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Soul-Searching Appears to Have Led to Braun Family’s Odyssey

Times Staff Writer

An Orange County computer consultant who disappeared for nearly a week said Friday that he took his wife and three children into the desert to resolve “some deep unanswered feelings” about the family’s religious faith.

Floyd and Linda Braun said they decided to take a drive away from their Placentia home to “get some perspective on the whole situation” but became stranded when three cars tried to run them off the road on a deserted stretch of highway southeast of Bishop.

The family spent the next 4 1/2 days hiking 10 miles back to U.S. Highway 395, where a motorist picked them up Thursday afternoon and took them into the small Owens Valley community of Lone Pine, the Brauns said in a statement issued Friday through the Placentia Police Department.

The statement “is intended to show that a stable, respected family went through a difficult experience that took (on) a ‘strange’ appearance” for a number of reasons, they said.

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It was the family’s first explanation of a sojourn that had left detectives and relatives baffled for nearly a week.

Family members reported the Brauns missing after the couple telephoned on Saturday to say they were “lost in the desert” somewhere near Palm Springs, then failed to show up for a number of family appointments.

The condition of their suburban tract home had raised even more troubling questions. Most of the lights in the house were left on, furniture was knocked over and out of place, several bags had been half packed with clothing, dishes and makeup.

Floyd Braun had scribbled a number of thoughts on various slips of paper, including, “Have to get up at 7, must do some work,” “Feed the baby,” and “Meet God.”

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Sore, tired and dehydrated, the couple, declined to offer any explanations Thursday night as they prepared for the long drive from a Lone Pine hospital back to Orange County.

The one-page typewritten statement issued Friday was intended to explain the troubling questions the family was dealing with as Braun prepared to convert to Catholicism, the faith of his wife and children, ages 14, 10 and 3 months.

“In the process of evaluating Christianity and the Catholic faith, the parents . . . initiated an effort of identifying wholesome and unwholesome material items at their residence. Also, (the couple) discussed various ways to arrange the furniture in the house,” the statement said.

“During this sorting out of items and rearrangement of furniture on Easter weekend, Floyd realized that there were still some deep unanswered feelings unresolved relative to this faith conversion. Floyd and Linda decided to drive out to the desert on Saturday to get some perspective on the whole situation. . . . The purpose was to get away from the details and get an overview of the entire situation, i.e. changing . . . to Catholicism, sorting out wholesome and unwholesome items, and re-arranging furniture.”

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The Brauns said they became “a little disoriented” in the Twenty-nine Palms area, so they telephoned Linda Braun’s mother to let her know they would be late for an appointment to baby-sit with their nieces and nephews. When they were assured the baby-sitting was taken care of, the Brauns said they decided to continue their trip.

They headed north toward Bishop for what was to have been a one-day trip. But at about 11 p.m., they said, they encountered “a three-car effort to stop the Braun car” and “ended up in the desert” trying to avoid the other cars.

While the statement doesn’t elaborate, Karen Braun, Braun’s sister-in-law, said that three cars on the highway were beginning to pass them and then appeared to be trying to push them off the road.

“It’s very simple,” she said. “They were frightened, it was dark, and it was the desert.”

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The car ended up several miles off California 136, which links Lone Pine with Death Valley, along a dirt road that leaves the highway, goes through a gate, across a cow pasture and up the Owens River, said Inyo County Sheriff’s Lt. William Lutze.

Lutze said the family stayed with the car, which by then had a dead battery and no gas, until Monday morning, then spent four days hiking into town. Temperatures overnight slid down into the low 30s, with winds howling at 60 to 70 m.p.h.

Once they reached U.S. Highway 395, a passing motorist gave the family a ride into Lone Pine, where they telephoned the Sheriff’s Department. A deputy recognized them from the evening news and telephoned Placentia authorities. The ordeal was over.

“The activity for the past week was controlled and planned in a general way,” the Brauns said in their statement. “Details varied with unforeseen circumstances. It was not planned to be involved with the three-car group. That was the big surprise!”

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During the four-hour drive home with his brother, Jim Braun, Thursday night, Floyd Braun said he was still feeling ill from the contaminated stream water the family was forced to drink during their trek to safety.

Occasionally, he would nod off to sleep or ask to stop for a Coke. He told reporters riding in the back he would have “a very, very important experience” to share with them.

Jim Braun kept trying to explain to his brother why the media entourage had greeted him at the hospital. “We couldn’t explain” the disappearance, Jim Braun, an advanced technology specialist, told his brother. None of the theories seemed to fit the facts.

“In mathematics,” he said, “you make an assumption and then try to prove the assumption. I decided to try that. And every time I tried, I’d get down just far enough and have to throw the assumption out.”

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