Remains found in Malibu Canyon may be those of a woman

A day after skeletal remains were found in a Malibu Canyon ravine, coroner’s officials were working to identify them and answer speculation about whether they were those of Mitrice Richardson, the woman who vanished after being released from the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s Station last September.

A law enforcement source said Tuesday that the remains appear to be that of a woman and that women’s clothing was found at the scene.

Although family and friends of the missing woman — whose 25th birthday was in April — gathered on a grassy trail Monday not far from where the remains were found, they weren’t the only ones searching for answers. The wife of a hiker missing for several years also came to Malibu, wondering if it was her husband’s body that had been found.

“I’ve got two families, both missing a loved one up in the area,” said Ed Winter, spokesman for the LA County coroner’s office Tuesday morning before a preliminary examination of the remains. “And it could be a third person.”

Tuesday evening, Latice Sutton, Richardson’s mother, held a news conference outside the coroner’s office, saying that officials confirmed that women’s clothing, specifically a pair of Levi’s, was found at the scene.

“It is unfortunate that they will not let me view those articles of clothing,” she said, adding that her daughter was wearing jeans the night she was arrested. She said she was making a personal plea to the coroner to let her see the clothes.

Occasionally choking back tears, and wearing a T-shirt with a photo of her daughter, Sutton said “no one wants her home more than me.”

Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu after acting bizarrely and saying she was unable to pay her $89 dinner tab. She was released from custody shortly after midnight without her car — which had been impounded — or a cellphone or purse. Investigators believe she was spotted three times in the canyon area in daylight hours that morning. After that, she was never heard from again.

The remains — which include a skull — were found about two and a half miles from the last credible sighting of her on Sept. 17. The discovery casts an ominous shadow over the case of the missing woman.

Only two weeks ago, sheriff’s and police officials announced that they believed Richardson might be alive and living in Las Vegas. They held a news conference there, encouraging the missing woman to step forward and let them know she was alive.

The search was spurred by a friend of Richardson from their teen years who said he had seen her in a Las Vegas hotel bar in June and approached her, greeting her by name. The woman looked at him and wordlessly walked away. After the news conference, police did receive calls of sightings, but no one came forward with specific information about her whereabouts.

Sutton was doubtful about the Las Vegas sightings. Asked if she believed the remains were those of her daughter, she said “my gut tells me that my baby is not running around in Las Vegas. My spirit tells me that my baby was last seen in the Monte Nido area, and that is where she is.”

Michael Richardson, the father of the missing woman, told reporters after the news conference that he was still hopeful about finding his daughter.

The release of the Cal State Fullerton graduate into an area near a rugged canyon that she was not familiar with prompted widespread criticism of the Sheriff’s Department. Her mother and father filed lawsuits accusing the Sheriff’s Department of negligence in releasing her without transportation or conducting a mental health exam.

Geoffrey’s staff told sheriff’s personnel that Richardson was acting crazily at the restaurant. And police investigators said later that an examination of her diaries and text messages revealed she was probably suffering from a severe bipolar disorder and may not have slept for five days before her arrest.

The Office of Independent Review, which oversees the Sheriff’s Department, conducted a recent investigation and found that the department “properly and legally released” Richardson, according to a 58-page draft report obtained by The Times on Tuesday. Also, the report says that the station personnel “were not negligent in determining that Ms. Richardson did not demonstrate any symptoms of an existing mental health illness.”

The report states that it was “not until Ms. Richardson’s release from custody that her family members stated that she was in a ‘depressed state’ of mind.”

The report reiterated what sheriff’s officials said initially — that jailers offered to let Richardson stay in a cell or the station lobby until she could arrange transportation.

Richardson had her driver’s license when she was arrested. It was returned to her when she was released.

“If Ms. Richardson had a wallet and cellphone, those items were not on her person when she was taken into custody,” the report states.