SUNNYVALE (KRON) – Karen Stitt was last seen almost 40 years ago, in September 1982, walking toward a Sunnyvale bus stop. Last week, an arrest was finally made in her murder.

Gary G. Ramirez, 75, was arrested at his Maui home August 2 after the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office obtained a search warrant, the office stated in a press release August 9. Ramirez faces an extradition proceeding August 10, which if successful will lead to his arraignment on charges of kidnapping, rape and murder.

Stitt, 15, was last seen early on the morning of Sept. 3, 1982 by her boyfriend, then-17. The two had hung out at the Golfland miniature golf course, and he left her at a bus stop at El Camino Real and Wolfe Road, so she could ride a bus back to her Palo Alto home, according to Detective Matthew Hutchinson of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety in a sworn statement July 29.

The boyfriend, whose name was redacted, “later told police that he felt bad about leaving her alone, but he did not want to get in trouble with his parents for being home late,” the statement says.

At 10:45 a.m. the same day, a truck driver delivering to the Woolworth Garden Center 100 yards from the bus stop found Stitt’s nude body “lying in the bushes at the base of a cinderblock retaining wall along the Garden Center driveway.” He contacted the management, who contacted authorities, who found Stitt and determined she’d been stabbed 59 times. Vaginal swabs showed that she’d been raped.

“Despite extensive investigation, detectives were unable to identify a suspect,” the statement says. “The case
went cold, and no leads emerged over the ensuing 20 years.”

DNA breakthrough

Gary G. Ramirez is pictured in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office)

In 2000, a DNA profile was created from the unknown male assailant. The boyfriend was excluded on the basis of DNA testing. Then, in 2022 after a tip, detectives obtained DNA from a child of Ramirez, and a lab determined that there was “very strong statistical support” that the child was the child of the unknown male assailant based on the 2000 DNA profile. Siblings of Ramirez were excluded on the basis of circumstantial and DNA evidence.

Ramirez, now a resident of Hawaii, grew up and went to high school in Fresno before serving in the United States Air Force. He has at various times lived in or frequented San Francisco, the Peninsula, San Diego, Colorado and Hawaii, according to the press release.

The arrest was a coordinated effort between law enforcement from Santa Clara County, Maui and the U.S. government. The operation was funded by a 2021 federal grant to prosecute cold cases.

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