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The Laura Nightmare : Mother of ‘Dead Ringer’ for Missing Bradbury Girl Is Seized

Times Staff Writer

Despite seeing little Laura Bradbury’s face peering out from milk cartons, bumper stickers and grocery bags, Cheryl Mixsell said it never occurred to her that the missing 4-year-old looked exactly like her own daughter.

It wasn’t until after she was arrested by Pasadena police, her children were taken from her and she was booked into jail that Mixsell realized there was an uncanny resemblance between her 4-year-old daughter, Anela, and the Bradbury child, who disappeared in October during a family camping trip at Joshua Tree National Monument.

Right down to the blonde hair in a Dutch-boy cut and the same cherubic grin, Anela Mixsell is a “dead ringer for Laura Bradbury,” her mother said. “I never noticed the resemblance until now.”

“Look at your own kids,” she added. “You never think they look like somebody else. You just don’t think about it.”

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But now, Mixsell said Monday, she thinks about it constantly.

“It’s been very traumatizing,” she said of her arrest last month. “They thought for sure that they had Laura Bradbury. They thought they had the case sewn up and thrown out.

“We might get over it eventually, but (Anela) resembles Laura Bradbury so much, I don’t let my kids play out in the front yard now. We don’t go out much.”

Afternoon Routine

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On May 1, the 36-year-old mother had gone to Calvary Baptist Day Care Center as she did every weekday afternoon to pick up her two daughters, Anela and 7-year-old Aleeza. The only difference on that day, Mixsell said, was that she took her husband’s blue van, “which I hardly ever drive.”

Unknown to Mixsell, a woman driving by the school saw the girls getting into the van. The woman had watched a television drama the night before about a boy abducted from a Florida shopping mall. At the end of the telecast, Laura Bradbury’s picture was shown, along with the description of a blue van believed to have been used to abduct her.

The woman called police.

When two Pasadena officers arrived at the school’s parking lot, Mixsell said they questioned her about the van, her children and her husband. “They told me someone had reported a suspicious-looking vehicle,” she recounted.

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“They ran a check on the vehicle,” she said, “and it came up clear. Then they ran my driver’s license, and it turned up two outstanding traffic warrants.”

The officers handcuffed Mixsell and took her to Pasadena City Jail, where she was booked because of the traffic warrants. Her children were placed in police custody. At no time, Mixsell said, did anyone in the Police Department tell her the real reason she was being held.

‘I Didn’t Know’

“They told me absolutely nothing,” Mixsell said angrily. “I didn’t know anything about Laura Bradbury or where my kids were.”

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Lt. Gary Bennett confirmed Mixsell’s account, but said Monday that the Pasadena Police Department would issue no formal apology for its treatment of her.

“The only error, if there was any,” Bennett said, “was the officers’ failure to inform the woman of the nature of the detainment. They felt they might lose an investigative advantage” by telling her why she was being held, Bennett said. “If she had abducted the child, and she knew it was the child we were looking into, she might have given us misleading information.”

However, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which is heading the investigation into Laura Bradbury’s disappearance, issued a formal letter of apology to the Mixsells.

At the time of the arrest, Mixsell’s husband, James, was waiting for his wife and children to pick him up from work. When they didn’t arrive, he walked home and got a ride to the preschool from a neighbor, his wife said.

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“He got so worried,” she said. “He thought I was in an accident.”

Told About Police

At the school, he was told by employees that his wife and children had been taken away by police.

And what had been a nightmare for the Mixsells now extended to the Bradburys. So alike do the two girls look, Carol Mixsell said, that even Laura’s father, Mike, who drove up from Huntington Beach, couldn’t tell immediately if Anela was his daughter.

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Neither could sheriff’s investigators. “They talked to her (Anela) a while, and then they realized that it wasn’t her,” Mixsell said. “But can you imagine what the Bradburys went through? To get their hopes up like that?”

James Mixsell finally was allowed to take his daughters home six hours after they were taken into custody. Carol, however, was forced to spend the night in jail because her husband could not come up with $671 in cash to bail her out.

Three days after her arrest, she said, her husband took the children to a park where youngsters were being fingerprinted by police to help in the identification of missing children.

“The cops were giving my husband the eye,” she said. “They kept looking at Anela. My husband said, ‘Look, I’ve already been through this. She is not Laura Bradbury.’ ”

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