Garcia-Vaca is facing 25 years in prison when he is sentenced in Colusa County Superior Court on Jan. 6, 2021, nearly three years to the day after Karen was bludgeoned to death inside the Colusa apartment the couple had shared with their then 2-year-old daughter.
According to investigators, Garcia-Vaca killed the woman he had professed to love on Jan. 8, 2018, after Karen, in a series of text messages, had permanently ended their turbulent relationship.
At the time of her death, Karen had been living with her mother in Williams because of a domestic violence incident that occurred in late December, after which Garcia-Vaca was arrested for battery. It was then that Karen admitted to her family that she was the victim of repeated abuse stemming from Garcia-Vaca’s jealousy, her sister had said in a televised interview months after the murder.
Investigators said after killing Karen – likely in a fit of rage – Garcia-Vaca dragged her body through their apartment, with her dark brown hair picking up traces of glitter from the Christmas decorations that still adorned the home. Forensic evidence showed that Karen was dragged out the back door of the Oak Street apartment, down the wooden steps and into the alley, before her body was placed inside the trunk of a waiting vehicle.
Karen’s decomposing body was discovered six days later, on Jan. 14, in a Woodland parking lot. Her body had been placed in the driver’s seat of her car in a reclining position with her face down and obscured by her hair. She was covered with a sweater and had her charging cell-phone perched on one hip to appear as if she was napping.
In the days after Karen’s disappearance, Garcia-Vaca, in a tearful televised interview, pleaded for his beloved’s safe return. He also participated in a massive social media campaign titled “Bring Karen Home,” and a car-tagging event in Williams on Jan. 13, 2018, before reportedly absconding to Mexico as police were closing in.
With a $10,000 reward offered for his capture, and following a major feature by John Walsh in the television series “In Pursuit,” in February, 2019, a tip led to Garcia-Vaca’s arrest by U.S. Marshals Service in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on Aug. 1, 2019, and he was extradited back to the Colusa County Jail, where he will remain pending sentencing.
Karen’s death at the hand of the young man she had dated since Junior High had been a terrible blow to the community and a double tragedy for her family.
Karen’s 19-year-old sister, Jessica Garcia Romero, had been killed along with her four friends by a drunk driver in a head-on collision on Interstate 5 – just one day prior to Karen’s murder.
Family and friends of the Romeros had immediately suspected something was terribly wrong when Karen failed to show up for Jessica’s memorial. Most had immediately suspected Garcia-Vaca had done her harm.
Since her murder, Karen’s friends and coworkers have vowed to keep the young mother’s memory alive, and have formed “Karen’s House,” a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence successfully escape their abusers.