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Skeleton Found In The Desert Unravels Disturbing 1992 Murder Case

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Human remains found near Apple Valley have finally been identified as a woman who went missing in 1992, and the story of her death is a convoluted one.

Jovita Collazo was 38 years old when she vanished from her apartment in National City—a city just south of San Diego—in May of 1992. Her husband, Michael Collazo, told police that she was at his apartment with their daughter, but decided to run back to her place to grab something. She never returned. Her skeletal remains were found in a shallow grave in Apple Valley in 1994, but DNA testing then wasn't as advanced as it is today. So it took over two decades but authorities just verified that the bones found in San Bernardino belonged to Collazo, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

At the time of Collazo's disappearance, police suspected her boyfriend, Michael Richardson, was responsible. Michael Collazo said that he and Jovita had been separated when she started seeing Richardson, but that she was going to leave Richardson and get back together with him. Collazo also indicated that Jovita may have been planning on reporting Richardson for allegedly molesting her daughter. In spite of all of that, there was no body and a lack of evidence. Richardson was remained a free man.

In June of 2010, however, police discovered two bodies in a car that had careened down an embankment in Lakeside. The bodies were identified as Thao Richardson, Richardson's wife at the time, and her mother, Than Lyi. Though it might have seemed like they died in a tragic crash, investigators found that Thao Richardon had been strangled and Lyi's throat had been slashed.

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Richardson was accused of killing them both and trying to make it seem like they'd died in a car cash. The motive: he was having an affair with Thao's 17-year-old niece, and his wife caught him making plans to run away with the underage girl. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to killing not only his wife and mother-in-law, but Collazo as well. Collazo's daughter, then 32, testified during this trial that he had molested her when she was a child numerous times.

Though Richardson was sent to prison for the murders, he never revealed how he killed Collazo, or where her body was.

Weirder yet, Richardson should have been in jail when he met Collazo. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison for robbing and shooting a cabdriver in North Carolina in 1975, when Richardson was only 22. However, he managed to escape from a road crew six years into his sentence, before setting out for San Diego County. He was arrested in 2000, sent back to North Carolina, but was paroled after only seven months. The cabbie he shot, James Johnson, survived.

Michael Collazo told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he's "a little happy now that [Richardson] didn't get away with it, but I'm going to my grave angry over it."

Richardson is serving six life sentences in prison, the L.A. Times reports.