EL MONTE – Investigators have renewed their call for the public’s help to solve the mysterious slaying of a 31-year-old El Monte woman found shot to death in a wash of the Rio Hondo River last year.
A person walking a dog first reported finding the body of Marlene Estrada just after 9 a.m. on Nov. 27 of last year, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said. She had been shot numerous times.
The body was discovered in the middle of the wash, which was dry at the time, just northeast of the intersection of Santa Anita Avenue and Lower Azusa Road, according to Detective Steve Blagg of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
“We believe, based on witness reports, she was actually killed around 11:30 p.m. or midnight on the 26th,” Blagg
Area residents told detectives they recalled hearing gunshots in the area around that time, though no one called 9-1-1 to report them, officials said.
Stairs line both sides of the wash in the area where Estrada’s body was discovered, Blagg said. “People use it as a common thoroughfare.”
Though the exact motive in the killing remained a mystery, investigators said they did not suspect the killing was gang-related.
“We believe it might be, based on as many times as she was shot, something more personal,” Blagg said.
Estrada was shot more than 10 times all over her body, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
She was shot in the chest, abdomen, back arms and legs.
was ruled out as a motive in the killing as well, as nothing appeared to have been taken from Estrada.
“We definitely know it wasn’t a drive-by,” the detective said. “It wasn’t anything random. We believe she was specifically targeted.”
But the underlying dispute believed to be behind the killing remained unknown to investigators, though Blagg said someone likely does have information that could bring Estrada’s killer to justice.
“Our belief is that someone in that El Monte area knows what happened,” he said.
In hopes of bringing out new information from the public, Blagg said, detectives released a surveillance photograph taken of Estrada at an area market, only hours before she is believed to have been slain and wearing the same clothing in which she was killed.
Estrada grew up in both the El Monte and La Puente areas, said her father, Mario Estrada.
She attended Arroyo High School in El Monte for the 9th and 10th grades and and took part in cheerleading, Mario Estrada said. She moved back to La Puente and attended Workman High School School for her junior and senior years before graduating in 1998.
“She was really sweet,” the father said. “She had a forgiving personality. When she walked in a room, she just lit up the room – a great smile. She was really friendly. A hard-working girl.”
“She was a really good dresser,” Mario Estrada added. She was into fashion.”
After graduating high school, Marlene Estrada completed a medical assistant training program but decided that was not the career for her, Mario Estrada said. She then took various jobs to pay the bills as she decided on a new career, and had been staying among friends and family members in El Monte.
She was especially close to her oldest brother, Jesse, Mario Estrada said.
“We had a lot of inside jokes on things,” the brother said. “The jokes would go on for years.”
“She was really protective, really funny, really into fashion, Jesse Estrada said, adding that she would often make comments to him when she didn’t approve of his clothing choice.
“She was really outgoing,” Jesse Estrada said. “In high school, she was always going out to have fun. (She was) really sociable.”
Marlene Estrada is also survived by her mother, Carol Rodriguez, her step-mother, Leslie Estrada, half-brother Matthew Estrada, and half-sisters Marissa Estrada and Lauren Estrada, family members said. Marlene Estrada was the eldest of her siblings.
The father said he, too, was baffled by his daughter’s slaying.
When her body was discovered, she had her clothing packed into a bag as if she was moving, he said.
She had no gang ties, he said, and family members knew of no one who wished her harm.
Based on the sheriff’s investigation, Mario Estrada said, “I know she knew them. I just can’t figure out why.”
Anyone with information was asked to contact Detective Blagg at 323-890-5562.