SAN LEANDRO -- A woman whose body was found in a burning Castro Valley home last week was brutally beaten by a man who may have slipped in through an unlocked door or window, a spokesman from the Alameda County Sheriff's office said Tuesday.
The woman, identified as Barbara Latiolais, 58, lived at the home at 2431 San Carlos Ave. with her longtime partner Michael J. Rice, 60, a retired San Francisco firefighter and the homeowner.
Police are investigating the killing as a homicide, which one deputy called one of the "most violent" he has ever seen.
Rice was out of town at the time and is not a suspect in the killing, police said.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said officials believed from the start that the fire was suspicious and an accelerant was used to start the blaze last Thursday. "And our suspicions were in fact confirmed,'' Nelson said. "She was brutally attacked in the home and murdered and the fire was intentionally set."
Police said a man, who has not been identified, stole the couple's black 2006 Volvo station wagon from their driveway shortly after the 12:15 a.m. fire. The car was found several hours later at the end of Brookdale Boulevard in Castro Valley. Police declined to say if they lifted any viable fingerprints from the car. Nelson said there were valuables taken from the home but declined to say what.
Police believe neighbors or someone in the area may have seen the man, described as in his late teens or early 20s, near the home or leaving it. Nelson said the man may not have acted alone.
"We believe someone in Castro Valley may know something, and we are leaving no stone unturned in this investigation because this person needs to be in jail. This is a terrible act,'' Nelson said.
Police did not say how the man entered the home, but a Bay Area heat wave last week may have prompted the victim to leave windows or doors open, Nelson said.
"We have no reason to believe that (she) let the suspect in the house,'' he added.
There has been a rise in residential burglaries throughout the East Bay, but at this point police see no connection with other crimes, Nelson said.
Lt. Colby Staysa, who has been with the sheriff's office for 15 years, characterized the crime as "one of the most violent and severe I've seen in my time with the sheriff's office."
Police are asking for the public's help. Anyone with information about the case may call the sheriff's office at 510-667-3636. Police especially want to hear from anyone who may have seen the car on Oct. 18.