A woman whose body was found inside a Castro Valley home that burned in a suspicious fire early last Thursday morning had been brutally assaulted, an Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman said today. Sgt. J.D. Nelson identified the woman as Barbara Latiolais, 58, who lived at the home at 2431 San Carlos Ave. with her longtime boyfriend Michael Rice, 60, a retired San Francisco firefighter.
Nelson said Rice was out of state when the crime occurred and “is in no way, shape or form a suspect.” Alameda County fire crews responded to a one-alarm fire at the single-family home at 12:15 a.m. Thursday and brought it under control within 20 minutes, fire officials said. Firefighters found Latiolais’ body inside the home while fighting the blaze, according to fire officials.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office was called in when fire investigators determined the blaze was suspicious because an accelerant was used. Nelson said it’s unclear at this time whether Latiolais died from the injuries she sustained when she was beaten or if she died from injuries stemming from the fire or from a combination of the two, but he said it’s clear she was beaten before the fire started.
Nelson said the suspect or suspects in the case stole valuables from the home and investigators believe they set the fire to cover up their attack on Latiolais, their thefts, or both. There was no obvious sign the suspect or suspects forced their way into the home, Nelson said. He said it was warm in Castro Valley last week and Latiolais may have left her windows or doors open, as many Castro Valley residents leave their doors unlocked.
Nelson said investigators believe the suspect or suspects stole the couple’s black 2006 Volvo after the fire because it was found abandoned several hours later at the end of Brookdale Boulevard in Castro Valley, about a mile from the couple’s home. He said investigators are asking for the public’s help in locating a man who was seen near the Volvo. Nelson described the man as being about 17 to 19 years old, of Hispanic or Middle Eastern descent and about 5-foot-5. He said the man has dark spiky hair and was wearing dark clothing.
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