STOCKTON (CBS13) – A 22-year-old mystery is closer to being solved Wednesday after Stockton Police identified remains found in a Manteca backyard as those of a woman missing since 1990.

Neighbors say it seemed like an awfully strange coincidence when an older couple who lived in the Manteca home left down in a hurry. The couple put their furniture on the front lawn with a “free” sign on it days before cops started digging in their backyard.

A very specific and anonymous tip in late May led police to the Manteca home. They dug up a bag of skeletal remains in the backyard that have since been identified through dental records as Karen Sterzl.

She was last seen in December of 1990 on a houseboat in the Stockton marina where police say the 36-year-old lived with her boyfriend of a decade.

That boyfriend told authorities at the time that Sterzl had gone to her mother’s home in Montana. Sterzl’s mother said she never heard that her daughter was coming, and her daughter never showed up.

Investigators say it’s a complete mystery how her remains ended up in Manteca—about 15 miles south of Stockton.

“It’s a very active investigation and our investigators will be doing follow-ups with people related to that 1990 missing person’s case,” said Stockton Police officer Joe Silva.

Neighbors say before he left town, the man who lived here with his wife told them something that has them really wondering now/

“Friends of mine told me they talked to that gentleman that lived over there, and that he told them that the landlord told him not to be digging around in the backyard or anything,” said neighbor Deon Hill. “That’s why he had to put his dogs in the front yard.”

An autopsy that will reveal the likely cause of death is pending.


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