Vigil honors Ashley Yamauchi, slain 8 years ago in unsolved case

SAN RAFAEL (KTVU) -- Friends and family of Ashley Yamauchi gathered Friday night in downtown San Rafael to pay tribute to the woman who was slain eight years ago.

Yamauchi's loved ones don't want people to forget that the 33-year-old mother was raped and strangled on Dec 16, 2008 before her body was found behind the 4th Street Tavern.

The neighborhood bar where Yamauchi was last seen alive closed a few years ago. And newcomers to the neighborhood may not know of the murder.

But the family's devotion has not wavered.

"We talked right before she went into the bar," her cousin Ana Castrillo said. "Even when she was in the bar, we were on the telephone."

Castrillo has since moved to Texas but returned for the annual vigil on Fourth Street.

Castrillo said she was texting with Ashley that night and she seemed fine and was socializing in a familiar place with friends. But Yamauchi's body was found the next morning wedged between a car and a fence in the parking lot behind the tavern.

She was partially nude, and had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

"We threw every resource that we had at it," said San Rafael police Sgt. Carl Huber.

He said the unsolved case haunts and frustrates investigators, especially because suspect DNA degraded in the rain that fell that night.

"Some of the advances that may come about in the next few years, may allow us to revisit that portion of the evidence and come up with a higher quality result," he said.

Ashley's family feels certain that in such a busy spot, someone knows something about who killed her.

"There are apartments surrounding this parking lot, and a bar full of people so how could nobody not hear anything?" Castrillo said.

Every year, in front of the now-shuttered bar, family and friends light candles and distribute flyers to remind them of the crime and the $50,000 reward.

At the vigil was a large portrait of Yamauchi and the reward proclamation was displayed, signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is never too late, loved ones say, for someone to come forward and disclose what they know.

"So if this reaches their ears, they'll come forward because you never know," said her brother, Heath Yamaguchi. "Things change between people, so keep the hope."

Supporters also wrote notes that were arranged among pink flowers. A former neighbor who lived year Yamauchi in Mill Valley but now lives in Southern California, came to the vigil for the first time.

"It's overwhelming and emotional," said Ike Squillacioti, "I can still hear her laugh, still see her smile and she was beautiful inside and out."

Squillacioti has a small blue heart tattooed on his forearm, almost identical to one Ashley had.

"She had all these dreams. She wanted to be an aesthetician. She was a nanny. She had plans," he said.

Yamauchi's daughter is 16 years old now and relatives say she and her father don't attend the vigils because it would be too painful.

"Ashley just had this really great presence," said Castrillo, wiping away tears. "She was a good friend, really funny and great to be around."

Anyone with information was asked to call the tip-line at (415) 458-2399. For a Facebook page dedicated to her, click here.

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.

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