Bernice “Vi” Wright was only 31 years old when she was slain and left for dead in Fresno, California, in the fall of 1993. Now, almost 30 years later, the hunt is on for the man police believe is responsible.
Wright’s body was found in a vineyard at the corner of Orange Avenue and Manning Avenue in Fresno County – a few miles due south of the city of Fresno proper. Her body was unclothed when she was discovered; she had been shot and stabbed, according to a press release issued by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office on Friday.
In 2021, the cold case was reopened. Though details of the newfound investigation are scarce, police say the results of DNA testing are currently pointing the finger at one man in particular.
After attention was renewed on Wright’s murder, the FCSO says a “DNA hit” came up by way of the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, commonly known by its initials as CODIS, a database that has led to convictions in multiple cold cases over the past several years.
Manuel Aguilar Mendoza, who is approximately 49 years old, was identified by Fresno law enforcement as their wanted man. Mendoza allegedly goes by many names, including Miguel Mendoza, Miguel Barragan, Aguilar, Manuel Purvandro Acosta, Miguel Costa, and Manuel Barragan.
“If anyone knows the whereabouts of this subject, he is wanted for questioning for the murder of Bernice Wright,” the FCSO said. “He is known to travel to and from Mexico and the USA.”
The suspect is said to be Hispanic, 5-foot-10, 150 lbs. with black hair, and brown eyes. Law enforcement records suggest he has given out two birthdates in the past: Aug. 20, 1973, and Feb. 20, 1975.
The case is being overseen by FCSO Detective Sergio Tosca.
Law&Crime reached out to the sheriff’s office for additional details on this case but no response was immediately forthcoming at the time of publication.
In press archives, however, The Fresno Bee offered a few traces of the victim’s life.
Wright left behind a 12-year-old daughter when she was killed.
“Born in Riverside County, Wright spent much of her life in Fresno, attending Roosevelt High School,” the paper reported. “She worked as a housekeeper but also struggled with a drug habit, dabbling in sex work.”
She was last seen around 4:00 a.m. the morning of her murder – walking on Belmont Avenue near Third Street; roughly 12 miles away from the place where her body was found some hours later.
Chillingly, the area where Wright’s body was found has become a place where criminals feel safe enough to dump their victims’ bodies.
On Jan. 10, the body of Brittany Monique Degrise, 31, was found on Orange Avenue, near the exact same vineyard, between Manning Avenue and Dinuba Avenue, local ABC affiliate KSFN reported.
And no one has been arrested for her murder either. The two deaths are not believed to be otherwise related.
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Manuel Aguilar Mendoza wanted in Bernice Wright cold case
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