Police believe a convicted sex offender arrested in the disappearance of San Diego high school student Chelsea King raped and murdered the girl, prosecutors said today.
Arrested on suspicion of first degree murder and forcible rape, John Albert Gardner III, 30, was taken into custody Sunday after police found physical evidence linking him to King, a 17-year-old high school senior who vanished Feb. 25 while jogging in a park north of San Diego.
Police have yet to find King or her body and San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said Gardner was not cooperating with the investigation.
No bail has been set for Gardner, but he is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday when he could formally be charged with murder even if King's body has not been discovered.
"There are murder cases that get tried without a body. There is one going on now," said Paul Levikow, spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney.
"We don't know what the charges are going to be. Police arrest on suspicion, but charges are based on probable cause. [Gardner] has been arrested on suspicion of rape and murder, but only the D.A. can actually file charges," he said.
Police said arresting Gardner was the first step in finding the missing girl.
"So far we do not know where Chelsea is," Gore told "Good Morning America" today. "It is a step in the right direction. We're confident we have the right man in custody. Now we've just got to find Chelsea."
Police believe Gardner, who was arrested in 2000 for committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, may also be connected to the disappearance of Amber DuBois, a 14-year-old who disappeared near San Diego on her way to school in February 2009.
DuBois' father said he and his family have not been contacted by police, but he has been in regular contact with King's parents and have helped organize the search for King.
"It's very emotional," said Maurice DuBois who has been briefing search teams and offering support to the King family. "It brings us right back to the first week Amber went missing, all the chaos and fear."
At the time of Amber's disappearance, DuBois said police never mentioned Gardner by name, but he was told "that law enforcement had checked all the sex offenders living in the proximity."
He said he hadn't met with law enforcement yet to discuss if Gardner had been questioned last year or if he might be connected to both cases.
Police said Gardner may also be connected to an attack on a young woman along the park's same jogging path where King went missing. That jogger was able to fend off her assailant by hitting him in the face with her elbow and escaping.
The search for King, a straight A student and avid runner, has drawn hundreds of volunteers. Authorities have used every resource available to find her, including a hi-tech drone aircraft flown by remote control and helicopters with infrared equipment as well as searches on horseback and with tracking dogs.
Teams have waded across the park's lake, while an underwater robot was used to take pictures on its bottom.
"You can't say enough," Brent King said. "It is so heartwarming to see the effort that's been being given. It's what sustains me every single moment. It's a testament to who my daughter is."
Gardner, of Lake Elsinore, was arrested outside a restaurant in Escondido. He was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years, according to the California sex offenders registry Web site.
Chelsea is 5-feet-5 inches tall and 115 pounds, with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.
She is a member of the San Diego Youth Symphony and a straight-A student at Poway High School, where she is due to graduate this spring.
The sheriff's department asked that anyone with information about King's whereabouts call 858-565-5200.