DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. – Authorities in California have charged a man with the brutal murder of a Riverside County woman found dead in her apartment nearly 28 years ago.
Sharron Eugene Gadlin, 48, of Gardena, is charged with one count of first-degree murder, according to jail records. He is also charged with trespassing and public intoxication following a traffic stop during which he was taken into custody.
Gadlin is accused of fatally stabbing Cheri Lynn Huss, 39, in her home in Desert Hot Springs in 1994, when he was 20 years old. His bail has been set at just over $1 million.
Riverside County prosecutors announced Tuesday that Gadlin had been identified as the alleged killer using DNA from a bite mark Huss’ killer left on her body during the brutal attack. The DNA sample was given to genetic genealogists who were able to identify Gadlin through his family tree.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin said his office’s cold case team would continue to use cutting edge technology to bring resolution to unsolved cases.
“I hope Cheri and her family will finally get the justice they deserve and have waited so long for,” Hestrin said in a statement. “Our prosecutors will continue to vigorously prosecute these murderers until we get justice for their victims.”
A fresh start
The recently divorced Huss lived in a four-plex apartment building in the 12900 block of Parma Drive in Desert Hot Springs, a city about 100 miles from Los Angeles in the Coachella Valley. Her ex-husband, Jeff Huss, lived in Cathedral City and they shared custody of their children, then ages 14, 13 and 8.
Huss’ mother, Ruth Friedman, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun in 1998 that her daughter was starting to piece her life back together the weekend of April 23, 1994, when she found herself alone in her new apartment, where she had lived for just two months. Her children were with their father that weekend.
Sometime between 10 p.m. and the following morning, Huss was stabbed repeatedly and left partially clothed on the floor of her home. Her brutalized body was found by her parents the morning of April 24.
In addition to the stab wounds, Huss had been bitten by her killer.
“Homicide investigators also found that she had fought off her attacker, which caused the person to leave blood, determined by testing to be from a male, at the crime scene,” according to prosecutors. “Forensic testing confirmed that the blood from the male matched the DNA of saliva left behind in the bite marks on the victim.”
Friedman told the Desert Sun that she and her husband had driven from their San Fernando Valley home to check on their daughter because of a disturbing message she had left for them the night before.
“She sounded desperate,” Friedman said. “She told us someone had been taking photos of her and hanging up when she answered the phone. It was terrifying.”
Friedman said she got an “ominous feeling” when they arrived. Huss’ porch light was on, and her dog was outside.
Huss’ front door was unlocked and her car was parked on the street instead of the driveway.
When the couple went inside, they found the unimaginable. Their daughter’s partially clothed body was lying lifeless on the floor.
“It was a nightmare,” Friedman said.
Over the years, the Friedmans worked to keep their daughter’s case in the public eye, including the offer of a $50,000 reward.
“How in the world can we let someone like that eat, drink, smile, dance, drive, live a life,” Friedman said in 2004. “You feel like your hands are tied as a parent. People say, ‘Why don’t you just drop it and go on?’ You can’t just drop it.”
Their grandchildren were left with the “open wound” of who killed their mother and why.
“They say, ‘What happened to Mama? Are the police any closer to catching someone?’” she told the Desert Sun.
The case was no closer to being solved, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Over the years, detectives regularly entered the suspect’s DNA profile, obtained from his blood and saliva, into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS.
There was never a match, prosecutors said.
Then came the advent of genetic genealogy. Investigators using the tool upload the DNA of an unidentified person, such as a suspect or a John or Jane Doe victim, into a DNA database like GEDmatch or Ancestry.com.
The information is then compared to the millions of profiles uploaded by people searching for their relatives or learning more about their heritage.
If authorities get a “hit” on a relative, they and genetic genealogists can reverse engineer a family tree for the unidentified person and narrow down who they might be.
Watch footage of Gadlin’s arrest below, courtesy of ABC 7 in Los Angeles.
In February, the Riverside Regional Cold Case Team was able to use the technology to identify Gadlin as a potential person of interest. At the time of Hess’ murder, Gadlin lived about 12 miles away in Thousand Palms, according to authorities.
“Cold case investigators sought and were granted a warrant to obtain a saliva sample from Gadlin, which was done on Feb. 14, 2022,” prosecutors said in their statement. “Four days later, on Feb. 18, investigators received confirmation from the state Department of Justice lab that there was a DNA match of the saliva to the DNA profile of the person suspected of murdering Cheri Huss.”
Gadlin was arrested Friday after officers pulled his vehicle over at a Gardena intersection. It was not immediately clear if he and Huss knew one another before her death.
The Desert Sun reported that Gadlin had previous run-ins with the police, including a 1999 DUI arrest in San Bernardino County. He was also convicted that year of entering property without consent and public intoxication.
Gadlin is due back in court later this month.