NEWPORT-MESA -- Her personality was as radiant as her name.
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
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
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
Homicide cases are never closed because of the seriousness of the
crime and also because there is no statute of limitations on such cases,
“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
“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,
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,”
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
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
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
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
Working on unsolved cases is more challenging than frustrating, Archer
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
SOME OF THE UNSOLVED MURDERS
Sam Biales, who owned a clothing store in the 1700 block of Newport
Boulevard, was found bludgeoned to death inside the store.
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.
Foster Smith, a 19-year-old UC Irvine student, was beaten to death on
his bed in his apartment.
Robyn Cox, 21, was bludgeoned to death and her dead body was submerged
in the bathtub.
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
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.
Susan Reyes, 24, was found dead in her apartment stabbed several
Sunny Sudweeks, 26, was found strangled on the bed in her apartment.
Ceceline Godsoe, 16, was reportedly bludgeoned to death and her fully
clothed body was found on a trail in Fairview Park.
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.
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.
William F. McLaughlin, 55, was found shot to death in his Balboa Cove
home. He was shot six times in the chest.