Three people have been arrested in connection with the deaths of two men whose badly burned bodies were found Monday in a scorched vehicle in a remote orchard in northern Merced County.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday identified the victims as Reyes Garcia Barona, 29, of Atwater, and Rudolpho Barona, 32, of Sacramento, who were reported missing Saturday by family. Deputies said Reyes Barona was the uncle of Rudolpho Barona, despite being younger.
“They left the house in Atwater on Saturday morning, saying they were going to get food, and were never seen again by their family,” said Detective Sgt. Chuck Hale.
All three suspects in the double homicide were arrested Thursday by detectives from the major crimes unit of the Sheriff’s Department.
Deputies arrested Heliodora Silva Arreola, 37, Gerardo A. Silva, 25, and Salvador Silva, 23. Investigators believe at least one more person will be arrested in connection with the grisly double homicide.
The victims were discovered Monday morning in an orchard off East Monte Vista Avenue, east of Denair. Investigators believe they were kidnapped and killed, but could not say exactly when the victims died. Investigators found several firearms and other unspecified evidence at the scene. Deputies also found evidence of at least two crime scenes within the orchard, Sgt. Delray Shelton said in a news release.
Hale said detectives are confident in the identities of the victims, but noted the Merced County Coroner’s Office has yet to positively confirm their names.
Arreola was booked on suspicion of murder, while Gerardo Silva and Salvador Silva were booked on suspicion of murder, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. Gerardo Silva also was booked on an additional allegation of criminal conspiracy, according to Merced County Jail records.
All three remained in custody Thursday evening on more than $1 million bail each.
Detectives, along with the Merced County Sheriff’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team, served search warrants late Wednesday in the 6800 block of California Street in Winton and the 3400 block of Manchester Road in Atwater, Hale confirmed.
Hale said investigators seized more than 150 pounds of marijuana buds at the Winton home, along with more than $4,000 in cash and numerous firearms. Hale declined to comment on whether any of the weapons seized were possibly used in the homicides and also declined to comment on the exact cause of the deaths.
Investigators said the two victims wound up at the home on Manchester Road “at some point on Saturday,” but said they could not comment on whether they went there voluntarily.
“There are a lot of things we still can’t discuss because this is an active investigation,” Hale said.
Detectives said the case has “drug overtones” and said it was possible some type of drug debt was involved. Deputies said there is no evidence of any street-gang involvement.
None of the three suspects arrested Thursday had any prior criminal convictions in Merced County.
Arreola was arrested in February this year on an alleged immigration violation, according to booking records, but was later released.
Sheriff Tom Cavallero praised the detective work of the Major Crimes Unit.
“I think it’s especially impressive since this case started with two unidentified bodies that were burned beyond recognition,” Cavallero said, “yet they were able to develop their lead and bring suspects into custody.”
Detectives ask anyone with information about the case to call (209) 385-7472. Tips are kept confidential and callers can remain anonymous.
Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.