Teacher Helps Crack Murder Mystery

Eighteen years ago, Dawn Sanchez of Los Altos was allegedly shot and murdered by her former boyfriend Bernardo Bass. The case was never closed but because the defense attorney proved that the prosecutor had no hard evidence of a body, car or gun, it was difficult to go forward with the investigation.

However, this past summer, advances were made in the investigation and the Los Altos Police Department (LAPD) was led to the city of Alviso where evidence of the car was supposedly buried. Auto shop teacher Greg Ely was called in July as the “car expert” of the investigation team. His job was to try and figure out the model and make of Bass’s car that was cut up and deeply entrenched in Alviso.

At the time Bass’s friend lived in Alviso where the body was suspected to be. Now that the house isn’t there, the Santa Clara County requested a search warrant and the team excavated the land in search of evidence.

“The LAPD came here and wanted to ask if I would come down and take a look at it and see if any of the parts were the defendant’s Pontiac Grand Prix,” Ely said.

Ely worked for Chevrolet for 10 years during the time the Pontiac Grand Prix was manufactured and said that many of Chevrolet’s cars have a similar A-body. (An A-body is a car body style that refers to a GM A platform).

“There was a huge pile of parts,” Ely said. “Most of them were unrelated. We did see two large pieces- part of a roof and part of the bottom frame of the right rear corner above the wheel. The fairly large pieces were definitely A-body.”

Ely and the team identified that the model of the car was in fact a Pontiac Grand Prix but they needed more information in order to verify that the car belonged to Bass.

They found the original window sticker for the car and decoded the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) with the help of LAPD. From there they could find where the car came from, the engine and the optional equipment. The window sticker, which has all the equipment of the car listed, included a piece of the sunroof. By matching the VIN, they figured out that there were only a few cars with the same factory sunroof they found. The paint codes at the bottom of the window sticker also matched the interior and exterior paint of the car.

“So, you’ve got an exact paint match with the exact codes in the exact colors on the exact same model car as what the original sticker for that car shows,” Ely said.

The District Attorney presented the evidence of the car in court, and the defendant pleaded guilty. He is to receive six years in jail for voluntary manslaughter.

Ely admits to enjoying his time spent on the investigation team and refers to it as “putting the pieces of a puzzle together.”

“I like digging through car parts, and it’s kind of satisfying to say that ‘Yeah, we identified these pieces that were involved in the case.’ It makes you feel good about that,” he said.
Police Captain Andy Galea agreed that Ely’s role was vital.

“[His role was] very significant and he was very helpful to us,” Galea said. “He was able to look at car parts and identify them right away. He saved us a lot of time.”

The case, however, will not close until the body is found.

“We will continue to look for the body and will continue to follow up on the information as it comes in,” Galea said. “We won’t stop until we find it.”