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Police inspect motel room
Search on for clues in Sierra High grads murder
Investigators outside the Pacific Motel room where Kelly Marelich may have stayed before her murder. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Police might not yet have a suspect in the murder of 22-year-old Kelly Marelich, but they think they know where she was hanging out just before her death. 

Or possibly even where she was killed. 

With a California Department of Justice crew on hand to assist in the investigation, Manteca Police Department detectives combed through a room at the Pacific Motel on Moffat Boulevard for several hours on Wednesday. They were able to obtain a search warrant based on a tip that Marelich – a 2009 graduate of Sierra High School – was seen at the motel not long before her body was discovered in a dumpster behind the old Social Security building on South Main Street late Saturday night. 

A pop-up tent stood in the parking lot just feet from a mobile CDOJ evidence truck while detectives and technicians worked their way through Room 117 – which has a door that opens up to the parking lot and the rest of the complex and is directly across from the office. 

The Ripon-based crime lab, which has handled evidence retention and testing for some of the highest-profile cases in California since it opened, lends its services whenever a local law enforcement agency makes a formal request. The outfit uses the newest technology possible to help provide investigators with new tools that aid in the process. 

And technology will help investigators go back to the scene even after they’re gone. Propped up just inside of the caution tape was a tripod with a 3D forensic laser scanner that creates a realistic image that allows personnel and crime scene technicians to look back over the placement of evidence long after it has been collected and cataloged. 

Marelich was discovered late Saturday night by a crew of aluminum can scavengers that had jumped into the dumpster behind the building near the corner of South Main Street and Mission Ridge Drive. Upon discovering her body they contacted police, who performed a preliminary investigation before turning the young woman over to the San Joaquin County Coroner’s office.

Their immediate determination was that the death was in fact a homicide – her body showed signs of trauma – but was without any sort of sexual assault that can be prevalent in the death of a young woman. 

An autopsy was performed Monday, and according to San Joaquin County Sherriff/Coroner Spokesman Les Garcia, the determination of the cause of death is pending the outcome of the toxicology report. That could take as long as eight weeks. 

Family members took to Marelich’s Facebook page on Wednesday to express disbelief after learning of her death. While her body was discovered on Saturday, her identity wasn’t made public until late Tuesday afternoon.

“To my beautiful girl, I don’t know how my life will ever be the same. There is a huge hole in my heart,” wrote Marelich’s mother in a Facebook post using her daughter’s login. “I know you were here with me this morning – the TV kept turning on just like when you would spend the night. But when I got up there was no one there – just the TV. 

“Of course this happened (three times).”

Marelich’s friend Yvette Carino made two posts to her Facebook page and expressed her shock and disbelief upon learning that her friend had been murdered. 

“Life will never be the same without you Kelly. You’ve made an everlasting impression on my heart,” she wrote. “I thank the Lord for blessing me with the chance to know you. May you rest in peace my friend.”