Hoping to stir new leads in two Ventura homicide cases, the families of the victims joined law enforcement officials Tuesday in announcing a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests in each of the slayings.
The parents of Valerie Zavala, a 19-year-old college student who was killed after leaving a New Year's Eve party in Fillmore, and the siblings of Rachel Zendejas, a 20-year-old Camarillo mother of two who was strangled in 1981, pleaded for the public's help in identifying their killers.
"To the people of Fillmore, I can't express enough the need to bring this crime to justice," said Michelle Wilson, Zavala's mother, who was joined by Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks at a news conference to announce the reward money. "Your piece [of information] could be the piece that is missing."
Zavala, home for the holidays from San Jose State, was last seen driving two friends home from a party, after which she planned to visit a former boyfriend. Her partially clothed body was found the morning of Jan. 1 jammed into a drainage pipe under a road near Santa Paula. She died of suffocation, according to an autopsy report.
Zavalas' cousin, Jason Voland, 27, of Fillmore said he won't feel at ease in his community until the killer is caught.
"I've accepted the fact that she's gone," Voland said. "I will not accept the fact that the person who killed her is out there."
The case has stumped detectives. Police have released a composite sketch of a man who was seen on a rural stretch of South Mountain Road on the same day authorities found Zavala's body nearby.
Investigators want to question the man, who is described as Latino, in his late 20 to early 30s, about 5 feet 7, of average build with a slight pot belly. He was seen wearing faded black jeans and a white T-shirt.
Zendejas' 22-year-old slaying also has gone unsolved. The victim's naked body was found under a Camarillo carport in 1981. She had been sexually assaulted, authorities said.
Det. Rick Barrios, who recently took the case file to a seminar on cold cases, remains confident that the killer can be found.
"It's very difficult to work a case that's that old, but the technology, new techniques and new training have changed so drastically," said Barrios, who declined to say whether DNA evidence was left at the crime scene.
The reward money comes largely from the Modesto-based Carole Sund-Carrington Foundation, which pledged $5,000 to each family. The Sheriff's Department has pledged to match each donation.
"I hope this brings us a little bit of closure," said Zendejas' brother, Roy Rodriguez of Oxnard, who stood with one of Zendejas' daughters, Monica. She is now 22 and has two young children of her own.