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On September 10, 1988, Rodney Elam, a resident of Pearl Ranch Road in Fort Bragg was walking a dog down the road when it alerted to an area of thick brush just off of the roadway. Elam followed the dog into the brush and located the remains of a nude female. Elam contacted the Mendocino County sheriff’s office and reported his discovery.

A sheriff’s deputy responded to the area and secured the scene. Sheriff’s detectives arrived at the location and began to process the scene for evidence. They discovered that the deceased woman had an orange and black nylon weave rope wrapped tightly around her neck. They also observed that she had blunt force injuries to her head. Detectives were able to determine that the woman had been killed at an unknown location and then transported to Pearl Ranch Road where her body was hidden in thick brush.

Later in the day, detectives were able to positively identify the victim as Georgina Pacheco, age 20. Pacheco was a Fort Bragg resident and had been reported as a missing person on September 4, 1988, to the Fort Bragg Police Department.

During the investigation it was discovered that Pacheco was last seen on September 1, 1988 when she was picked up at her place of employment, the Sea Pal Restaurant in Fort Bragg, by Robert James Parks, age 27. Parks was a Fort Bragg resident who owned property within two miles of where Pacheco’s body had been discovered. Parks was a self-employed commercial fisherman.

An autopsy determined Pacheco’s cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head and strangulation. A sexual assault examination was conducted on Pacheco at the time of the autopsy, which included taking swabs to collect DNA. Clippings from her fingernails were also taken in hopes of locating physical evidence. Detectives felt the blunt force injuries were consistent with having come from a tire iron or an abalone pry bar.

The evidence recovered during the autopsy was used to determine a specific blood type. At that time the technology to identify people based on DNA did not exist.

On July 21, 1998, Parks telephoned a family member and advised that he was going to commit suicide by sinking his fishing vessel in the Long Beach Harbor. Authorities from Long Beach Harbor were notified and located the sunken fishing vessel. Parks’ lifeless body was recovered from the ship.

In early 2000 the ability to identify criminal suspects through DNA was a relatively new investigative tool for law enforcement. Sheriff’s detective Kevin Bailey submitted some of the evidence recovered during the Pacheco autopsy to the Department of Justice (DOJ) DNA laboratory.

Because of a backlog on DNA evidence the Department of Justice was not able to provide any results until 2005. At that time the DNA laboratory was only able to determine that the DNA recovered from Pacheco was male sperm. They had enough of a DNA profile to exclude suspects, but not enough to run through CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) in an attempt to identify a suspect. Detective Bailey left the sheriff’s office in 2005 and took a position with the district attorney’s office.

The Pacheco case was then reassigned to another detective with the sheriff’s office. In 2009 detective Andrew Porter took over the case. Detective Porter arranged for the original swabs and the fingernail clippings to be sent to the DNA laboratory.

Most of the swab samples had been consumed during blood typing examinations in the early 1990s. Regardless, the DNA laboratory was able to obtain a complete DNA profile from the wooden sticks that the cotton swabs had been attached to. Additionally, DOJ senior criminalist, Meghan Mannion-Grey was able to extract a partial profile from the swabs taken from Pacheco’s hands, as well as from the fingernail clippings. This partial profile matched the complete DNA profile that had been extracted from the swab stick.

Detective Porter then obtained DNA samples from Parks’ family members. He submitted these samples and Mannion-Grey was able to compare them to the DNA profile extracted from the evidence. Mannion-Grey was able to positively identify Robert James Parks as the contributor of the semen located on the swab stick and the contributor of the blood found on Pacheco’s hands and under her fingernails.

Based on these findings the Mendocino County sheriff’s office has listed Robert James Parks as the suspect in the murder of Georgina Pacheco and has closed this cold case.

photo captions:

1. Georgina Pacheco

2. Robert James Parks