The body of a 57-year-old woman has been identified using a DNA sample from her son nearly three decades after it was found buried in a shallow grave in the Southern California desert.
Patricia Cavallaro, of Bellflower, was found wrapped in plastic and tied with a brown cord in Thousand Palms on October 24, 1994, before officials identified the woman on Monday.
Cavallaro’s death had been the result of ‘homicidal violence,’ according to the coroner, but her body was so decomposed it was not possible to determine who she was or how she was killed.
Cavallaro was only reported missing by her husband in 2001 – seven years after her remains were found. The husband, who was not identified by officials, died in 2017.
It remains unclear why he waited seven years from her disappearance to report her missing.
The victim remained unknown to police until the Riverside County DA’s Regional Cold Case Homicide Team picked up the investigation last year. A DNA sample from Cavallaro’s son helped crack the mystery.
The DA’s office said on Monday that an investigation has been opened into the circumstances surrounding Cavallaro’s death, but her husband is not a suspect at this time.
DailyMail.com has reached out to the Riverside County DA’s office for comment.
Her adult son said that he believed ‘something had happened’ to his mother because he hadn’t heard from her in 30 years. He is not a suspect in the investigation either.
Remains now confirmed to be those of Patricia Cavallaro (pictured) were found wrapped in plastic and tied with a brown cord in a shallow grave in eastern Riverside County, California, on October 24, 1994
A sketch released by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office before the remains were finally identified
Cavallaro moved to California from her hometown of Oneida, New York, following her marriage in 1956. Seven years after her death, she was reported missing by her husband, who told police at the time that his wife vanished after ‘walking away’
‘We believe we had her identified, which led us to do the additional investigation that we never would’ve been able to do had we not done a genealogical tree,’ DA Supervising Investigator Ryan Bodmer told the New York Post.
‘It’s not just identifying the victims who would have remained unknown but obviously to arrest the perpetrator of the crime and bring them to justice. But identifying the victims is also a very big deal for the families,’ he added.
Cavallaro moved to California from her hometown of Oneida, New York, following her marriage in 1956.
She had two children and settled in Bellflower, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, where she lived until 1994.
Seven years after her death, she was reported missing by her husband, who told police at the time that his wife vanished after ‘walking away.’
‘You follow the evidence and you see she was there, and then she just stopped existing in 1994,’ Senior Investigator Mike Thompson told The Desert Sun.
‘After that, there’s no evidence she’s alive or dead, no marriage or divorce records, no death certificate,’ he added.
The DA’s office said on Monday that an investigation has been opened into the circumstances surrounding Cavallaro’s death, but her husband is not a suspect at this time
According to a 1994 report, Cavallaro’s body was found ‘partially buried in the sand and wrapped in a white plastic sheet tied with a brown cord and partially exposed to the elements.’
Blue shorts, a red blouse and underwear were found with the body, which was discovered about 200 miles east of where she lived.
Lack of evidence in the area suggested that she had been killed elsewhere.
Investigators estimated at the time that her remains had been buried in the desert for one to four months before it was discovered.
‘The Coroner’s Office used all available resources at the time to identify the woman, including having her DNA entered into the California Department of Justice Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Unfortunately, no identification was made,’ a statement by the District Attorney’s office read.
In 2021, the Riverside County DA’s Regional Cold Case Homicide Team reopened the case and sent DNA samples of Cavallaro’s body to a Texas-based private lab and private DNA service company GEDmatch.com.
Through matches from GEDmatch, investigators were able to find one of Cavallaro’s biological children and a DNA sample was submitted to the state Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
In December, authorities were notified by the Department of Justice that the victim in the 1994 death was Cavallaro.
‘After so many years had gone by, her biological son doesn’t want to make any statements, but he simply said he assumed that something had happened because he hasn’t heard from his mom in over 30 years,’ Bodmer said.
‘At least with this confirmation he was able to know where she is. How she should be honored is what he’s battling with right now,’ he told the Post.
The DA’s office urged anybody who knew Cavallaro or had details about her death to contact investigators.
The County’s Regional Cold Case Homicide Team, which was formed in 2020, is currently investigating about 700 unsolved murders.
‘With a cold case, genetics are really the only way to move the investigation forward,’ Bodmer said. ‘This tool creates an environment to do real detective work in a case where there are no leads.’