LOS ANGELES (AP) — For 37 years, Ronnie Fematt had been living with a burning question: Who killed his newlywed wife and their unborn child in 1980 and left her nude body on a Los Angeles County beach?
Once considered a possible suspect in the case, Fematt stood shoulder-to-shoulder Friday with Los Angeles sheriff’s investigators, who announced they had finally made an arrest.
It was March of 1980 when Fematt had an argument with his newlywed wife, Teresa Broudreaux — then 20 years old and five months pregnant with their unborn child — and she left to go to her sister’s house nearby, investigators said. After she left her sister’s home later that evening, Broudreaux was never seen alive again.
Her nude, lifeless body was found early in the morning on March 4, 1980, along the shoreline of Malaga Cove Beach in Palos Verdes Estates. Broudreaux had been beaten over the head and killed.
Detectives tried to track down any leads they could. But there were no witnesses, and for years the case had gone cold — the records later filed away in the homicide bureau’s library.
“Years later, a series of coincidences and new DNA technology produced an unexpected break in the case,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said.
The case was reviewed by a specialized squad that reviews unsolved cases and in 2013, investigators uncovered DNA from evidence that had been collected at the crime scene, but they wouldn’t provide many details. They ran the DNA sample through a database and got “quite the hit,” sheriff’s Det. Ralph Hernandez said.
The DNA alone, though, wasn’t enough for detectives to prove their case.
After years of additional interviews and a review of a possible suspect’s criminal record, detectives believed they could finally make a case that could stick.
Robert Yniguez, 65, was arrested on suspicion of murder outside of his home in San Pedro on Thursday.
Yniguez’s DNA had been on file for a prior sex offense, Hernandez said. He had been arrested in 1981 and suspected of sexually assaulting a young woman, the detective said at a news conference Friday. But the charges were dropped when the woman stopped cooperating.
Yniguez was arrested again the next year and served eight years in prison after being convicted of rape, Hernandez said. Since his release, Yniguez has gotten married and has been employed as a construction worker, detectives said.
Yniguez had been questioned about Broudreaux’s killing several times since his 2013, but when detectives came knocking on his door Thursday night, he was still surprised, Hernandez said. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.
The arrest was welcome news for Fematt, who said he’s never given up hope that one day detectives would find his wife’s killer. The two had met while she was working at a fast-food restaurant and were dating for a few years before they were expecting a little girl and were married. Five months later, his wife was killed.
“There was nobody to hear her cry, nobody to hear her screams, nobody to help her,” Fematt said, his voice cracking, as he choked back tears. “When she bled out, the baby died. I think of that all time.”