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Manteca skeleton is that of missing woman

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POSTED June 6, 2013 1:06 a.m.

Skeletal remains unearthed in the back yard of a south central Manteca home May 28 have been confirmed to be those of missing 36-year-old Stockton woman,  Karen Michelle Sterzel. She has been missing for some 23 years.

Neighbors have been on edge since they witnessed a body retrieval team remove what they believed to be human remains from the side yard of the residence at 420 Park Avenue at the corner of South Street.

Stockton Police Public information officer Joseph Silva said Wednesday afternoon that the positive identification was made through the forensic testing of the victim’s teeth matching her dental records.

The woman’s remains were found buried in a four foot wide section between the side of the garage and a neighbor’s fence during a four-hour search of the property.

Neighbor Lisa Foster said the incident has been very disruptive to the neighborhood and to her family life including that of their children.

With a student attending nearby Sequoia School, she said children often talk more about the scary things in their lives than do the adults.  It was the talk around school, she said, that upset the kids.

“It’s very scary to me still,” she said of watching the police team digging outside her kitchen window and then seeing them put something large in a body bag.  She said an older neighbor lady across the street apparently knew she was upset and brought her a beautiful sunflower the next morning – hoping to make her day brighter.

“All of this stuff really affects me and my kids.  If they see a police car going up and down the street, they want to know what’s going on,” she said. 

Talking from their front porch early Wednesday evening, her husband Chris said that people have been going into the back yard of the residence apparently looking to see what they could find in their own investigations.  The owners have posted no trespassing signs, he added. He also told of the late night activities that go on throughout the midnight hours in the blocks around the Park Avenue location. 

He remembers hearing kids running through the nearby park and hearing them come out complaining that they were bleeding, saying they shouldn’t have gone through that area in the dark. 

A couple of years ago there was a family assault on South Locust Avenue when Chris and his family heard a series of gun shots followed by relentless screaming.  They quickly closed their windows, not wanting to expose their children to what was happening.  Gunmen had fired on a family’s birthday celebration from the alley to the rear of the home.

The missing woman had last been seen shortly before Christmas in 1990 after she left a Tuleburg Levee houseboat that she shared with a boyfriend.  It was rumored that she was planning a trip to Montana with her mother, which her mother reportedly denied.

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