June 17, 2011 -- Police investigating the disappearance of a 7-year-old girl who vanished 50 years ago have found an "area of interest" near a freeway bridge in Santa Barbara, Calif., which they searched with cadaver dogs Wednesday.
Ramona Price went missing on Sept. 2, 1961, as her family packed up to move to a new house. Police and volunteers scoured the area, but no trace of the child was ever found.
Her parents have since died, and a sister, who was 12 when Ramona disappeared, left the area. But four years ago a Pasadena author, Weston DeWalt, pointed out to police that Ramona's case bore similarities to murders carried out by notorious serial killer Mack Ray Edwards, who hanged himself in San Quentin Prison in 1972 with a TV power cord.
DeWalt, who is currently with the Polish Navy looking for a 17th-century sailing ship in the Baltic Sea, could not be reached for comment.
But Lt. Paul McCaffrey of the Santa Barbara Police Department said of Edwards: "We knew he had an MO of burying bodies near major construction jobs. He had a history of abducting and killing children."
DeWalt determined that Edwards, a heavy equipment operator, worked on the 101 Freeway in Santa Barbara and disappeared a few weeks before it was completed. He regularly visited a friend who lived near the construction site, according to material provided by the police.
He resembled a police sketch made at the time of Ramona's disappearance, drawn from a witness's account who saw Ramona get into a Plymouth driven by a man in his 30s or 40s.
In 1970, Edwards turned himself in and confessed to killing six children, and in most cases, burying them at freeway sites. He later said he'd killed 18 children.
"When he was in San Quentin, he told other inmates he had victims no one would ever find," said Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez at a press conference Wednesday. "He said no one would ever tear up the freeways."
All four dogs found "an area of interest," according to McCaffrey. The final decision on whether to excavate will be made by Sanchez.
It's not the first time police have searched for one of Edwards' victims. Three years ago, crews excavated near a freeway northwest of Los Angeles, where Edwards had also worked, to try to find the remains of Roger Dale Madison, a 16-year-old boy who disappeared in 1968. Edwards confessed to killing him in 1970.
The search was abandoned because it became dangerous, and the case remains unsolved.This time, police hope for a different outcome. "We would like to have some closure and know what happened," said McCaffrey.