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Title: Olinger murder suspect named

Source: Monterey Herald

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 Posted on Sat, May. 13, 2006

Olinger murder suspect named
New database matches palm prints found on victim's car to Soledad man
Herald Staff Writer

After eight and a half years of investigating, Pacific Grove police have issued an arrest warrant for a Soledad man for the murder of Kristopher Olinger, a 17-year-old who was stabbed and beaten to death along the Recreation Trail in Pacific Grove.

Police said a "hit" in a new palm-print identification database led them to Jacobo Ruelas, 27, who was named as a "key suspect" in the case Friday. After eluding arrest earlier this week, Ruelas is wanted on a $3 million warrant.

The announcement was a dramatic breakthrough in a case marked by years of speculation and cold trails in which authorities and the victim's family considered everything from San Jose criminals to fantasy-game-playing youth as possible suspects.

"I always knew I'd get a phone call one day," said Olinger's stepfather, Loren Phillips. "And it would make my life take a turn."

"I've got mixed emotions," said Kris's stepbrother Travis Phillips, who was 10 years old at the time of the murder. "I'm very sad and angry. I'm finally looking at the face of the man who destroyed my brother."

Olinger's mother, Shell Phillips, carried on a passionate crusade to find her son's killer before she died in 2003 when she was 48 years old.

"It's definitely a good Mother's Day gift," tearful Loren Phillips said. "(Shell) would have been right there."

Pacific Grove police said they came close to arresting Ruelas on Thursday, but in the end he eluded officers. On Friday, they hoped Ruelas' attorney could convince the man to turn himself in. When he didn't, police asked for the public's help in finding Ruelas.

Police Chief Carl Miller said Ruelas is "well known" in South Monterey County and his parents live in Prunedale. Miller said he is hopeful Ruelas is still in the county.

The announcement indicated police consider carjacking and robbery as the precursor to the killing, which took place early Sept. 19, 1997. Officers said the boy was out late working on a high school photography project when he was beaten and stabbed more than a dozen times at the Ocean View Boulevard turnout near Point Pinos.

Olinger's body was discovered by a jogger later that day.

Early on, police focused on a group of alleged gang members whom witnesses said made threatening statements to tourists in the area before the murder took place.

Shell Phillips urged police to consider other theories and to look into a group of Monterey "gamers" who acted out the roles of vampires, priests and werewolves in a nighttime game inspired by fantasy games such as "Dungeons and Dragons."

In 2000, a letter sent to The Herald from an inmate at Centinela State Prison identified a man the inmate said tried to sell him some of Olinger's stolen property.

Police checked out the leads in 2000, but at the time said evidence pointed to San Jose gang members, another theory that Ruelas' arrest warrant has apparently put to rest.

In June 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized a $50,000 reward for information in the case.

On Friday, Miller declined to give much detail on Ruelas, saying "other arrests are imminent" and citing an ongoing investigation.

He said Ruelas, who was 18 when he was killed, is "affiliated with a local street gang" in south Monterey County.

Travis Phillips, now a student at Monterey Peninsula College, said the news put a few of his unanswered questions to rest, but not all.

"We know this was a random victim crime," he said. "But I still wonder what went on that night."

Miller said the biggest break came when palm prints sent by police were run through the recently launched California Automated Palmprint System, or CAPS.

The prints were lifted from Olinger's car, which was found in San Jose 11 days after the murder.

Police were frustrated by finding fingerprints that were incomplete and could not be matched in federal databases.

"But we had palm prints in the car and on the car," Miller said. "When CAPS came online, they looked at ours and we got a hit."

Although Ruelas was still at large Friday evening, Loren Phillips was confident police will find him.

"It's been hellish, torture and a nightmare," he said. "We're just relieved. It's been eight years, eight months and 23 days. But who's counting?"

Since his son's death, Phillips has become active with the county's Restorative Justice Commission.

"We work on getting victims and offenders together," Phillips said, as a way to help people resolve some of the emotions that linger after violent crimes.

Asked if he would consider facing his son's killer, Phillips said he would.

"I would like to look him in the eye and ask him why. Why he stabbed my son and then threw him onto the rocks," he said. "Yes, I'd like to ask him why."

Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or jreynolds@montereyherald.com.

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