In March 1995, the body of a young woman was found in a refrigerator partially submerged in an irrigation canal in the San Joaquin County community of Holt.
Investigators said the woman had been “buried” underwater for several months, leading to “advanced states of decomposition”.
There were signs that the victim had suffered some form of blunt force that led authorities to label her death a homicide, the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office said in a press release. They did not comment on the cause of death.
For nearly three decades, the “lady in the fridge,” as she was dubbed by investigators, went unidentified and the case went cold.
But using DNA evidence late last month, authorities finally got the breakthrough they needed and were able to identify the woman: Amanda Lynn Schumann Deza, a Bay Area mother of three who was 29 at the time of her death.
“Our team was so excited when we were able to get DNA results, identify her and her relatives, and we were able to contact them,” Sheriff Patrick Withrow said at a news conference last week.
Using investigative genealogy, a combination of DNA analysis and genealogy and historical records, the sheriff’s office was able to develop leads that connected them to relatives who confirmed Deza’s identity.
Officials now hope Deza’s identification can lead investigators to her killer.
“It gives us a place to start,” Lieutenant Linda Jimenez said. “It’s kind of hard to investigate who killed someone if you don’t know who (the victim is).
“Once you identify them … you can dive into their lives and get all the details of what was going on (in) their lives at the time,” Jimenez said. “That usually leads us to who was responsible for taking their life.”
Investigators said Deza was separated from her husband at the time of her death. She was last seen in a Napa apartment complex with a person she had met at a rehabilitation center, the sheriff’s office said.
No missing persons report has been filed, Jimenez said at the news conference.
Her family searched for her and were “concerned for her well-being,” but “didn’t get very far,” Jimenez said.
“She was a 30-year-old woman and was on her own and had her own life, so the family just didn’t know,” Withrow said.
“She was involved in some challenging times,” Jimenez said, “and we hope Amanda was on her way to meeting those challenges and making her life a lot better.”
The Sheriff’s Office has enlisted the public’s help in solving the decades-old murder case.
“It all starts with people trying to give us those pieces of the puzzles of her life — where she was, who she was with and what she was doing,” Withrow said. “That will quickly help us get to the end we’re all hoping for.”