Bay City News — The remains of a Walnut Creek woman murdered by a 1970s serial killer have been found by a Napa County sheriff's deputy.
The deputy, who was interested her case, found a bone fragment earlier this year that was later confirmed to be part of the remains of Lou Ellen Burleigh, who in 1977 left her Walnut Creek home for a job interview but never returned.
The 21-year-old's vehicle was later found in Pleasant Hill. Although a suspect, Roger Kibbe, was identified, the case went cold, police said.
In 2002, a San Joaquin County district attorney's investigator resubmitted DNA evidence from five murders from the 1980s in which the victims were strangled. The DNA examination indicated that Kibbe, who was in custody for a murder in El Dorado County, was responsible.
Kibbe allegedly confessed to several strangler cases that took place on Interstate Highway 5, and police said that he confessed to kidnapping Burleigh, tying her up and driving her to Lake Berryessa, where he allegedly raped and killed her.
According to police, Kibbe said that he left her body in a dry riverbed near the lake. The following year, investigators from the Napa and San Joaquin county district attorney's offices and a Walnut Creek police detective brought Kibbe to several possible locations near Lake Berryessa in hopes of finding Burleigh's remains, but to no avail.
And searches in 2007 turned up empty-handed.
But in February, Napa County sheriff's Deputy Michael Bartlett, whose patrol area has been Lake Berryessa for several years, took an interest in the case and met with Napa County District Attorney's investigator Mike Frey, who had previously been on the case, and reviewed his Burleigh reports, notes and maps.
"It bothered him that she was out there," Napa County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Jon Crawford said about Bartlett. "And he wanted to figure out [the case]."
With a fresh set of eyes, Bartlett, under Frey's direction, used old archives and photographs to help pinpoint where Kibbe had possibly buried Burleigh, according to Crawford.
While walking along a small creek near Lake Berryessa on March 10, something caught his eye.
"It was an amazing find — it was just a small amount of white glinting in the water," Crawford said.
Bartlett had found a small piece of bone sticking out of some gravel on the creek bed's bottom. The bone was sent to an anthropologist at California State University at Chico who confirmed the bone was a portion of a female pelvic bone. The pelvis was then sent to a DNA lab where an examination confirmed it belonged to Burleigh.
Walnut Creek police Sgt. Tom Cashion and other sheriff and police officials went to an area outside of Seattle to tell Burleigh's mother and two brothers about the identified remains on Friday.
"To actually find a piece of her was short of a miracle," Cashion said. "We gave them something they thought they would never receive." Cashion said finding a part of their daughter and sister was a "really good thing for the family" and the mother is planning some sort of burial service for Burleigh, possibly at a family resting plot in Oregon.
"The family was very grateful to have some closure," Crawford said.
No other remains were found near the creek bed after a thorough search of the area. No additional searches are planned, Crawford said.
"We gave it our best shot. In rural environments it's difficult to say where we are going to find anything," he said.
The case is now closed, with Kibbe convicted in 2009 for six murders, including Burleigh's, and sentenced to multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole. With some of Burleigh's physical remains found, Crawford said the case is considered solved.