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Sunny Sudweeks

Man who fled to Mexico years ago named as suspect in California cold case

by Leigh Egan

A man who fled to Mexico in 2006 was named as a suspect in a 1997 California murder case.

FOX News reports that 26-year-old college student, Sunny Sudweeks, of Costa Mesa, California, was raped and strangled to death while in her own home on February 23, 1997. Felipe Vianney Hernandez Tellez, a Mexican national, is now named as the primary suspect. The 43-year-old was living in the Costa Mesa and Santa Ana area during the time, but fled back to Mexico in 2006.

Authorities identified Hernandez Tellez through DNA, face-simulation, and fingerprints. Detectives are planning to ask the Mexican government for assistance in extraditing the suspect, but according to Lt. Paul Beckman, there’s no word on how long the process will take.

Hernandez Tellez is possibly living in Oaxaca, Mexico, near Puerto Escondido. Detectives said he’s likely living with a wife and children.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Sandy and Alan Sudweeks, Sunny’s parents, expressed appreciation to authorities for continuing to pursue a 20-year-old unsolved case.  Alan still has vivid memories of his daughter, and is understandably eager for closure.

“Sunny was a beautiful young woman. She was just beginning to start her career. She had a bright future and that was all lost when she was attacked and killed by [Hernandez Tellez]. I’m also angry that for 20 years he has been enjoying life, raising his own children, and yet he denied us the comfort and value of our daughter.”

On the night of her murder, Sunny made a 11 p.m. call to her friend from her apartment off of Mission Drive. She went to bed right after, never knowing that an intruder spotted her apartment door unlocked and a window open. Sunny shared the apartment with a roommate and her boyfriend. They were all planning to move, and the apartment was filled with packed boxes.

Somewhere between midnight and 4 a.m., the suspected entered the apartment home and attacked Sunny. Although investigators collected more than 200 pieces of evidence and more than 100 DNA samples, the case grew cold. Detectives have been hoping for a break in the case ever since.

“It’s one of those cases you just never forget,” said Beckman.

[Feature Photo: Handout]

Leigh Egan is a crime-fighting journalist and editor who specializes in breaking news and investigative true crime coverage. With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Leigh’s work can be found in a number of high-profile national publications. For Leigh, learning didn’t stop after college. She considers herself a lifelong learner who frequently takes media and journalism courses to keep abreast of the latest happenings and innovations in her field.