LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Authorities say they have identified human remains found in the backyard of a home in the unincorporated Valinda area, and a suspect who is being sought in the homicide.

The remains, which included a skull, were identified as 40-year-old Maria Delrefugio Chavez of El Monte, who went missing in 2009. The buried bones were discovered Aug. 7 in the backyard of a home in the 700 block of Elsberry Avenue, where detectives had gone as part of their investigation into the 2009 case involving a missing adult.

(credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

(credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Chavez, a single mother of a young daughter, was last seen around 8:45 p.m. on May 7, 2009, while leaving her job at the East LA Indoor Swapmeet in the 4700 block of Whittier Boulevard, according to the Charley Project website, which profiles cold-case missing persons cases. She sent a text message to a friend later that night, saying she was in trouble and might be in danger, according to the website.

A friend reported her missing that night.

Her car, a 1998 Honda Accord, was found several days later in the 17000 block of Pacific Coast Highway near Sunset Boulevard.

Pablo Pinto Mata was named as a suspect in Chavez’s disappearance. Authorities say the two met when she patronized the botanica store he owned in the 2400 block of Whittier Boulevard in Montebello. Mata was once Chavez’s business partner and acted as a Santeria spiritualist for her and others through the botanica,.

Mata, who was already married with a family, and Chavez became involved romantically and had a daughter, who was just 4 years old when her mother was reported missing, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokeswoman Deputy Lillian Peck said.

Earlier this month, Montebello police said Mata was wanted in the rape of a 16-year-old girl on whom he had conducted healing rituals.

Authorities say Mata, who is also wanted in West Covina for another sex-related crime, has eluded arrest since 2013. He is described as a Hispanic man, now 46 years old, of Salvadoran descent, standing 5-foot-5, weighing 175 pounds, with brown hair, brown eyes and last seen wearing a goatee. His last known address was at the botanica.

Anyone with information about Mata or his whereabouts can call homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500.

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