By: Ashley Holden
MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz. (Scripps news Phoenix) — The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office is pushing for answers in a murder cold case from 1989.
The victim, a 28-year-old woman, was found stabbed and left naked in the middle of a desert road about 50 miles from Las Vegas and about 40 miles from Kingman, Arizona.
Investigators still working on the case said it appeared she had been killed at the scene on an early December morning.
The woman was ultimately found by tourists who were on their way to the Grand Canyon that same day.
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The four women passed by at first thinking the victim was a dead animal. But after taking a detour to look, the group discovered it was a body.
With no cell phones, they had to drive to Kingman to alert law enforcement.
Mohave County Sheriff’s Office investigator Lori Miller has been working on this case since 2021.
“They surmise it was two suspects, one between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 foot, 2 inches, the other one was between 5 foot, 4 inches and 5 foot, 8 inches,” said Miller.
Miller said detectives back in the 80s came to that conclusion after looking at the limited pieces of evidence left at the scene — including footprints, tire tracks, and some small pieces of clothing. But detectives were able to obtain a DNA profile from the victim.
“Back in the day when this occurred, there wasn’t a whole lot out there, it was pretty desolate,” said Sgt. John Kole.
“She had no jewelry,” said Miller. “She had nothing. That’s why she stayed a Jane Doe for so long.”
That’s the name she was buried under in Mohave County until 2022, when Miller resubmitted her fingerprints and a match was found.
The name that came back was Maria Ortiz. The woman’s prints matched back to a shoplifting case out of Bakersfield, California.
“So that really began the adventure,” said Miller. “Because it was a real adventure to figure out who she really was.”
Miller was able to contact a woman listed on as a friend on police records.
“I said, ‘Do you know a Maria Ortiz,’ and she said, ‘No, but I have a cousin that hasn’t been seen since 1989,'” said Miller.
DNA from family was used to confirm the victim’s real identity, Marina Ramos.
Ramos’ family said she sometimes would give different names as she lived an independent lifestyle her family was concerned about.
“When we did tell the family that it was her, and they asked at that time another question which totally blew us away,” said Miller. “Where are her two little girls, and it’s like two little girls? We never knew of two little girls.”
Ramos’ family learned that she had been killed and that her two daughters were missing all at once.
“To find out that she has been gone for 30 some years it’s crazy,” said Ramos’ sister Margarita Maldonado. “You can’t find the words for it. How? Why?”
Maldonado said they had searched for her sister around the Bakersfield area, where her family lived off and on.
Now, their focus has shifted to finding Elizabeth and Jasmine, who were just 14 months and 2 months back in 1989.
“We just want to find out what happened to the girls,” said Maldonado. “They aren’t by themselves, they have family.”
When asked if she believed the girls could still be alive, Miller said, “I believe it in my heart…I don’t have any evidence.”
Ramos was last seen with a man named Fernando in a Black SUV. Miller said Ramos had met the man in a park.
The cousin who spoke with Miller is that person that saw Ramos last, and has since worked with law enforcement in Tennessee to create a sketch of Fernando.
She said the last time she saw Ramos, Fernando had said she and the girls were coming to live with him in Ontario, California.
“I never met this guy,” said Maldonado.
But Maldonado said her sister had a tendency to want independence and was overly trusting. Maldonado said she thinks her sister became friends with the wrong people.
“They were supposed to be going to Ontario, California,” said Miller. “Ontario, California and White Hills, Arizona are two completely opposite locations, so I don’t know what happened.”
After identifying Ramos, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office posted her story to Facebook along with her picture and the sketch of Fernando.
“I’ve been tasked with virtually trying to do the impossible find a 33 and a 34-year-old woman,” said Miller.
If you have any information related to this case, you are asked to call the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office at 928-753-0753.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Phoenix, an E.W. Scripps Company.