Homicide detectives searching for clues: No arrests yet in two-month murder case | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Homicide detectives searching for clues: No arrests yet in two-month murder case

William Ferchland

Assisted by the FBI and reportedly questioning people daily, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department is not forgetting the possible drug-related murder two months ago of 23-year-old Elijah Deluna.

Reported six hours after his body was discovered with a bullet-wound in the head, Deluna’s death marked the first known homicide in South Lake Tahoe since September 2001.

It’s also the first under police Chief Don Muren who has been in the top cop position for two years.

“We don’t want this case to get too old,” he said.

Two other cases contain the possibility of murder. In February 2003, Bobette Ulrich disappeared from South Lake Tahoe when she drove to the Bay Area. Her abandoned car was located.

Last August, real estate agent Jeff Bursha’s body was found in the bathroom after his house on Park Avenue went up in flames.

But Deluna’s death was caused by a fatal gunshot wound, leaving little doubt.

His death may have been drug related, either over methamphetamine or cocaine or both, Muren said.

The case has proved not to be an open and closed investigation. As detectives dig deeper, they’ve found stolen vehicles from Carson City at the Blackwood Apartments at 3546 Spruce Ave., where Deluna rented a unit. There’s also the drug angle, which has brought the assistance from SLEDNET, South Shore’s drug enforcement team and its counterpart in Carson Valley, TRINET.

“It’s a little more difficult in that it’s such a vast investigation,” Hewlett said.

Two police detectives have been assigned to the murder as the lead investigators, but the team looking into the case varies from four to eight officers, Hewlett said.

FBI agents have assisted with reinterviewing people and providing an interpreter, said Karen Ernst, spokeswoman for the Sacramento division of the bureau.

Adding to the difficulty is language and cultural barriers in the Hispanic community. Hewlett said investigators are “sympathetic” to the barrier.

Joe Pepi, member of the Latino Affairs Commission in South Lake Tahoe, said police officers, including Muren, are present at many meetings to help bridge the gap and reach out to the community.

Evident from the attention on the case is a sense of urgency and frustration. Even though two suspects in murder cases in the 1980s have recently been brought or are being extradited to South Lake Tahoe courtrooms, officers don’t want Deluna’s name on their list of cold cases.

“It’s certainly frustrating not having somebody in custody,” Muren said. “We’d like to determine who is responsible for this and use the system to bring them to justice.”

Hewlett echoes those sentiments.

“We’re investigating someone who lost their life and it can’t get more important than that,” he said, adding “We will have a resolution to this.”

Anyone with information on the Deluna murder is asked to contact the South Lake Tahoe Police Department at (530) 542-6100 or Secret Witness at (530) 541-6800.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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