A Cold Case in California Heats Up

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It was 24 years ago that Carol Bella, a former high school cheerleader with two small children, was brutally stabbed to death in her , home.

The young mother and her 3-year-old son Bobby were each stabbed more than a dozen times. Her 2-year-old daughter Jennifer was spared because she was sleeping at her grandmother's house that night.

Today, Jennifer Bella is 26 years old and still looking for justice for the mother and brother she remembers only through pictures.

"There's still a bond," she says. "She's my mother. I think that she deserved the chance to have a family, to raise a family. … And my brother, he deserved to live his life. It just breaks my heart to know that they were taken away so young in such a manner that's just cruel."

Jennifer's partner in her quest to find the killer is the Corcoran Police Department. The murder of Carol Bella is the only unsolved case in the department's books.

Recently retired police Commander Randall Leach spent the last several years chasing leads on Bella's homicide.

"This case is a very, very serious crime," says Leach. "It's a double homicide, but more than that, it's the killing of a mother and her young son, in their own home -- a brutal stabbing."

The town of Corcoran has had just one murder in seven years, so Carol Bella's unsolved killing has left a deep scar not just with police and family, but with the entire community.

And now, almost a quarter-century after the killings, the cold trail is finally warming up. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Bella's killer.

And police, for the first time, have named a local man, Marcos Vallejo, as a person of interest in Bella's murder.

Police say Vallejo worked with Carol Bella and ended a personal relationship with her shortly before the murder. Police also say a car resembling his green Ford Pinto was seen near the murder scene on the night of the killing.

Vallejo has previously denied having anything to do with the murder.

Police have yet to call Vallejo a suspect, but say they are frustrated that he has refused to speak to them. He did not respond to repeated interview requests by ABC News.

But more than two decades ago, Vallejo allowed police to search his home, and in a brief statement said that he was at the movies alone the night of the murder. Detectives say the theater ticket taker did not remember him.

Police are now appealing for help from the public for memories about Vallejo, his green Pinto, and any other information about the murder.

Corcoran Police Chief Reuben Shortnacy says there is a lot of momentum now in the case.

"I believe we're going to solve this case," he says.

Carol Bella's sisters, Denise Holm and Linda Miller, who still regularly leave flowers at her grave, hope the $50,000 reward will jar memories or consciences.

"No matter how minute they may think the information is, it may be just what the police need," Miller said.

Deputy District Attorney Adam Nelson also holds out hope for a lucky break.

"Maybe whoever did this, time's passed, he thought no one was interested in this case," Nelson said. "Maybe slip of the tongue, maybe got drunk, made an admission. We'd love for that to be the case."

ABC News' Jim Avila, Beth Tribolet and Mary Harris contributed to this report.

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