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California

Former boyfriend arrested 27 years after mother of two goes missing

Authorities have linked Richard Pyle, right, to the 1991 disappearance and presumed death of Tracy Zandstra, who was his girlfriend at the time.
Authorities have linked Richard Pyle to the 1991 disappearance and presumed death of Tracy Zandstra, who was his girlfriend at the time.
(Butte County Sheriff’s Office)

The former boyfriend of a young mother who disappeared 27 years ago in Northern California has been arrested in connection with the cold case, authorities said.

Richard Pyle, 55, who was described by deputies as a transient, was taken into custody in Stockton on Thursday, according to a news release from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

Pyle lived with Tracy Zandstra in November 1991, when the then-29-year-old disappeared from the home they shared in Stirling City, authorities said.

Zandstra’s body was never found, but detectives have uncovered evidence indicating she had been killed and her body disposed of, sheriff’s officials said. A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, however, declined to say what that evidence was.

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Dist. Atty. Michael Ramsey said Tuesday that Pyle was considered a suspect in the case “right from the beginning.”

After Zandstra went missing, he said, investigators recovered DNA evidence from the couple’s residence and preserved it.

“When we had advances in DNA science, we were able to reexamine that evidence and it gave us a better idea of what occurred,” Ramsey said. The DNA was found to belong to Zandstra, he said, though he declined to provide further specifics.

“Additionally, just in terms of over the years of talking to various folks, it was very clear at the time that she disappeared — and I put disappeared in quotes — that she didn’t just run off,” he said. “Left behind were her two children, 6 years old and 12 years old; all of her clothing, shoes, purse and identification.”

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“She was a mother of two young children,” Megan McMann, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said. “We didn’t think that a mother would just up and leave.”

Detectives have continued to investigate the case over the years and last week worked with the district attorney’s office to obtain an arrest warrant for Pyle, sheriff’s officials said.

Investigators were also assisted by information provided by witnesses, Ramsey said.

“I am proud of the persistent determination of the many detectives and investigators who have worked throughout the years to bring justice to Tracy and closure to her family,” Sheriff Kory Honea said in a statement.

Pyle has been charged with murder in the Zandstra case, with enhancements for using a firearm during the commission of the crime and for two prior felony convictions, court records show.

He was jailed for two years in 1987 after he was convicted of arson and receiving stolen property in Butte County, Ramsey said. And in 1993, about two years after the murder is alleged to have occurred, Pyle served 20 years in state prison for arson, plus firearms and explosives offenses, Ramsey said.

Pyle is also a registered sex offender with a prior conviction of annoying or molesting a child under 18, according to the state’s Megan’s Law database. That was for an offense that took place in 1983, Ramsey said.

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He is being held at the Butte County Jail in lieu of $1-million bail and is due in court Thursday to enter a plea.


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