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Missing Placentia Family Found After 6-Day Desert Ordeal

Times Staff Writer

A Placentia family of five whose disappearance over the weekend had left detectives baffled found their way wearily to a grocery store here after a six-day odyssey in the desert.

Floyd and Linda Braun and their three children were near exhaustion when they telephoned the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department from a pay phone in Lone Pine, a small Owens Valley community hundreds of miles from where investigators believed they were lost. The family was suffering from fatigue, dehydration and pulled muscles after a three-day, 10-mile hike from their car, which they said had become stuck on a side road several miles off Highway 395.

‘Tired and Hungry’

The family appeared to be in good shape, but were dirty, tired and hungry, Inyo County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Lutze said.

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Floyd Braun, 41, said only that “up here in the desert is a very, very unusual experience. We came up here for a weekend drive, and we came up here on the highway, and we had an unusual experience.” But he said he did not feel comfortable talking about it yet.

The Brauns told detectives that they had wanted to get away for a while when they left their home last Thursday for the desert, Lutze said.

“They got stuck and they got lost. And it took some time for them to get back to a place where they could save their lives,” said Jim Braun, who drove to Lone Pine to drive his brother and the family back to Orange County.

Pieces of Bread

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Jim Braun said the family, including the children, Eric, 14, Michelle, 10, and Scott, 3 months, was without food or water for three or four days.

“Apparently the children had a couple pieces of bread with them, but they had nothing else to eat or drink,” Jim Braun said.

His brother said he had simply “wanted to get away for a while,” Jim Braun said. “They had not planned not to be back. “

The discovery was a relief for relatives and law-enforcement officials who had been waiting anxiously since Floyd and Linda Braun, 41, called on Saturday to say that they were “lost in the desert” near Palm Springs and would be a few hours late returning.

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Mystery Remains

But it failed to clear up the mystery of the Brauns’ apparently hasty departure from their tract home, where they left lighted rooms, overturned furniture and half-packed bags. A crucifix had been removed from the wall and broken.

There also was no immediate explanation of how the family got from the Palm Springs area to Lone Pine, which is about 250 miles to the northwest.

Jim Braun said the family told him that they had planned to visit relatives of Linda near Lone Pine after leaving Palm Springs. But he said he still had no explanation for the disarray of the house or how they got all the way to Lone Pine after becoming lost.

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“I certainly don’t understand that myself, and I can’t speak for him,” Jim Braun said. “I think any conjecture at this point is just that.”

Family members themselves said they were too tired to answer questions. “I don’t know,” Floyd Braun mumbled in response to reporters’ questions as the family, looking haggard and glum, walked silently out of the hospital.

Linda Braun and her children drove home with her sister-in-law. Floyd Braun and his brother drove home in Braun’s blue Mercury Marquis that a tow-truck driver retrieved from the site where it was abandoned.

Placentia Police Lt. Daryll Thomann said he talked to Braun, a part-time computer consultant for Rockwell International in Anaheim, for a few minutes by telephone Thursday afternoon.

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“There was some indication of walking for several days,” Thomann said. “I got a kind of rambling story. Basically, they’d been driving down the road and saw some lights behind them. He (Braun) got scared, thought he was being followed and pulled off the road.”

Co-workers told detectives that Braun had not seemed himself in the days before the disappearance. He had arrived at work in rumpled clothing and had not shaved in several days.

One source, who asked not to be identified, said Braun told co-workers that he wasn’t shaving because “hair is evil” and he wanted to grow it out.

Braun had been scheduled to meet Saturday with a priest from St. Joseph Church of Placentia to complete his conversion to Catholicism, his wife’s religion, an appointment he never kept.

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Later in the day the Brauns were supposed to baby-sit for some nieces and nephews, but relatives said that Floyd Braun telephoned his mother-in-law Saturday afternoon to say that they were lost near Palm Springs and would be a few hours late.

“Write this down,” Braun told his mother-in-law. “We’re lost at a place called Convoy.” Police said they presumed that the family had called from the town of Amboy, near Twentynine Palms. A statewide alert was issued.

“It’s very bizarre,” Thomann said, “but the outcome was very fortunate.”

Inyo County sheriff’s deputies talked to Floyd and Linda individually and to their children. All the stories were the same, Thomann said. Members of the family talked comfortably together throughout the afternoon Thursday at Southern Inyo Hospital as they awaited the arrival of Floyd’s brother.

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Hospital Administrator Jim Alger said Linda Braun had a pulled chest muscle and Michelle had a pulled leg muscle. “The baby’s fine” he said. “The family is all suffering from dehydration.”


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