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California woman found partially buried in desert decades ago identified by DNA

A woman found partially buried in the Southern California desert nearly three decades ago has been identified through a DNA sample, authorities said Monday. 

The body of Patricia Cavallaro, 57, a resident of the Los Angeles suburb of Bellflower, was discovered on Oct. 24, 1994, in the Thousand Palms area in Riverside County. Her remains were eventually linked to her son after a DNA match, the Desert Sun reported. 

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Patricia Cavallaro, 57, has been identified as a woman found partially buried in the California desert nearly three decades ago, authorities said Monday. 

Patricia Cavallaro, 57, has been identified as a woman found partially buried in the California desert nearly three decades ago, authorities said Monday.  (Riverside County District Attorney’s Office )

At the time of her discovery, investigators with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department were unable to ID Cavallaro, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said. An autopsy determined that she died from homicidal violence. 

“Because authorities were unable at the time to identify the victim and due to a lack of leads into what may have happened, this became a cold case,” the DA’s office said in a statement. 

Investigators determined that she was killed elsewhere and buried in the desert, citing a lack of evidence near where she was found. 

In an effort to identify Cavallaro, her DNA was entered into the state Justice Department Missing and Unidentified Persons System. 

A sketch of Patricia Cavallaro.

A sketch of Patricia Cavallaro. (Riverside County District Attorney’s Office )

After being unable to find a match, the District Attorney’s Office’s Regional Cold Case Homicide Team took over the investigation. A team sent a sample of the remains to a laboratory in Texas. 

Using her genetic information, investigators tracked down Cavallaro’s son, who provided a DNA sample. An analysis indicated the remains were most likely his mother’s. 

Cavallaro’s husband reported her missing in 2001, telling police she “walked away” and was never seen again, the newspaper reported. He died in 2017. 

“You follow the evidence and you see she was there, and then she just stopped existing in 1994,” Senior Investigator Mike Thompson said. “After that, there’s no evidence that she’s alive or dead, no marriage or divorce records, no death certificate.”

A Riverside County Sheriff's Department patrol cruiser. 

A Riverside County Sheriff’s Department patrol cruiser.  (Riverside County Sheriff’s Department )

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The unsolved murder case remains open. 

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