Coroner's investigators unearthed skeletal remains Wednesday from a shallow grave in Canyon Country, where the man who killed the wife of Los Lobos singer Cesar Rosas had led authorities.
Forensic experts said they will conduct an autopsy and compare dental records today to determine whether the bones are those of Sandra Rosas, who was murdered by her half-brother Gabriel Gomez.
It may be several days before the Los Angeles County coroner's office identifies the remains, but authorities say they are confident the victim is Rosas.
"If it is not, Gabriel Gomez led us to the body of another woman that was murdered, and that's very unlikely," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Clem.
Rosas' 28-year-old daughter was at the site Wednesday and told investigators that she recognized a hair clip attached to the remains.
Rosas disappeared from her Rowland Heights home on Oct. 23, 1999, and has not been seen since.
Gomez was convicted of the murder last week. In what Gomez's attorney characterized as "an act of final contrition" Gomez told authorities Monday where to find the shallow grave, 400 yards from the 29000 block of Sand Canyon Road.
Deputies used dogs to sniff out the grave about 5 p.m. Tuesday and forensic anthropologists painstakingly exhumed the remains in a daylong effort Wednesday.
This week's search was the second since Gomez's sentencing on Nov. 16, the same day he led authorities on an unsuccessful attempt to find Rosas' body in Schabarum Regional Park in Rowland Heights.
Referring to that first search, part of which was televised live, Sheriff's Homicide Det. Mike Scott said Gomez "sent us on a wild goose chase to get back at the investigators."
But Gomez's attorney, Antonio Bestard, said his client had forgotten the location.
"It took him a tremendous amount of time to remember the landmarks and geographic locations," Bestard said.
As forensic experts worked to remove the remains, Rosas' daughter Amber sat silently on the roadside above the grave. Other family members watching and praying over the recovery included Rosas' sister and brother-in-law and a cousin, Joe Ornelas, who spoke to reporters on behalf of the family.
"This is the first step to closure for our family," Ornelas said.
Scott said Gomez killed Rosas because she wanted him out of her life. "He's the black sheep of the family," Scott said.
Scott said Gomez probably strangled his half sister and drove to the Santa Clarita Valley to dump the body. Gomez navigated his way into the canyon along a hilly dirt road by the light of a full moon, Scott said.
During Gomez's murder trial prosecutors used DNA tests to link blood traces in Rosas' van to Gomez.
On Monday, Gomez waived his attorney-client privileges to tell the authorities where Rosas lay.
"He gave investigators several landmarks," said Deputy Darren Harris. "He told them the body was near an all-night market, a restaurant, a trailer park, apartment building and a house with red trim." Gomez also said he thought the body might be in Santa Clarita, officials said.
Times staff writer Solomon Moore contributed to this story.