It wasn't like Daphne Price to break a promise. And it wasn't like her to be late.
So when the part-time fashion model left the neat, pink stucco home that she shared with her mother and 2-year-old daughter a week ago Tuesday morning and failed to return in a couple of hours as promised, the family knew something was wrong.
"By 10:30 that morning, we were already worried," said her sister-in-law, Pam Price, who lives four blocks away in the same well-kept Compton neighborhood. "I kept thinking if she was out there somewhere, she would call me. But she didn't."
Fearing the Worst
Fearing the worst, Price's family called everyone she knew. No word.
They copied makeshift posters with her picture and stuck them on front porches, car windshields and light poles, block after block. Still, they heard nothing.
They called Compton police and were told to hold tight. Most of the time, officers explained, adults like Price return on their own.
The wait lasted almost a week.
On Monday, Price's body was found stuffed in the trunk of her compact car in an industrial area of neighboring Carson. The striking 21-year-old brunette had apparently been dead for several days. Sheriff's deputies said the decomposed body had a number of stab wounds. There was a gunshot wound in her lower back.
Her family, angry that police didn't do more in the hours following her disappearance, are trying in their grief to figure out what happened. Their only clue is what Daphne told them as she walked out the door that morning.
"She left here to go to the Jack-in-the-Box to meet a girlfriend," said 16-year-old Treneta Davis, Price's cousin and "best friend." "She was going to follow her to an employment agency and fill out a job application."
Name Not Mentioned
In a hurry, Price didn't mention which friend she was meeting at the restaurant at nearby Central Avenue and Compton Boulevard, or where the agency was.
"That's all we know," her cousin said.
Price's family, describing her as "beautiful, flawless," said she was also anything but "street-wise." A one-time candy striper at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Willowbrook, Price liked nothing better than spending time with her daughter, Sheena, and her boyfriend, Sheena's father.
"She's a homebody," her sister-in-law said, clearly shaken by the tragedy. "She doesn't drink, smoke or deal with drugs. She was just always with her baby."
The August cover girl of BBW (Big Beautiful Woman), a fashion magazine for "full-figure" women, Price had been modeling for about a year. But already she was making a name for herself. New York modeling agencies were said to be interested in her for their growing number of "big and beautiful" accounts.
"She was a girl with a thousand faces," said Ray Shaw, publisher of the Encino-based BBW. "You could turn the pages of the magazine and say, 'Who was that girl? Who was that girl?' They were all her."
Discovered at Pageant
Discovered by photographers during a beauty pageant at the Hawthorne Plaza, Price was a natural for modeling.
"She really stood out against everyone else because she had such a quiet, natural beauty," said BBW fashion director Jack McDonell. "I felt like saying, 'Don't you have any idea how beautiful you are?' Many people I could imagine flirting with danger. But not Daphne. There was nothing like that in her."
Meanwhile, sheriff's deputies on Wednesday would only say that they have "no information on any suspects." Compton police, sympathizing with the family, called Price's death "tragic." Compton officers had begun checking leads when sheriff's deputies found the body.
"Unless there is some evidence of foul play, our standard policy on missing adults is . . . the reports are not fully investigated for 72 hours," Compton Police Cmdr. Terry Ebert explained. "I don't blame the family because this is very tragic . . . but percentage-wise, you have to go with standard procedures."