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Suspect in Washington state woman's decapitation found dead in California

Suspect Jacob Gonzales' car was found abandoned near Yreka prior to a manhunt that began in northwest Washington last spring. Now investigators believe they have identified his body.

Posted: Apr 17, 2019 12:41 PM
Updated: Apr 17, 2019 3:36 PM

YUBA CITY, Calif. — More than a year after law enforcement made a tragic and gruesome discovery in northwest Washington state that prompted a multi-state investigation, forensic evidence from a Sheriff's Office in California may have closed the convoluted case.

The timeline of events related to 26-year-old Katherine Cunningham's death and ensuing manhunt may somewhat hard to follow, as the true order of events and that of investigator's discoveries do not align:

  • March 3, 2018: Cunningham's decapitated body is found near a bunker filled with guns and ammo in Camano Island, Washington. She is believed to have been killed in mid-February.
  • Investigators begin looking for a person of interest in the case, 34-year-old Jacob Gonzales. The two may have been living together on the remote property. Gonzales is believed to be armed and driving his own vehicle, a 1990 Mitsubishi Montero.
  • March 12, 2018: Investigators announce that they have connected Gonzales to a 1998 Honda Civic 2-door found abandoned near Yreka, California. This was confirmed to be Cunningham's car. Caifornia Highway Patrol had actually recovered the vehicle prior to the discovery of Cunningham's body in Washington.
  • Cunningham's car is returned to Island County in Washington, where investigators obtain a search warrant — finding a "samurai" sword wrapped in a blanket inside. The sword matched wounds found on Cunningham's body, and forensics found her DNA on the blade, Gonzales' DNA on the handle.
  • April 7, 2018: Law enforcement recovers an unidentified body floating in the Feather River in Yuba City, California. The body shows signs of "severe decomposition" and there are no identifying documents. The body is listed as a "John Doe."
  • For a period of months, there does not appear to be any movement in the search for Gonzales or the investigation into Cunningham's death.

Now, more than one year later, the Sutter County Sheriff's Office has announced that the body has been positively identified as belonging to Gonzales, the homicide suspect wanted in Washington.

Sutter County Sheriff's Office said that it did not become aware of Gonzales as a suspect until November of last year, after which investigators began to compare some identifying features.

"Gonzales was suspected of beheading his girlfriend and possibly matched the description of our unidentified 'John Doe,'" the Sheriff's Office said. "After numerous conversations with other law enforcement agencies, it was determined that the information they provided pertaining to their homicide suspect matched identifiers belonging to our unidentified 'John Doe.'"

Using DNA from John Doe, investigators compared it to DNA on file in Washington state gathered from Gonzales.

"On April 16, 2019, our office received confirmation from the Department of Justice DNA Missing Persons Unit that the subject we classified as 'John Doe' was Jacob Gonzales, the homicide suspect wanted in Washington State," Sutter County said.

Statements from the law enforcement agencies involved did not mention Gonzales' cause of death, nor did they indicate that the investigation into Katherine's murder or Gonzales' death would continue.

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