Some strange disappearances certainly dip rather deeply into the realm of the odd and unexplainable. Such cases are surrounded by puzzling clues and bizarre circumstances that push them beyond just a normal vanishing or mysterious death, launching them into the annals of the truly weird. One such case happened to a ostensibly unassuming young woman, whose life would unfurl into a very strange case of bizarre behavior, baffling clues, conspiracies, and a mystery that has never been solved.
By all appearances, 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson seemed to be a happy, outgoing, and well-adjusted young woman who had a lot of friends and was very close with her family. She had recently graduated in 2008 from California State University, Fullerton, with a degree in psychology, and the attractive young woman seemed to have a bright future ahead of her, yet things would start to unravel for her in 2009. In the fall of that year, she had a series of personal problems, including breaking up with her girlfriend, and her communications with friends and family became increasingly more erratic and not a little bizarre. She would leave odd messages on social media such as “I just wanna sleep lol, but u know me and my crazy ideas…lets see where they take me” and “watch the news today, it’s going to shock the hell out of you,” among many others, and she texted her own mother, “I’m trying to find my way to Michelle Obama to see if she will talk to Mr. Obama about creating my position within the white house” and “I heard in the Bible Jesus dies so we can live forever…now I have to prove the ‘unlogic.” To everyone who knew her this was nothing like Mitrice, totally out of character, but although at this point people were a little concerned, there was no real alarm yet, with no one possibly predicting the bizarre sequence of events that was about to unfold.
In September of 2009, Mitrice embarked on a drive up the coast of California from her home near Long Beach to Malibu, along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, which meanders along the scenic coast. This in and of itself was not particularly odd, as Mitrice was known to sometimes go on long drives, but it is unknown why she chose Malibu, as she didn’t know anyone there and had no known reason to want to go there. Upon her arrival in Malibu she would begin to derail, showing incredibly bizarre behavior. It started when she went to a fancy, upscale restaurant called Geoffrey’s, where the valet took her vehicle to park it, but when he came back Mirtice was in his own vehicle fumbling through the glove compartment. When she was confronted about this, she mumbled nonsensically about a woman named Vanessa with tattooed arms and asked the valet if he knew her. When asked why she had gotten in the car to begin with, she merely stated “It’s subliminal,” and rambled something about avenging the death of Michael Jackson before heading on into the restaurant to continue her weirdness.
Once in the restaurant she sat alone at a table and ordered her meal, but before it had even arrived, she got up to make her way to a large group of people sitting nearby. She then butted into their conversation with oddball talk about astrological signs and aliens, before telling them she was headed to Hawaii and would tell them all about it when she got back. At this point, she was merely told to go back to her own seat, which she did. She then enjoyed her expensive meal and got up to leave, waltzing right out without asking for the check. The manager confronted her and asked her how she was going to pay, to which she allegedly responded, “I am busted. What are we going to do?” She then appeared to go into some sort of daze or trance, and began babbling about aliens and being from Mars before offering to pay for her meal with sex and then producing a joint from her pocket. It was all very odd considering that Mitrice was a well-educated honors psychology student at Cal State Fullerton and had never been known to do drugs or engage in such bizarre behavior, although she did have a case of bipolar disorder. At this point things had gotten strange enough that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was called, and considering her bonkers behavior that night it was thought that Mitrice must surely be drunk or on drugs of some kind. While the deputies were on their way, Mitrice would continue to act strangely, saying that God had instructed her to take the afternoon off, and that she had no parents, just her great-grandmother, Mildred, which was untrue.
When brought in, it was not only found that Mitrice really didn’t have much money on her, but that she was not under the influence of any sort of substance of any kind. She was completely sober and had only a very small amount of marijuana on her which she had not smoked. At the station she was also reportedly completely lucid and acted totally normally, exhibiting no signs of the outlandish behavior that had landed her there to begin with. In fact, she could only be charged with refusing to pay the bill, and she was then released that evening. Her car, which still had her identification, purse, all of the little money she had, and cellphone in it, was impounded and she set out on foot from the police station. After her release the strange behavior continued, as one resident in the area reported the woman going around peering through windows into people’s homes. Then, she simply disappeared off the face of the earth.
It was all kind of strange from the outset, as the authorities had been contacted by Mitrice’s worried mother and been told not to release her just yet, but they did anyway, without a ride, money, or even a phone with which to contact anyone. It was also procedure to put such sketchy suspects on 72-hour hold for psychological evaluation, but this had not been done. Why hadn’t the authorities kept her for longer rather than releasing an obviously troubled woman back out into the night on her own, despite procedures put in place and the fact that the young woman’s mother had specifically requested that police keep her overnight when contacted? No one knows, no one could find her, and it would not be until three days later that any sort of search of any kind would be carried out, and this was rather pathetic, using only four deputies who only did a cursory search of the area where she had last been seen. It would not be until the news started picking up the story of this missing black woman and the lack of any effort to find her that things would pick up. It would lead to one of the largest-scale searches in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Hundreds of personnel and volunteers would scour Malibu Canyon, utilizing aircraft, tracker dogs, and cutting-edge technology, but no trace of her was found.
It would not be until nearly a full year later, on August 9, 2010, when Mitrice’s skeletal and partially mummified body would turn up in a secluded, rugged wilderness area called Dark Canyon by Sheriff deputies investigating an illegal pot farm, tucked up within the rugged and remote Santa Monica Mountains around just 2 miles from where she had last been seen. Considering that there were no signs of blunt trauma or stab wounds, authorities concluded that there was no sign of foul play and that she had probably just fallen to her death or been injured and died of exposure, but it was not conclusive and the official cause of death was listed as “undetermined,” which was partially due to the fact that Sheriff’s deputies had moved the remains without following usual procedures, asking for permission from the family, nor even waiting for the coroners to arrive. They also failed to photo-document the scene or in situ positions, and didn’t collect any soil samples. There was also the fact that several residents in the area had heard a woman screaming several nights after Mitrice had gone missing, but police did not look into it and homicide wasn’t pursued, they brushed it off.
It was also odd since no one could figure out why she would have wound up out there in the mountains in the first place or where she had been in the year since she was last seen, and there was also the mysterious fact that her clothes and shoes were found to have been removed and placed around 100 feet from the body, but there was no sign of sexual assault and the clothes seemed to have been taken off normally. According to authorities, the removal of the clothes was attributed to scavengers, even though there were no signs of bite or scratch marks on the body, the belt had been unfastened before being removed, the shoes neatly untied, and indeed the clothes were also undamaged. As a matter of fact, one forensic specialist would lament, “It’s absurd to suggest this was the work of animals.” There was another within the Sheriff’s department who would scoff at the idea that animals could do this, and suggest that it was irresponsible to rule out foul play, with one saying:
Removal of trousers and even her undergarments and the belt are not acts of nature. I’ve always felt that it should have been treated from the offset as a possible homicide…. When you say it’s not a murder, you better know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think we’ve been able to conclude that.
Another strange detail was that the clothes were in remarkably good condition, clean, with no rust on the zipper, generally not looking like they had been sitting a year out in the wilds and which an investigator commented upon as looking like they “could have been worn after a washing.” Also rather odd was that Mitrice’s right leg was found up the hill from her body and with the femur of the leg cleanly removed from the soft tissue and no signs of damage from animals. Why should this be? Also why had the body become mummified, even though the clothes seemed to not show signs of wear consistent with having been in the elements for 11 months? The position of the body’s arm was also an anomaly, as it had mummified across the chest at a weird angle, and one forensic investigator named Clea Koff said of this:
The left arm’s flexion could not have been created by the environmental conditions where the body was found. There was nothing present to hold the arm in such a position—it was defying gravity.
It was all rather baffling, and also adding to the mystery were the many balls dropped with the handling of the case and the crime scene, even with Mitrice’s original arrest. The mishandling of the body, the eyebrow-raising official prognosis, and Mitrice’s early release from detention were indeed suspicious enough to the family of the victim to suspect that law enforcement officials might have had a hand in the whole odd disappearance, and they pushed for the FBI to look into the department while filing several wrongful death lawsuits against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The FBI would eventually refuse, as the case was not within their jurisdiction. Indeed, there has never been any internal investigation or probe into the department, there has been very little action at all taken since the discovery of the body on the part of authorities, and it is still treated as an unexplained death rather than a homicide, despite the family’s strong objections, leading to accusations that this stems from the fact that Mitrice was African American. As far as mishandling of any potential evidence goes, no one involved with the handling of the case has ever been prosecuted. A family friend named Ronda Hampton thinks that there is some form of cover-up going on, saying, “I think some people were negligent. I think some are willfully involved in a cover-up, protecting their own.”
Although the authorities continue to disregard this as a case of foul play, many do not agree, although who could have been responsible is anyone’s guess. Some have speculated that it was illegal marijuana growers, while others think it was an opportunistic predator or even a pornography or human trafficking ring. There is also the possibility, considering Mitrice’s bizarre behavior before her vanishing and death, that she had suffered some sort of psychotic break, and that someone may have taken advantage of that. Her mother, Latice, has said of her thoughts on the matter:
Mitrice is not a hiker. My daughter is a city girl. She did not wander into that canyon. I believe she was suffering from mental illness, and somebody took advantage of that. I believe she was possibly raped, definitely killed, and eventually dumped.
Mitrice’s inexplicably bizarre behavior leading up to her vanishing, her 11-month absence, her early release from detention on the night she was brought in, her death, the state of her body when found, and her presence in the Santa Monica mountains are all impenetrable mysteries that have never been solved. Just what is going on here and do authorities have any role to play in any of this? The case of Mitrice Richardson has become an enduring and puzzling case, and was covered in a documentary by Chip Croft called Lost Compassion: Someone Knows. What happened to this woman and what is the meaning of her odd behavior, the state of her body, her vanishing, the police ineptitude, and the general feel of something off about it all? No one really knows, and it is one of the weirder mysterious deaths out there.