maui. He faces an extradition hearing in Maui tomorrow, Aug. 10. Once Ramirez is extradited, he will be arraigned on murder, kidnapping, and rape charges. If convicted, the former Fresno man faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Behind every old murder file in every major police department, there is a person, heartbreak, and a mystery,” said District Attorney Jeff Rosen. “The mystery of Karen Stitt’s death has been solved thanks to advances in forensic science and a detective that would never, ever give up.”
For decades, the case had no potential leads despite thorough investigations and DNA database runs.
Stitt’s boyfriend, long considered a suspect in her murder, was cleared based on the DNA evidence.
Beginning in early 2019, Sunnyvale Detective Matt Hutchison used a tip to determine that Stitt’s killer was likely one of four brothers from Fresno, according to the statement by the district attorney’s office.
In late April 2022, Ramirez was identified as the likely source of blood and bodily fluid left at the crime scene of Stitt's murder. The Santa Clara County Crime Lab confirmed that identification last week.
The operation to arrest Ramirez took months of planning and was a coordinated effort involving Santa Clara County, Maui and federal law enforcement authorities. It was funded largely by a grant awarded to the district attorney’s office in 2021 by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute cold cases.
Ramirez grew up and attended high school in Fresno. He served in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970s. After leaving the military, Ramirez frequented or resided in the Bay Area Peninsula, San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, and Hawaii.
Anyone with information about Gary Ramirez is encouraged to contact the DA’s Office Cold Case Prosecutor Rob Baker at [email protected].