Malibu Surfside News

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Latest Search for Clues to Mitrice Richardson’s Disappearance Adds to Mystery

• Freshly Painted Mural Found in Search Area Distresses Family Members Who Fear Its Possible Implications

BY ANNE SOBLE



More than 100 volunteers, mainly hikers and cyclists, were unable to find any new leads after a two-day field search last weekend that combed areas where Mitrice Richardson is believed to have last been seen.
The last official sighting of the 25-year-old woman was on Sept. 17, 2009, at 12:35 a.m. when Richardson was released from the custody of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station alone, on foot, and without her wallet and cell phone, which were left behind in her impounded vehicle in Malibu.
The sheriff’s department maintains that her release was by the book, but Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, says the department acted negligently because her daughter was manifesting signs of mental illness and there is different protocol for such circumstances.
Richardson had been transported to Lost Hills for booking after Geoffrey's restaurant called the station to pick her up for non-payment of an $89 dinner tab.
The volunteers received directions and encouragement from Maurice Dubois, the father of murdered Escondido teenager Amber Dubois who had been missing for over a year until the man convicted in her death led authorities to her gravesite.
Dubois has become an advocate for missing persons, especially children.
But if the searchers did not find clues with direct bearing on Richardson’s whereabouts, they found something that sent shock waves through the woman’s family members and others in the search party.
At a location not being disclosed to the public at this time, searchers discovered a concrete culvert wall covered with obscene graffiti about African-American women. The artwork featured young females with an Afro hairstyle similar to that of Richardson when she disappeared.
Paintbrushes and paint can lids at the scene had not yet dried, prompting conjecture that the mural might have been painted the day before the well-publicized search was set to begin.
Family members say they believe the perpetrator(s) wanted the mural to be found during the search.
Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, is so distraught about the mural, that she has difficulty remaining composed as she discusses its subject matter.
But Sutton thinks the mural is not just vandalism. She says, “This is a message. Someone is trying to tell me something,” but was unable to discuss it further, breaking down in tears.
Dr. Ronda Hampton, a psychologist who is a key member of the mother’s support group, says the mural generates a number of concerns, including, is there someone sick and dangerous in the immediate area? Could the mural’s maker know what happened to Richardson? Is the sheriff’s department going to do anything about the mural?
Captain Joe Stephen, the commander of the Lost Hills Station, says the mural is currently under investigation. Stephen says deputies are looking for signatures, or monikers, that taggers use and comparing the artwork with samples in their data base.
“If we find out who did this, they will be dealt with swiftly,” the captain adds.
However, Stephen notes that while anti-Semitic graphics and certain ethnic slurs for African-Americans, or insults about sexual identity, have “hate crime” legal status, obscene and threatening tags about women, whatever their color, are viewed as vandalism.
Hampton says, “If a mural depicted people more like local residents being demeaned and threatened, the sheriff’s department would initiate a major manhunt to determine whether there is a psychopath loose in the community.”
Meanwhile, family members are awaiting search efforts to locate a find of what appear to be human bones in the same vicinity.
Sutton, Hampton and other family members and friends describe the state of total exhaustion they experience after each search.
Sutton says, “No one can imagine living a nightmare like this, a nightmare that’s now nine months long and hasn’t ended yet.”

MURAL—The culvert wall in this redacted photograph was covered with racist and sexually explicit graffiti of African-American women wearing a hairstyle similar to that of Mitrice Richardson when she went missing on Sept. 17, 2009. Paintbrushes found at the scene (inset) had not yet dried, a possible indication that the mural may have been painted immediately before last weekend’s search. The resemblance to Richardson and the subject matter have greatly upset family members who are concerned that the mural may be connected in some way to the woman’s disappearance. The graffiti was completely painted over this week.