A woman found dead inside a refrigerator in Santa Ana, California, last week was a relative of a couple who had stored the body for more than a year and did not report it because of their immigration status, police said.
On Thursday, a landlord who was preparing to rent out a detached garage in the 1000 block of North Jackson Street made the grim discovery after smelling a strong odor coming from inside the refrigerator, according to the Santa Ana Police Department.
The landlord told officers that a couple had rented the garage for three months and left the refrigerator and other belongings behind. Investigators said the refrigerator was still running, which likely slowed the body's decomposition.
Officers tracked down the couple to another home in Garden Grove. The couple told investigators they had been caring for the woman they identified as Ricarda Reyes-Villalobos, and she was about 50 years old when she died in August 2014.
"They stated they planned on returning to the residence for their property when they had the sufficient funds to do so," police said in a news release on Tuesday.
An autopsy found no signs of trauma, police said. The official cause of death is pending a toxicology report.
Investigators said they will be working with Mexican authorities to identify the woman and it will be up to the Orange County District Attorney to decide if any charges will be filed.