SLO sheriff identifies suspect in 2 unsolved Atascadero murders — after 41 years

After more than 40 years, a suspect in a pair of Atascadero murders has been identified thanks to DNA evidence, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office announced in a news conference Wednesday.

Arthur Rudy Martinez, now deceased, is suspected of killing two women in Atascadero in 1977 and 1978, the Sheriff’s Office said.

On Nov. 18, 1977, Jane Antunez, 30, was found with her throat slit in the backseat of her car in Atascadero on a “little used dirt road” near Highway 101 and Santa Barbara Road, according to Tribune archives from 1977 and 1978.

Less than two months later, Patricia Dwyer, 28, was found dead in her rented home on Del Rio Road in Atascadero on Jan. 11, 1978, according to Tribune archives. She had been stabbed in the chest.

In a Jan. 12, 1978, Tribune article about the Dwyer case, then-Sheriff George Whiting said authorities were looking for connections between the killings.

Both women were sexually assaulted, according to Tribune archives, and authorities said at the time that they believed Dwyer may have known her killer, since there was no sign of forced entry into her home.

Both women were believed to have been killed by the same person, according to Tribune archives.

Read Next

homicide suspects.jpg
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced the resolution of two over 40 year old murder cases. Patricia Dwyer was one of the victims. David Middlecamp

The suspect’s history

According to Fresno Bee archives, Martinez was an 18-year-old living in the Fresno County city of Selma when he was jailed in June 1967 on suspicion of raping and shooting a 48-year-old businesswoman in her Fresno store.

Investigators said Martinez apparently entered the store intending to burglarize it, the Fresno Bee reported in a June 21, 1967, article, and was surprised to discover the woman there.

Martinez overpowered and raped the businesswoman after her hands were tied, then shot her, according to Fresno Bee archives.

“The bullet struck her forehead, plowed under her scalp and emerged from the top of her head,” the Bee wrote in a follow-up on Oct. 26, 1967.

Martinez pleaded guilty to charges of forcible rape and assault to commit murder for that attack and a May 1967 shooting involving a 26-year-old Fresno woman. She was shot in her right hip with a .22-caliber bullet outside her home, the Fresno Bee reported at the time.

Martinez received consecutive prison sentences for the crimes, according to Fresno Bee archives.

After about a decade behind bars, Martinez was paroled to Atascadero in May 1977, the Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday in a news release.

He lived in Atascadero and Paso Robles for roughly six to seven months leading up to the murders of Antunez and Dwyer, said Det. Clint Cole, the Sheriff’s Office’s cold case investigator.

At the time of the murders, Martinez was living in Atascadero and working at a welding shop in the North County, according to Cole and the Sheriff’s Office.

“We found nothing to show the victims knew him,” Cole said, noting that authorities showed Martinez’s photo to the victims’ family and friends and “nobody recognized him.”

Because of Martinez’s status as a parolee, investigators identified him as a suspect early on but couldn’t find any evidence at the time that linked him to the crimes, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at Wednesday’s news conference.

Martinez is believed to have fled the area in January 1978, soon after Dwyer’s murder, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

martinez duo.jpg
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced the resolution of two over 40 year old murder cases in Atascadero. Suspect Arthur Rudy Martinez was identified with DNA evidence. David Middlecamp

Martinez relocated to Spokane, Washington, where he was arrested for a series of robberies and rapes, the Sheriff’s Office said. In November 1978, Martinez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for those crimes, Parkinson said.

Martinez escaped from prison in 1994 and spent 20 years living under an alias in the Fresno area, the Sheriff’s Office said. In 2014, he returned to Washington and turned himself in.

Cole said authorities believe Martinez turned himself in because he had terminal cancer and could get better medical care in prison.

Martinez died at age 65 in June 2014 in a Washington state prison, about a week shy of his 66th birthday, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

DNA evidence cracks the case

On Wednesday, Parkinson said Martinez was identified thanks to DNA evidence collected at the scene of the original homicides.

In 2018, authorities, with assistance from the California Department of Justice’s familial DNA search team, conducted a familial DNA search to find matches to the evidence.

In February, that search turned up a match with a family member of Martinez who had been arrested for an unrelated felony, according to Cole.

antunez investigation.jpg
Sandra Rakestraw and Mark Kalchik, criminalists with the state crime lab in San Luis Obispo, check for evidence at the home where an Atascadero woman, Patricia Dwyer, was found slain in 1978. On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, the SLO County Sheriff’s Office announced they had identified a suspect, Arthur Rudy Martinez, in the 41-year-old cold case. Thom Halls Telegram-Tribune

Officials tracked down a girlfriend of Martinez who lived with him in Fresno and used an old razor of his from her medicine cabinet to confirm Martinez’s DNA, Cole said. It’s extremely unlikely that the DNA matches someone other than Martinez, Cole said.

Martinez’s identity was additionally corroborated thanks to a witness to one of the original murders who positively identified a picture of Martinez as the man she had seen.

“The solving of the case brings closure to the family and the community,” Parkinson said at the close of the press conference Wednesday. “There’s many in the community that still recall the homicides that occurred at that time.”

‘Crimes of opportunity’

Dwyer and Antunez didn’t know each other, but they both frequented the Tally Ho Bar in Atascadero and had some friends in common, the Sheriff’s Office said.

On Nov. 17, 1978, Antunez was reportedly going to her best friend’s house and didn’t make it, the Sheriff’s Office said. Witnesses said she picked up a man in her car, but authorities were never able to confirm that, the Sheriff’s Office said. Her body was found at about 2 p.m. the next day.

Dwyer, an employee at Atascadero State Hospital, told a friend on Jan. 10, 1978, that she was going to the grocery store and then staying home to clean. She was found the next afternoon, stabbed in the chest with a knife from her kitchen drawer.

While Dwyer reportedly wouldn’t let a stranger in her home, she had a key under the mat, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Both women were sexually assaulted, and both women had their arms bound behind their backs by “different bindings” that were found at the scenes, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Cole told The Tribune the motive in both the murders was sexual assault.

“That was his history,” Cole said of Martinez. “All of his cases, including the Washington cases, were crimes of opportunity.”

Though neither Dwyer nor Antunez reportedly knew Martinez, detectives don’t know if Martinez knew the victims before the murders, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Authorities ask anyone with information about Martinez to call Cole at 805-788-2157.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune