Fresno police renew effort to solve 1996 Debbie Dorian murder

Two former Fresno police homicide detectives are returning to duty on their own time to solve the cold case murder of Fresno State student Debbie Dorian, who was raped and murdered in 1996.

Bob Schiotis and Vince Zavala, who worked on the high-profile case two decades ago, will go over old leads and consider new ones, assisted by advances in DNA technology, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a news conference Friday attended by the detectives and Dorian’s mother, Sara Loven.

Dorian, an economics student, was found dead in her apartment near Cedar and Teague avenues in northeast Fresno on Aug. 22, 1996, by her father, Peter Dorian. Police said she had been bound, gagged and raped.

In 2002, police linked DNA evidence from the case to similar crimes in the Visalia area that took place from July 1999 to August 2002. Since the 1990s, a total of $57,000 has been offered as reward for the apprehension of the perpetrator or perpetrators in the cases by the state as well as Crime Stopper programs in Fresno and Visalia.

Loven said her daughter’s life “was cut short by evil people who caused her much pain. The person or persons who killed my daughter are still free and continue to harm young women.

“These men,” Loven said of Schiotis and Zavala, “have taken her case to heart.”

Schiotis, who retired in 2006, will work as a volunteer on the case and Zavala, who worked for the state Department of Justice after leaving the Fresno Police Department, will serve as an unpaid reserve officer while investigating the crime.

“I’ve seen the toll taken on the family,” said Zavala, “as I’ve seen the toll taken on the families of countless murder victims. That’s the reason Bob and I are going to give it our best.”

The method used by the perpetrator or perpetrators in the slaying and other assaults was to locate a female victim by herself and force her to submit to attacks by brandishing a semi-automatic handgun.

The perpetrator was described at the time as being a white male about 35 years old with blond or gray hair, about 5 feet 10 inches tall and between 180 and 210 pounds, although he was also described as having a slim build. Dyer said police did not want to release sketches made of the suspect at the time because of changes in appearance since the early 2000s.

Because California prisoners who commit felonies are compelled to provide a DNA sample, Dyer said, it is unlikely that anyone connected to the case has been incarcerated since the crimes took place.

The chief said investigators are hopeful that someone who has information about the crime will come forward. One reason he cited was that old friendships and alliances tend to break down over time, encouraging a witness to do the right thing.

Anyone with information about the Dorian murder or the Visalia assaults is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 559-498-7867.

Visalia assault cases

  • July 30, 1999, at 11:40 p.m. at Walnut Avenue and San Joaquin Drive
  • Sept. 26, 1999, at 7:45 p.m. at Church Street and School Avenue
  • April 3, 2001, at 10 p.m. at 1972 E. Mineral King Ave.
  • Oct. 26, 2001, at 6:45 a.m. on the 400 block of West Grove Avenue
  • Jan. 4, 2002, at 6:35 a.m. on the 900 block of West Murray Avenue
  • Jan. 27, 2002, at 6:25 a.m. at 520 S. Mooney Blvd.
  • Aug. 23, 2002, at 10:42 p.m. behind 130 N. Conyer St.
  • The perpetrator also attempted to rob a victim Dec. 23, 2001, at 7:02 a.m. at 520 S. Mooney Blvd.