Tulare County Sheriff Detectives Solve Nearly 30-Year-Old Murder of 10-Year-Old Girl

Around 12:40 p.m. on March 3, 1994, 10-year-old Angelica Ramirez of Hanford was reported missing from the Visalia Swap Meet by her mother. Mrs. Ramirez told authorities she had been operating a vending booth with her husband, Francisco Tafoya. Angelica, the oldest child, did not attend school that day and was assigned to watch her three younger siblings. Angelica was last seen around 10 a.m. walking away from the vending booth.

After she was reported missing, a thorough search of the sales yard and surrounding area was done by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. A bed sheet taken from the victim’s home allowed tracking dogs to follow a scent to the middle of the parking lot west of the sales yard. Angelica had been wearing high-heeled shoes and foot impressions matching those shoes were found near the area where her scent was lost.

Just before 9 a.m. on March 5, 1994, a farm laborer reported seeing a body in a canal on Avenue 96, about one mile west of Road 96 in Pixley. The victim, identified as 10-year-old Angelica Ramirez, had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Since that day, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office has had Detectives assigned to this case, dedicated to finding justice for Angelica. But, for years, the leads led Detectives nowhere.

Because the suspect’s DNA was obtained at the scene, TCSO Detectives have spent countless hours researching advancements in DNA testing to try and identify who killed Angelica Ramirez. Detectives have also followed up with suspects arrested for sexual assaults in other states to determine if they could fit the profile. They also conducted a complete overview of everyone associated with Angelica, interviewed all of those who could potentially be suspects and continued to submit the same DNA sample to the Department of Justice’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) Program every year for 20 years. Each time, there were no hits.

Recovered shirt of Angelica

In February 2022, TCSO Detectives had a breakthrough when the FBI Forensic Genealogy Unit agreed to assist the Sheriff’s Office with a different approach. Instead of relying on a hit from the CODIS database, which had proven unsuccessful in the past, Detectives, instead, decided to try their luck with GEDMatch, an online genetic genealogy database where anyone can submit their DNA File and compare it with other DNA Files submitted.

The suspect’s DNA sample was submitted into GEDMatch, and just a month later, in March 2022, Detectives received a match for a man living in the LA area. That’s when Detectives started an investigation into the individual’s family.

In April 2022, Detectives went down to LA and took DNA samples from family members associated with the DNA match. Detectives were able to rule them out as suspects, with the exception of Ramiro Villegas. Through further investigation, Detectives learned Villegas had ties to Tulare County during the time Angelica was murdered. He was also associated with an address in Tipton in the early 1990s.

On June 6th, 2022, TCSO Detectives interviewed family members of Ramiro Villegas and discovered that Ramiro had a history of molesting and sexually assaulting numerous children that went unreported in the United States and in Mexico.

Through their investigation, Detectives found that, during the time he lived in Tipton in the mid to late 1980s, Ramiro would frequent the swap meets, including the swap meet in Visalia.

Based on the DNA sample taken at the scene that was compared to those taken directly from his family members, as well as the new information placing Ramiro in Tulare County at the time of Angelica’s disappearance and murder, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office is able to positively identify Ramiro Villegas as the man who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered Angelica Ramirez on that horrific day in March of 1994.

Ramiro Villegas had been in and out of the criminal justice system since 1991. In January of 1991, he was arrested and charged with fighting in public in Delano. He was convicted, but served no jail time, and, instead, was given 36 months of probation. In March of 2001 in El Dorado County, he was arrested for transportation of controlled substances for sales. However, there is no record of the disposition of this case. In January of 2002 in El Dorado County, Ramiro was arrested for three counts of transportation of controlled substances for sales, possession of a controlled substance for sales, operating a drug house and child endangerment. A month later, he was sentenced to two years in State Prison. In October 2004, Ramiro was released from State Prison, turned over to Immigration and Naturalization Services and deported to Mexico. In November of 2004, it became common practice to obtain DNA samples from suspects arrested for felony charges. Due to being released prior to that date, DNA was never collected from Ramiro Villegas. Had it been, his DNA profile would have been in the Department of Justice’s Criminal Database and Detectives would have likely received a hit the first time they ran the suspect’s DNA from the crime scene through the system.  Ramiro’s family told Detectives that he died of complications of Valley Fever in Mexico in December of 2014.

The case of Angelica Ramirez has been a top priority for Sheriff Boudreaux since his first day in office. Solving her murder took longer than everyone wanted. But Detectives were determined to not let her memory fade and to bring her justice, no matter how long it took. With the identity of her murderer now known, Sheriff Boudreaux prays that Angelica’s family can sleep a little easier. Sheriff Boudreaux is proud of the relentless work all of the men and women who have dedicated years to this case have put in. It is because of them that we have answers. And it is because of them that we now know that Angelica Ramirez’ killer is not roaming the streets freely tonight.

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