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Police arrest man in 1998 Laguna cold-case slaying of mother-in-law

Police arrest man in 1998 Laguna cold-case slaying of mother-in-law
Lillian DeVilla (Laguna Beach Police Department)

Laguna Beach police detectives and Orange County District Atty.'s Office investigators made an arrest Wednesday in a 1998 cold case homicide.

Officers arrested John Edward Gutierrez, 46, of Aliso Viejo, on suspicion of killing Lillian DeVilla, 55, and dumping her body in Laguna Beach.

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Gutierrez, who works in business development for an Anaheim landscaping firm, was arrested around 7 a.m. outside an Aliso Viejo gym.

DeVilla's body was found Feb. 4, 1998, four days after she went missing from her Aliso Viejo home, according to a news release.

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Her body was found near 20286 Laguna Canyon Road under a large bush with a bag tied around its head by two Public Works employees.

The coroner's office determined that DeVilla was knocked unconscious by a blunt object and asphyxiated Jan. 29. Authorities believe the crime took place inside her home and then her corpse was dumped 5 miles away.

Gutierrez, DeVilla's son-in-law, was living with DeVilla and his wife, Aileen, when DeVilla disappeared. The couple reported DeVilla missing the day after Gutierrez said he returned home to find the woman gone but her car parked outside the apartment with her purse and keys inside their locked home, the release states.

During the investigation, Gutierrez became a suspect but the Orange County Coroner's Office placed the time of death as 12 to 24 hours before the body was found, which excluded Gutierrez, a member of the U.S. Navy stationed at the El Toro Marine Base, according to authorities.

When Laguna Beach investigators reopened the cold case in 2009 they requested the help of the Orange County District Atty.'s Office TracKRS Unit. In the subsequent five years investigators uncovered evidence that suggested that the original estimated time of death was inaccurate, the release states.

Gutierrez could no longer eliminated as a possible suspect.

That evidence, as well as accounts obtained from several witnesses not previously interviewed, led prosecutors to file murder charges against Gutierrez, according to the release.

Police are not releasing information on the motive of the killing.

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Twitter: @ALopezCityEd

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