Courts & Crime

California woman missing since February now believed dead

The case of missing Merced, Calif., woman Karen Wright has been ruled a homicide.

Investigators believe her husband knows what happened to her, officials said Tuesday.

Wright, 50, went missing in February in San Felipe, Mexico. Her husband, 59-year-old Randal Wright, hasn't been arrested in connection with her disappearance.

Sheriff's officials stopped short of calling him a suspect, but said this week that he is considered their only "person of interest" in the matter.

Sheriff's spokesman Tom MacKenzie said investigators have gathered enough evidence in recent months that they're now confident Karen Wright was murdered. Authorities also believe her husband knows more about what happened to her than he has shared with detectives, MacKenzie said.

Authorities wouldn't discuss exactly what prompted them to elevate Wright's case to a murder investigation, except to say that they've uncovered inconsistencies in Randal Wright's statements.

In an interview Tuesday, Karen Wright's mother, Sonja Barnes, said the case's new status is what her family has been waiting for.

"We've known in our hearts from the very first day she went missing that she wouldn't be coming home alive," said Barnes, who lives in Oroville. "It's still hard to accept it, but this is an important step toward getting justice for Karen."

Randal Wright has denied any involvement in his wife's disappearance. His attorney, Tom Pfeiff, said he had no comment on the investigation's recent developments.

The Wrights had been married for 12 years when Karen filed for divorce last October, according to court documents. Her relatives and police have said the couple was separated when she went missing.

Karen Wright apparently had gone to Mexico to visit vacation homes she and her husband owned there. Her mother said she suspected Randal Wright might have been violating a court order prohibiting him from doing construction work on one of their homes until after their divorce was final, and Karen had gone to check on the house.

Randal Wright was already in Mexico at the time she disappeared and he reported her missing, MacKenzie said.

In court documents, both Wrights said the other had been abusive.

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