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Did police dig up body in Manteca home’s yard?

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POSTED May 29, 2013 1:48 a.m.

Stockton police investigators have turned over the evidence they recovered last Thursday in a Manteca residential dig to the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office to determine if it is actually human remains.

Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies scoured a yard in the 400 block of Park Avenue for hours finally digging in an area between the garage and a neighbor’s side fence that put several residents admittedly ill at ease not knowing what officers were attempting to locate.

Stockton Police Public Information Officer Joseph Silva said investigators focused on the vacant home after receiving a tip related to a missing Stockton woman who disappeared 23 years ago in 1990. 

One neighbor, Rene Smith, who lives across South Street from the Manteca residence, said he watched the investigation develop at the corner house as officers began to work the scene.  A former body recovery team member from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, Smith said they removed what appeared to be a human torso that he estimated to weigh 70 to 80 pounds.  Other neighbors gave similar accounts of the detailed police investigation they watched play out beginning about 11 a.m. on May 23.

Another resident Lisa Foster said she watched from her kitchen window as her husband Chris came home from work to eat lunch with her saying she saw evidence technicians remove something from the hole they had dug, putting it in a black plastic bag and then into what she described as a blue body bag before zipping it up.  She said it was placed into the back of a white cargo van by an evidence technician.

Her husband added that investigators had taken down a portion of a four-foot-wide fence next to the garage and removed a metal grate that had covered the 4X6 foot dig area along with discarded materials that had covered the site.

Foster said officers were at the Park Avenue home both Wednesday and Thursday.

The Stockton Police spokesman confirmed “officers located a piece of evidence” from the yard adding that they can’t be sure it is human remains until lab testing is completed by the coroner. 

The only missing person from Stockton in 1990 was Karen M. Sterzl, 36, who was reportedly last seen just prior to Christmas at a Stockton levee houseboat where she lived with a boyfriend who told police she was taking a vacation to another state with her mother.

The mother reportedly told police later she had no plans to take a trip with her daughter.  It was the second week in January of 1991 when she was reported missing, police said.

Officer Silva said the tip “was very credible,” adding that it was the catalyst that finally took the investigation of their old case to the south central Manteca residential neighborhood.

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