A Napa County sheriff’s deputy who was interested in an unsolved murder case found a bone fragment earlier this year that was later confirmed to be part of the remains of a Walnut Creek woman who disappeared in 1977, police said Monday. Lou Ellen Burleigh, who was 21 in 1977, left her Walnut Creek home for a job interview but never returned. Her 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. In 2007, an exhaustive search of an area similar to one that Kibbe described also failed to yield results. In 2009, Kibbe was convicted for six murders, including Burleigh’s, and he was sentenced to multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Police said that earlier this year Napa County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Bartlett became interested in the case and asked to be taken to the location where Kibbe likely left Burleigh. Bartlett uncovered a small piece of bone sticking out of some gravel on the creek bed’s bottom. Once an anthropologist confirmed the bone was a female bone, it was sent to a DNA lab where an examination confirmed it belonged to Burleigh. Police said that Burleigh’s mother and two brothers were notified of the identified remains on Friday.
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