California suspect arrested after DNA links him to 1983 cold case of murdered beauty queen

Noelle Russo, 37, was beaten to death in a California park 40 years ago

Andrea Cavallier
Monday 09 October 2023 17:35 BST
Noelle Russo was murdered in 1983
Noelle Russo was murdered in 1983 (Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office)

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Louise Thomas

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A man has been arrested and charged with murder after DNA linked him to a woman who was brutally beaten and left to die in a northern California park four decades ago.

DNA evidence linked Alfredo Carretero Jr, 65, of Lakeport, California, to the murder of 37-year-old Noelle Russo, according to Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. Mr Carretero Jr was named a person of interest early on but was not charged in Russo’s case until now.

Russo, who was named “Miss Burlingame” in 1962 in a beauty pageant in San Mateo County, was last seen on 24 June 1983.

Friends of the former beauty queen said that she had been fighting with her boyfriend, according to SFGate, and that she had gone to stay with a friend in Santa Rosa. The friend reportedly drove her to Courthouse Square so she could catch a bus back to her apartment in Rohnert Park. She was never heard from again.

On 27 June, a seven-year-old boy reportedly discovered Russo’s naked and battered body behind a real estate office in an unincorporated area of Rohnert Park, a small city about 50 miles north of San Francisco.

She had been beaten to death with lumber from a stack of wood nearby, it was reported.

The Violent Crime Investigations Unit launched a probe into the killing at the time. While a “significant amount of evidence” was collected over the years which led to persons of interest, no arrests were made, according to Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

The case went cold for decades until in 2010, when detectives began submitting items of evidence for DNA analysis to the Santa Clara County Crime Lab and the Serological Research Institute.

Mr Carretero Jr was one of the original persons of interest in the case, the sheriff’s office said. “DNA and other evidence” have now identified him as the suspect, the office added.

The 65-year-old was booked into Sonoma County adult detention facility and is being held without bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for 18 October. It’s not clear if he knew the victim.

Detectives believed Russo may have encountered someone while waiting for the bus to Rohnert Park, SFGate reported.

Russo grew up in San Mateo County and was a student at Burlingame High School. In 1962, she was named “Miss Burlingame”, according to The Press Democrat. She was just 16 years old at the time and told the San Mateo Times that her dream was to become a model. She also said her “favorite sport” was dancing the twist.

“I couldn’t have been more surprised,” she said. “I never in the world thought I’d win. I just entered to please mother.”

Russo had been married and divorced twice, and had a son. She worked in Colorado as a forest ranger trainee then later returned home to California. She had been taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College when she was killed.

One friend described her as a “real chatterbox,” according to the Press Democrat. Other friends said they worried for her safety because she was known to hitchhike and was too trusting of strangers.

Dominique Espinosa, the daughter of one of Russo’s best friends Laura Servin, shared her late mother’s memories with KGO-TV.

“They kind of liked to bar hop a little bit and just like anybody in the area have a little bit of fun, and that’s what they were doing the night that she went missing,” Ms Espinosa told the TV station.

“They split up, she said Noelle may have been talking to an ex-boyfriend, but she didn’t think it was him that she went off with – but somehow they got separated at night, and she couldn’t get ahold of her the whole next day and then they, of course, found her.”

Ms Espinosa said Russo’s murder remained with her mother for years.

“I think her eyes twinkled when she looked at her,” Ms Espinosa said. “She was just a beautiful person, and that is one thing that shined through in my mom’s writing that this was somebody she really cared about, and it just devastated her that she lost her.”

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