A Navy veteran and karate instructor from Southern California was “hiding in plain sight” for more than 40 years before DNA evidence linked him to the murders of two women found strangled in 1981, authorities said.

Tony Garcia, 68, was charged Thursday with two counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of kidnapping, raping and strangling Rachel Zendejas, 20, in Camarillo in Jan. 1981 and strangling 21-year-old Lisa Gondek in Oxnard in December of that year.

Garcia, of Oxnard, appeared in court but his arraignment was continued to Feb. 23, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Tony Garcia, 68, was arrested in California on two counts of first-degree murder in connection with cold cases from 1981. Facebook / Tony Garcia

Zendejas, a single mom of two, was found dead in a carport in on Mobile Avenue in Camarillo after going out to Huntington’s Night Club. She was believed to have been attacked after driving her daughters’ babysitters home.

Zendejas, the youngest of five children, was taking industrial arts classes at a nearby community college to make a better life for herself and her daughters, Eva and Monica, Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said at a news conference Thursday.

Eva was 2-and-a-half years old when her mom was killed, and Monica was just a year old. Both children grew up to be nurses.

Rachel Zendejas, 20, was found strangled to death in a carport in Camarillo, California, in January, 1981 following a nightclub outing. Ventura County District Attorney’s Office

Lisa Gondek, 21, was found strangled in a bathtub in Oxnard, California in December, 1981.Family Handout

Eleven months later, Gondek was found strangled to death in a bathtub after a reported apartment fire in on Gonzales Road in Oxnard, authorities said. Investigators believed Gondek was killed after spending time at the same club as Zendejas.

Gondek had only recently moved to California from Connecticut and was working in retail.

Garcia, a long-time martial arts instructor, lived for decades only a few miles away from the crime scenes until he finally was linked to the killings, authorities said.

“The fact is, this suspect has been hiding in plain sight, for over 40 years,” Fryhoff said.

After retiring from the Navy in 1980, Garcia worked as a karate instructor.
Facebook / Tony Garcia

Garcia lived just a few miles away from the 1981 crime scene.
Facebook / Tony Garcia


In 2004, investigators determined that the same person killed the women but couldn’t find a DNA match in a law enforcement database.

Authorities said Garcia became a suspect in 2019 after cold case investigators turned to genealogical DNA, which compares crime scene DNA with commercial databases that might include profiles submitted by relatives of the killer.

Garcia is charged with two counts of murder with special allegations that they were multiple killings and that one involved kidnapping and rape.

Ventura County law enforcement officials and prosecutors announced Garcia’s arrest at a press conference Thursday.
Ventura County District Attorney’s Office

Zendejas was a single mom of two daughters when she was raped and killed.
Family Handout


Gondek had recently relocated to California from Connecticut and was working in retail.
Ventura County District Attorney’s Office


The District Attorney’s Office hasn’t decided whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

“After more than four decades, justice is finally coming to the families of Rachel Zendejas and Lisa Gondek,” said Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko. “As this case demonstrates, murder charges can be brought at any time and there is no statute of limitations for homicides.”

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