Jacob Gonzales was the only suspect in the slaying of girlfriend Katherine Cunningham

By Christine Pelisek
April 17, 2019 06:03 PM
Katherine Cunningham

Jacob Gonzales of Washington State was wanted by police for the decapitation murder of his girlfriend. He has finally been found after a body believed to be his, discovered last year in a California river, was formally identified this week.

On Tuesday, authorities announced they identified the remains of 33-year-old Gonzales.

Gonzales, a survivalist, was the only suspect in the slaying of 26-year-old Katherine Cunningham, whose body was found March 3, 2018, near a six-foot deep man-made bunker on rural Camano Island in Washington State. She had been beheaded.

Island County Sheriff’s Office detective Ed Wallace says Cunningham, a nursing assistant who worked in a care home, was killed on Feb. 15, 2018, about two weeks before her remains were discovered by someone looking to purchase the property.

“She was about 75 feet from the bunker wrapped in a sleeping bag,” he says.

Wallace says investigators found a cache of firearms including two bolt action rifles, an HR 1871 camouflaged pump action shotgun and over a thousand rounds of ammunitions, along with water and food inside the bunker.

“He isolated her from her family,” Wallace  says. “They lived an isolated life off the grid.”

Jacob Gonzales

Wallace says he believes Gonzales, 33, killed Cunningham inside the 12-foot travel trailer they shared on the property.

After the murder, he says Gonzales stole Cunningham’s 1998 Honda Civic, left his cellphone and computer behind, and took off towards California.

Cunningham’s car was found Feb. 16, a day or so after the alleged killing, abandoned on the side of Interstate 5 outside of Yreka, Calif.

“The California Highway Patrol impounded the car and we served a search warrant,” says Wallace. “They found a samurai sword in the trunk.”

The sword was in a sheath wrapped in a blanket, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by PEOPLE.

The car was taken back to Washington State and analyzed for DNA evidence. Cunningham’s blood and DNA were found on the blade of the weapon and Gonzales’ DNA was discovered on the handle of the weapon.

Wallace says Gonzales’ body was found on August 7, 2018 in the Feather River near Yuba City but because there was no identification on the body he was initially classified as a John Doe.

“He was a John Doe initially and they did a release about his tattoos to try and identify him,” Wallace says. “But nothing happened.”

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However, in November, a tipster recognized Gonzales’ tattoos and contacted authorities. He was positively identified on Tuesday. Wallace says his death was a “suspected suicide.”

Wallace says he has no doubt that Gonzales killed Cunningham but he is frustrated that he wasn’t able to give the family answers as to why he did it.

“That is the frustrating part for me for the family,” he says. “I want to be able to give them answers. I wanted to sit across from him and interview him and find out why for Katherine’s family. And he cheated them of that answer. So unfortunately now we may never know why it happened.”

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