Human Remains found in DV 3-17-03

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Posted by bart on March 19, 2003 at 13:10:51:

Human remains found in DV

By Robin Flinchum
Correspondent 03/17/2003

Although Inyo County investigators have not yet been able to identify a set of human remains found by back country hikers near the remote Panamint Dunes in Death Valley National Park this past February, they believe the deceased was probably a woman, under 5'5"tall, and in her 40s. While only about 50 percent of the skeleton was found, along with a pair of sweat pants and a sweat shirt in very weathered condition, the bones included the pelvis and lower jawbone, which provided investigators valuable clues.

But a positive identification could be a long time coming, said sheriff's Investigator Marston Mottweiler. "We've come up with a couple of leads, but at this point nothing positive. Now we just have to run them all out," he said. The remains might have been lying in that out-of-the-way spot for anywhere from one to five years, Mottweiler reported, and it's impossible to say whether the cause of death might have involved foul play.

Information collected from the remains, including detailed dental records, was given to the Department of Justice and then checked against all possible missing person reports. It' a slow process, Mottweiler said, involving a variety of agencies all over the country, and one that is only successful in these kinds of cases about half the time. In the last five years, he estimates "we've found at least three people out there in similar condition." Some of those were identified, some were not.

Even when the promising leads don't pan out, "these cases are never closed," Mottweiler said. "We revisit them once or twice a year to see if anything new has come up."

Mottweiler did say, however, that the county can pretty safely rule out identifying the deceased as Conny Meyer, one of the widely publicized missing German tourists who disappeared near the national park's Striped Butte Valley in 1996. The remains found in February, he said, were quite far from the site where the tourists disappeared (their vehicle was found in Anvil Spring Canyon), but more importantly were across major roadways, on which a lost tourist could have found help.

Despite investigators' best efforts, Mottweiler said, some of Death Valley's lost wanderers will never be identified. And some, like the German tourists, may never even be found. In the millions of acres of remote desert in and around Death Valley National Park it is "just a matter of happenstance that a hiker or explorer comes across these kinds of remains."

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