The remains of an unidentified woman found nearly three decades ago wrapped in a plastic cover and dumped in a shallow grave in a California desert town has been identified as a New York native.
Riverside County District Attorney officials announced Monday that a DNA match confirmed the remains belonged to 57-year old Patricia Cavallaro, who had been reported missing since 2001.
Cavallaro’s remains were found on Oct. 24, 1994 by people who were digging up debris and spotted the shallow grave in the Thousand Palms area in eastern Riverside County, Calif.
Coroner officials declared the cause of death as “homicidal violence,” but how she died is still unknown, said DA Supervising Investigator Ryan Bodmer.
“We believe we had her identified, which led us to do the additional investigation that we never would’ve been able to do had we not done a genealogical tree,” Bodmer said. “It’s not just identifying the victims who would have remained unknown but obviously to arrest the perpetrator of the crime and bring them to justice. But identifying the victims is also a very big deal for the families.”
Ancestry records show Cavallaro was born in 1937 in Oneida, New York but moved to California when she married in 1956. She had two children and settled in Bellflower, Calif. before she was reported missing in 2001 by her husband.
Cavallaro’s husband, who died in 2017, told investigators that his wife vanished after leaving their home.
Meanwhile, the remains found in 1994 were unidentified for years. A national database for unidentified and missing persons noted blue shorts, a red blouse and underwear were found with the partial skeletal parts, but there was no identification or jewelry.
“Her body had been partially buried in the sand and wrapped in a white plastic sheet tied with a brown cord and partially exposed to the elements,” according to the database report.
The report also estimated the remains to have been in the shallow grave for one to four months before it was discovered. Bodmer said the body was so decomposed that coroners could not determine the manner of death.
The Riverside County DA’s Regional Cold Case Homicide Team, which was formed in 2020, took the case on and sent a sample of the remains to Texas-based laboratory Othram Inc. The team has about 700 cold cases to date.
Meanwhile, investigators also continued to gather information from old reports and records to put together a potential family tree. They also used information from a Private DNA service company called GEDmatch.com.
Using genetic matches from GEDmatch and their potential family tree, investigators were able to locate Cavallaro’s biological son, who then provided his DNA sample to the state Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
The state Department of Justice issued a final report and in mid-December confirmed the remains were Cavallaro.
“After so many years had gone by, her biological son doesn’t want to make any statements, but he simply said he assumed that something had happened because he hasn’t heard from his mom in over 30 years,” Bodmer said. “At least with this confirmation he was able to know where she is. How she should be honored is what he’s battling with right now.”
The supervising investigator told the Post that there is no evidence to suggest Cavallaro and her husband had a history of violence in their relationship, and the deceased husband and her son are not considered suspects.
The case remains an unsolved murder case, Bodmer said.