Orange County prosecutors on Monday said they had identified the killer of two women in the 1980s with the help of DNA evidence.
Shannon Rose Lloyd, 23, was found dead shortly before midnight on May 21, 1987, in a room she rented in a house in Garden Grove. Forensic evidence would reveal she had been raped and strangled.
Renee Cuevas, 27, was found dead near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine on Feb. 19, 1989.
In 2003, authorities linked the two cases to one person’s DNA but could not identify a suspect. Only with the advent of new DNA technology to do extensive genealogical searching were Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Garden Grove Police Department investigators able to put a name to the killer.
The DNA belonged to Reuben J. Smith, who took his own life in Las Vegas in 1999, Garden Grove Police Lt. Mario Martinez said Monday. Smith lived in Orange County in the 1980s, and in 1998 was accused of attacking a woman in Las Vegas and trying to kill her.
“We should never call these cold cases,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said at a news conference. “That’s an inappropriate label today … because of the advances in science. Every case is solvable.”
The case is one of many nationwide that have used new DNA testing and genetic searches to solve crimes since the method was used in 2018 to arrest and eventually convict the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo. He pleaded guilty in 2020 to 13 murders.
Spitzer has now solved four homicides using the technology.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigator Robert Taft said the technological advances even since DeAngelo’s arrest helped make the case.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Taft said of the technology.
A genealogical search identified Smith as a potential suspect last year. Martinez said Smith’s DNA was collected when he was arrested in the Las Vegas case, but the technology at the time was in its infancy, Taft said.
Cuevas’ cousin, Yolanda Lui, thanked police for continuing to work on the case and said that knowing the killer’s name would bring closure to the victims’ relatives.
“She is deeply loved and missed,” Lui said of Renee Cuevas.
Lloyd’s brother, Tom, who couldn’t attend Monday’s news conference, said in prepared remarks that his sister was tough. “She wasn’t scared of much,” he said. “It’s hard for me to fathom how anyone can take another person’s life and just discard them.”