13 CRIME FILES: Tucson Police “broadening suspect search” in 1994 murder of Esther Galaz

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 10:40 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - “These two cases are the most heartbreaking cases that I’ve ever been involved in,” says Tucson Police Department Cold Case Detective David Miller.

Esther Galaz and Karen Grajeda.

Chances are if you’re from Tucson, you remember their names well.

They are cases that had the community shaken, and even 29 years later...they still impact how many people live their lives. In part one of this two piece Crime Files, we spoke with Tucson Police Cold Case detectives about how thanks to new technology, the search for a new suspect is just beginning.

On December 19, 1994, 6-year-old Esther Lizette Galaz stayed at her family’s apartment complex at 4141 East 29th street, while her mother and sister walked to a nearby convenience store. When they returned, Esther was nowhere to be found.

“Her remains were eventually found in an area northeast of where she went missing,” says Cold Case Detective Steven Acevedo.

Esther clearly had suffered from blunt force trauma.

“In the initial investigation, there were some child witnesses that described a male talking to Esther near the convenience store where her mom had gone and Esther was called out by name and Esther went and got into this truck, so a lot of media coverage on that.”

Although close to 1000 tips came in following Esther’s murder, during this time in 1994, Tucson Police were being kept busy with other cases involving juveniles...leading many to believe the suspect in those cases was also a suspect in Esther’s death.

“At that time, there was the southside molester cases that were also happening at various complexes and apartments on the south side with similar type victims to Esther, so some of those composites matched the composite sketch created in Esther’s case.”

The man found guilty of those molestations was Rodolfo Sedeno Morales, who is serving his 248 year sentence for kidnapping five Tucson girls, and molesting three of them. Following those convictions, Morales was still a prime suspect in Esther Galaz and Karen Grajeda’s deaths, until fairly recently.

“Further advanced forensics have been completed and different, more modern investigative techniques have been used over the last five years to develop a potentially another suspect that doesn’t match the description that the children initially gave. They’re small kids, their memories change, the descriptions are different. And it’s likely that the suspect is not a Hispanic male, which was originally thought to be, so we’re broadening our suspect search,” says Detective Miller.

Because the investigation is continuing, there’s not a lot Tucson Police can say about this potential suspect right now. But they do say there’s still work to be done.

“Unfortunately technology can’t take us all the way there. It’s going to have to be knocking on doors, the old traditional type of police work that may potentially lead us down the road to identifying this suspect. We’re hopeful,” says Detective Miller.

“These are still cases that people remember. They’re not solved and it’s our hope that by the time we finish our careers here, that we can either get a result and resolution by identifying a suspect, potentially prosecuting that suspect, and giving some closure to the family,” says Detective Acevedo.

You are still urged to contact 88-CRIME if you have any information in this case. In next week’s Crime Files, we speak with the detectives about leads in Karen Grajeda’s disappearance, the other child who went missing around the same time as Esther’s murder.