PLEASANTON, CALIF. — The announced Monday morning that a former classmate of student Tina Faelz has been arrested in her killing — 27 years later.
Police said at a press conference that a 43-year-old former Pleasanton resident with an "extensive criminal history" was arrested Sunday in Santa Cruz.
The man, whom police didn't want to name until the case is cleared through the juvenile court system, is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.
According to the Alameda County Inmate Locator, a man named Steven J. Carlson, 43, was arrested in Santa Cruz on Sunday on a murder charge. A Santa Cruz sheriff's spokesman told Patch on Monday that Pleasanton police picked up Carlson from their jail on Sunday.
Several former classmates of Faelz report going to Foothill High School with a youth named Steve Carlson.
Faelz, 14, was stabbed to death in a culvert that once crossed beneath Interstate 680 on April 5, 1984, while she was walking home from school about 2:30 p.m. Fellow students discovered her body shortly afterward.
Pleasanton police said the suspect was in custody on unrelated drug charges and was about to be released when he was arrested. New biological evidence discovered in October 2010, coupled with fresh police interviews, led to the arrest.
Police said the suspect, who at one point had been a person of interest in the investigation, did not seem surprised by the arrest.
According to Santa Cruz authorities, Carlson has been arrested multiple times in Santa Cruz County on nonviolent offenses and most recently had been in jail for six months on charges including possession of methamphetamine and being under the influence of alcohol and opiates. He is registered as a sex offender in the Megan's Law database for lewd acts with a child under the age of 14.
Pleasanton police detective Keith Batt told Patch a motive has been identified, but he wouldn't say what it was.
He said the killing was not random and Faelz was the killer's intended victim. He said the suspect and Faelz had contact before the murder, but he would not elaborate.
Batt said the suspect lived close to the path on which Faelz was killed, a popular shortcut that passed east of the school underneath the freeway to the Valley Trails neighborhood. He said it would have been easy for the suspect to know which students used that route to walk home. (For a map showing the school area, click here.)
"He had a clear opportunity to commit a crime," said Batt.
Monday's news that the suspect walked the halls of Foothill High has shaken former students.
"That absolutely shocks me. It really shocks me" said Tony Trifiletti, 42, who was a sophomore at Foothill at the time of the slaying. "That means we went to school with him for the rest of the year. I'd know him for sure."
Faelz was one of four young girls killed in Alameda County during a one-year period from December 1983 to November 1984, according to online news reports, raising fears that a serial killer was on the loose.
"This made the people of Pleasanton look at the world very differently," Pleasanton Police Chief David Spiller said Monday at a news conference.
Trifiletti, now a Livermore resident, vividly recalls the creek and the concrete tunnel near Lemonwood Way that throngs of teens used daily to cut under the freeway on their route to and from school.
"I used to walk through that same tunnel. It was a huge shortcut for everybody. Back then, kids walked everywhere. And all the kids would walk through that to save time," he said.
After the slaying, a new uneasiness enveloped the culvert area, which has since been developed into a housing community. The culvert is no longer there.
"Everybody kind of walked through it as a group after that," Trifiletti said. "The murder was shocking to everybody. And everybody wondered who did it," he said.
A Longtime Mystery
Throughout the years police investigated lead after lead in the Faelz case, looking at everyone from two imprisoned murderers convicted in the killings of two other East Bay girls, a San Leandro resident and a San Lorenzo resident, to fellow Foothill students, as Faelz apparently had experienced some bullying.
In late 2007 they again reviewed the physical evidence that was
collected in 1984, taking into consideration strides in DNA technology that might not have been available at the time of the murder. Items were submitted to two different laboratories for evaluation.
Last October, the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va., provided information to Pleasanton police that led to the suspect's identification, and police began re-interviewing witnesses.
Pleasanton Police Capt. Craig Eicher was a senior at Foothill High at the time of the killing.
He said he didn't know the suspect or victim, but that the slaying certainly sent a chill through the campus and the town.
"The case created a void in the community," said Eicher.
He said he's relieved it has been solved.
"Today is a very good day for the community," said Eicher.
Lt. Jim Knox was a 20-year-old Explorer for Pleasanton Police when Faelz was killed. He went to the crime scene, described in various newspaper reports as extremely bloody, that day.
"It means a lot to me personally, not only because the case has been solved but because I was at the scene that day," said Knox. "To have the opportunity to solve the case and then being able to deliver the news to (the victim's) mother creates a lot of joy for me."
Patch will continue updating this story today and throughout the week.
Click to read Tuesday's follow-up story.
Patch freelance writers Susan Schena and Corrine Speckert contributed to this report.