A closer look -- Still searching for answers

Deepa Bharath

NEWPORT-MESA -- Her personality was as radiant as her name.

Sunny.

The 26-year-old photography student, who had a steady boyfriend, a

penchant for bright-colored 1940s clothing and made friends with the

nonchalant ease of a seasoned socialite, simply had no enemies.

That's what baffled family, friends and, later, police detectives when

they heard Sunny Adrianne Sudweeks was found strangled to death on her

bed in her Mission Street apartment the morning of Feb. 23, 1997.

It just didn't make any sense. Who would do such a thing?

Almost exactly five years later, that question remains unanswered. The

Costa Mesa Police Department still offers a $5,000 reward for information

leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.

But police have received no leads or information that has been of any

consequence yet.

Sudweeks' family is not the only one that yearns for some sense of

closure. Costa Mesa Police detectives have 23 so-called "cold" cases in

hand -- unsolved murders that are missing one, a few or most pieces of

the puzzle.

Newport Beach has six unsolved homicide cases to date, the earliest

one dating back to the murder of 11-year-old Linda Ann O'Keefe, a student

at Lincoln Intermediate School in Corona del Mar. O'Keefe disappeared

July 6, 1973. A bicyclist found her strangled the next morning in a ditch

by Back Bay Road.

The oldest one in Costa Mesa dates back to 1970, said Det. Sgt. Jack

Archer.

Homicide cases are never closed because of the seriousness of the

crime and also because there is no statute of limitations on such cases,

he said.

"Families and friends never forget about it," Archer said. "So the

police should not forget about it either. It's our responsibility to

bring these killers to justice."

Of the 23 cold cases, police have suspects in three, or at least have

arrest warrants out in three cases. One of those warrants is for Victor

Garcia, the 17-year-old suspected of being involved in the murder of

16-year-old Ceceline Godsoe.

Godsoe was found bludgeoned to death during the wee hours of Sept. 21,

2001, on a brush-covered trail in Fairview Park. Witnesses told police

Godsoe met Garcia at the park the night of Sept. 20.

On Thursday, the film crew of America's Most Wanted worked with Costa

Mesa police officers to prepare a documentary on the case.

"We contacted them in October because we felt it may help us get

closer to [Garcia] or at least get some leads," Archer said.

He said investigators received information from a few sources that

Garcia may be hiding out in Mexico.

"We were also told by others that he is still in California," Archer

said. "So, we don't really know."

In the last two years, veterans Archer and Lt. Ron Smith have

initiated a move to update and reorganize all the evidence and

information relating to the 23 unsolved cases.

Archer said they were encouraged and motivated by the advances in

technology, particularly the sciences of DNA, fingerprinting and

ballistics.

"I think the biggest advancement, though, has been in the area of

DNA," he said.

Over the last two years, investigators armed with Q-Tips and the hope

of finding a match, have swabbed hundreds of people who were friends,

boyfriends or even acquaintances of the victims.

In the Sudweeks case alone, officers have swabbed more than 130

people. And most of the time, people do not object to being swabbed,

Archer said.

DNA technology has opened doors for investigators they did not know

existed, said Newport Beach Police Lt. Doug Fletcher.

"It helps us track down suspects through the process of elimination,"

he explained.

Fletcher said Newport Beach probably has very few homicides and even

fewer unsolved cases than other cities.

"And because we have so few, they're close to our hearts," he said.

The small team of investigators -- with one sergeant and two

detectives -- tries to work on the cases whenever time permits, Fletcher

said.

Each of these cases is unusual with its own set of twists, turns and

set of circumstances. There are some cases like that of Sudweeks and

Godsoe that the community remembers more than others because of their

immediacy.

But Archer remembers others that are not as fresh in the public's

memory. One such case is the 1977 murder of 21-year-old Robyn Cox, found

bludgeoned to death, her body submerged in the bathtub of her apartment.

Police have submitted the evidence in that case for DNA examination.

"Any murder where there was blood evidence is a good candidate for a

fresh DNA exam," Archer said. The samples are sent to the Orange County

Crime Lab.

Another case that caused a stir in its time was the brutal shooting of

33-year-old Massachusetts businessman Daniel Sweeney in 1978. He was

confronted in the lobby of the South Coast Plaza hotel during a robbery

and shot five times.

The 1988 case of 22-year-old Malinda Gibbons is yet another one where

police have performed several DNA searches, Archer said. Gibbons'

husband, Kent, found his pregnant wife gagged and stabbed when he

returned from work. Later, it was discovered she was also raped.

The Costa Mesa Police Department is still offering a $5,000 for

information relating to Gibbons' murder. But the offer of rewards doesn't

seem to have brought forth much in these cases.

In 1995, the family of Newport Beach millionaire William F.

McLaughlin, who was found shot to death in his Balboa Cove home in

December 1994, offered $100,000 for information about the unsolved

murder. The 55-year-old entrepreneur died of six gunshot wounds to his

chest.

Working on unsolved cases is more challenging than frustrating, Archer

said.

"The most frustrating part is when to get to an old lead to find out

they are dead," he said. "There's no way you can resurrect that

information. It's lost forever."

But the challenges and rewards outweigh those frustrations, he said.

"It's not just mentally stimulating for us," Archer said, "but we also

get the satisfaction of giving the families some sense of closure."

* Deepa Bharath covers public safety and courts. She may be reached at

(949) 574-4226 or by e-mail at o7 deepa.bharath@latimes.comf7 .

***

SIDEBAR

SOME OF THE UNSOLVED MURDERS

COSTA MESA

1970

Sam Biales, who owned a clothing store in the 1700 block of Newport

Boulevard, was found bludgeoned to death inside the store.

1975

Jim Raymond Perry, 22, a construction worker, was stabbed to death on

the couch in his apartment. Perry, who lived alone, may have been dead

for up to eight days before he was found by a friend.

1976

Foster Smith, a 19-year-old UC Irvine student, was beaten to death on

his bed in his apartment.

1977

Robyn Cox, 21, was bludgeoned to death and her dead body was submerged

in the bathtub.

1978

Daniel Sweeney, a 33-year-old businessman from Massachusett, was shot

in the chest five times during a robbery in the lobby of the South Coast

Plaza hotel.

1988

Malinda Gibbons, 22, was found gagged and stabbed when her her husband

returned to the couple's apartment after work. Later, it was discovered

she was also raped.

1990

Susan Reyes, 24, was found dead in her apartment stabbed several

times.

1997

Sunny Sudweeks, 26, was found strangled on the bed in her apartment.

2001

Ceceline Godsoe, 16, was reportedly bludgeoned to death and her fully

clothed body was found on a trail in Fairview Park.

NEWPORT BEACH

1973

Linda Ann O'Keefe, 11-year-old Lincoln Intermediate student,

disappeared on her way home from school. She was found the next day

strangled to death, her body in a ditch by Back Bay Road.

1980

Judy Nesbitt, 42, mother of four, was found dead by her husband on

their boat docked in Newport Bay. She had been shot once in the head and

hit three times on the head with a blunt instrument.

1994

William F. McLaughlin, 55, was found shot to death in his Balboa Cove

home. He was shot six times in the chest.

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