For six years, Malaikah Manasseh wondered why law enforcement couldn’t find her missing sister.
The 58-year-old said she asked Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives to investigate the case as a possible homicide in 2009 because of one aspect of her sister’s disappearance that seemed particularly out of character: Raven Campbell, then 32, left her purse behind.
“She had a tic ... and that was not leaving her purse,” Manasseh said.
Her sister, she said, always wore her purse strapped against her chest.
On Wednesday, investigators descended on Campbell’s old apartment in the Harbor Hills Housing Project in Lomita, now occupied by another family. The sheriff’s detectives showed up with two cadaver dogs and an anonymous tip they got a week before: Within the walls of the unit were human remains.
Thursday morning, sheriff’s officials confirmed that a body was found. Manasseh and her family fear it is that of Campbell.
“I have a gut feeling it's her,” said Linda Campbellhumphrey, a cousin, sitting in her car, watching investigators from behind yellow crime scene tape. “I have such a feeling in my stomach.”
Homicide Lt. Steve Jauch declined to comment on whether there was any evidence pointing to the body being that of the long-missing Campbell. It was too early, he said.
“It’s not fair for me to get their hopes up or dash their hopes,” Jauch said. “I’ll have to wait for the process.”
Campbellhumphrey was on her way to work at the Port of Los Angeles about 6:30 a.m. when her co-worker called to tell her that there were reports of human remains found in her missing cousin's old apartment.
She immediately headed to the Lomita complex.
Her missing cousin, who she said “might have had a mental disorder,” was living with a high school friend at the time that she disappeared.
Two weeks ago, she said, someone had called Campbell’s sister to tell her that “they think her body is in [a] downstairs apartment in the wall of the closet behind the stairs.”
Relatives said they alerted the Sheriff’s Department, which acknowledged only that it received a call last Wednesday. Last week, Jauch said, a detective who had been assigned to Campbell’s disappearance visited the Lomita apartment unit and spoke to the family living there. On Monday, investigators requested permission from the county housing authority to go into the apartment and knock down a wall, he said.
The request was granted Wednesday, when investigators went into the apartment and made the gruesome discovery. The family that was living in the apartment was shocked, Jauch said.
“I think the natural reaction from anyone hearing information that there may be human remains where you’re living, I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t be taken aback by that information,” he said, adding that the family has been moved to another location.
Manasseh described her missing sister as “the sweetest, kindest person,” but also as someone whom people could take advantage of because of her mental disability.
“We held out hope because [authorities] said she wasn't here,” she said. “We had a double whammy...we got this call and then our brother passed. Right now we're in a free fall.”
Manasseh said Campbell lived in a group facility before moving into the complex with a high school friend. That friend moved out of the unit in 2010, she said.
Neighbor Candace Diggs said she woke up at 4:30 Thursday morning and has been watching officers investigate the apartment ever since.
Diggs, who lives in the apartment across from where the remains were found, said the body was found in the wall behind the stairs.
“It's hollow and connects to the closet,” Diggs, 27, said. “These units are all built the same. They're all concrete except for the wall behind the stairs.”
Diggs said she didn't know Campbell, who disappeared two years before she moved into the housing development.
Neighbor Jose Luna said he's heard other people in the complex complain about a “terrible smell” near the two-story unit where the body was found. People are now worried of what's hidden in their own walls, he said.
“They're scared,” Luna said. “Nobody knew there was a hollow wall there.”