More than two decades after a United Airlines flight attendant was brutally murdered in her Des Plaines apartment, police say a "significant investigative breakthrough" led to an arrest in the case.
Young Kavila was 30 years old and was living in a small apartment not far from Chicago's O'Hare Airport at the time of her 1999 murder.
According to prosecutors and police, Kavila had just returned from getting food when she discovered a strange man waiting in her home.
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Authorities said she tried to fight off her attacker, but he slashed her throat with a boot knife, sexually assaulted her and left - but not before wiping his hands on her bed covers.
A short time later, Kavila's roommate found her beaten and stabbed to death on the floor of their kitchen, prosecutors said.
On Thursday, more than 20 years later, authorities revealed they arrested Kavila's then-neighbor, Luis Rodriguez Mena, in the case.
"The big break was some people in his family cooperated with our investigation and gave us his whereabouts," Officer Michael Heidcamp with the Des Plaines Police Department said.
Rodriguez Mena, who lived in the same apartment complex as Kavila, fled to Mexico the day after the murder with his then-pregnant girlfriend. According to prosecutors, he had "a large untreated gash across his chest" at the time.
Rodriguez Mena, now 46, became a suspect in 2007, when relatives said he boasted about the murder and threatened to harm them if they turned him over to police.
An arrest warrant was issued in the case in 2008 and authorities worked with the FBI to request help from law enforcement in Mexico, "but were unable to execute his capture."
Police said blood stains found on Kavila's bedding and shoe, as well as a fingerprint on the doorknob helped tie Rodriguez Mena to the crime. In 2008, Rodriguez Mena’s girlfriend came back to the United States with their son, according to Police Chief William Kushner. She gave investigators consent to compare her son’s DNA with evidence collected at the crime scene.
The DNA profiles were a 99.98% match with Rodriguez Mena. Fingerprint evidence also tied Rodriguez Mena to the crime, authorities said.
"There are several things that came up over the years," Heidcamp said. "There was DNA evidence linked back to the case. Later on, as a result of a case that he had in Mexico, we were able to link fingerprint evidence back to him."
Rodriguez Mena was arrested in June in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he’d been living. Prior efforts by the FBI and Interpol to take him into custody were hampered by relatives moving him around Mexico, Kushner said.
Rodriguez Mena was extradited to the U.S. and turned over to the Des Plaines Police Department on Tuesday. He faces three counts of first-degree murder and was ordered held without bond by a Skokie judge Thursday.
It was not immediately clear if Rodriguez Mena had an attorney.