She once solved murders. Then she was found dead in her freezer
Miriam Travis was familiar with gruesome deaths.
As a homicide detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, she investigated how people’s lives ended.
According to a former colleague, she was the first woman to work murders in a unit known as “The Bulldogs,” retiring in 1990 to live a quiet life in Riverside.
This week, her house was swarmed by detectives, in a ritual she would have been all too familiar with, after she was found dead in a freezer at age 87.
It is not yet clear whether she was the victim of a homicide or died a natural death. Police are trying to figure out who put her body in the freezer — and why.
Her daughter, Carol, who lived with her, gave inconsistent answers to police who came to the home on New Ridge Drive Sunday morning after another relative reported that she hadn’t been heard from in months.
That led the officers to search the 2,600-square foot home, which smelled foul and had trash randomly piled everywhere, said Officer Javier Cabrera, spokesman for the Riverside Police Department.
As they sifted through the debris, officers noticed a large freezer in the garage. Inside was Travis’ body, intact and frozen solid.
The Riverside County medical examiner is determining the cause of death. Travis’ daughter, 64, has not been arrested and did not respond to requests for comment.
“Our detectives won’t leave any stones unturned, and they will thoroughly investigate everything that happened here to get to the bottom of her death,” Cabrera said.
Travis spent 27 years with the sheriff’s department, retiring at the rank of sergeant at a time when few women served in law enforcement, let alone in the rarefied sphere of homicide.
In the later years of her career, homicides in L.A. County approached an all-time high, and investigators juggled an overwhelming number of cases.
Her husband, Doug Travis, was a well-known helicopter pilot in the department who died two years after they retired together.
“Our hearts are broken by this news, and the entire LASD family mourns her loss,” said L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in a statement.
Rey Verdugo, a retired homicide sergeant who worked at Travis’ partner, said she was the first woman to roll out on homicide investigations.
She arrived on the unit as a seasoned investigator who had worked on child abuse cases.
According to a Times article from 1979, Travis helped send a mother and father to prison after their 8-year-old daughter was discovered weighing only 24 pounds.
The girl, identified as Rebecca, may have been kept in a closet, Travis told The Times.
Travis’ expertise was sought after in Hollywood as well as on the streets. She was the technical advisor for the 1980s TV police procedural “Cagney & Lacey,” featuring two female detectives, Verdugo said.
“Miriam was a great detective, a wonderful person and a good soul,” he said. “She rolled out on cases night and day. She was always at her best.”
Verdugo said he checked on Travis after her husband’s death but hadn’t heard from her in a few years.
Gil Carrillo, a retired homicide lieutenant, joined The Bulldogs around the same time as Travis.
They had also worked the East L.A. station together, Carrillo said.
Carrillo cemented his name in detective lore by helping to capture serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, in 1985.
“She was a friend,” he said.
Randy Hayes, Travis’ neighbor in Riverside for 27 years, said mother and daughter were “both recluses.”
“You’d rarely see them. Miriam would go to the car, sometimes with her daughter driving,” Hayes said.
Carol moved in with her mother about 10 years ago and did not seem to have a job outside the home, Hayes said.
As Travis’ health appeared to worsen, Hayes saw less and less of her.
About four years ago, the property had deteriorated so badly that city officials tried to force a clean-up, Hayes said.
He said he had not seen Travis since late last year.
Relatives from out of state told Riverside detectives that they had lost contact with her after her husband’s death.
Some sheriff’s colleagues said the last time they saw her was in the 1990s, after her husband’s death. He was honored by the Sheriff Department’s Aero Bureau with a flyover that included the missing man formation.
Times staff writer Melissa Hernandez contributed to this report.
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