COSTA MESA (CBSLA.com) — Police in Costa Mesa Thursday identified a suspect in the 1997 rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman whose strangled body was found by her boyfriend in their apartment.
Sunny Sudweeks was found dead Feb. 23, 1997, in the bed of her second-floor apartment in the 1000 block of Mission Street.
The investigation quickly went cold — and stayed that way for two decades.
Police today named a suspect in the case: 43-year-old Felipe Vlanney Hernandez Tellez, who is believed to be living in Mexico.
Orange County prosecutors said they planned to file charges and an arrest warrant today.
Sudweeks’ parents made a public appeal to Mexican authorities to help nab the suspect.
Police said they used familial DNA to link Tellez to the crime, meaning DNA taken from a relative helped identify him as a suspect.
Sudweeks, a photography student at Orange Coast College, lived with her boyfriend and another roommate, but both were at work the night she was killed.
Detectives reopened the case last April, and by November, “There was a big push to look at this case with a whole new approach,” Costa Mesa Police
Lt. Paul Beckman said.
For two weeks, every investigator in the department worked on the case, he added.
Fingerprints lifted from the crime scene provided a big break when they matched prints taken from the suspect following an arrest on domestic violence allegations in Santa Ana in 2000, Beckman said. With Tellez as a suspect investigators obtained DNA from a relative and then asked a laboratory to use a computer that would generate a composite sketch based on suspect DNA and other information, Beckman said.
DNA was collected at the crime scene, but investigators never got a match because the suspect’s genetic material was never entered into any
databases that were checked, Beckman said.
This case is a reminder of how law enforcement won’t give up an investigation, Beckman said.
“Nearly everyone who worked on it was here 20 years ago,” Beckman said. “It’s one of these cases you never forget.”
Tellez left the United States in 2006 for Mexico, Beckman said.
Investigators suspect he now lives in the state of Oaxaca with his wife and three children near the resort town of Puerto Escondido, police said.
He cooks and delivers chickens, Beckman said.
“For 20 years he has been enjoying life living with his family, raising his own children and yet he denied us our … daughter,” the victim’s father, Alan, said. “Our family has struggled for years with the pain and loss and grief. We want justices for our daughter.”