New reward offered as mystery and outrage over Mitrice Richardson’s death endures

A woman places a large photograph of Mitrice Richardson outside the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff's station.
Mental health worker Kim Howard places a photograph of Mitrice Richardson outside the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station in 2019 for a memorial held on the 10th anniversary of Richardson’s disappearance. Richardson went missing after being released from the sheriff’s station, and her body was found in August 2010.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It is a mysterious death that has remained unsolved for more than a dozen years.

Mitrice Richardson vanished into the night on Sept. 17, 2009. The 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate was released from jail at the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station around midnight. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. She had no money, no purse, no cellphone, no car — and no way to get home.

The case has generated protests, questions about police tactics, and anguish for family and friends.


This week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors increased its reward in Richardson’s disappearance to $20,000. Officials hope the reward will lead to the apprehension and conviction of those responsible for her “suspicious disappearance and heinous death.”

Here is a review of the case.

The vanishing point

On Sept. 16, 2009, Mitrice left early from work at a Sante Fe Springs freight company. Her colleagues described her as excited. Next, she stopped at an aunt’s house in Inglewood. Her aunt was not home. So she left several business cards on the porch and a note to her uncle signed: “Who is queen now, Mississippi?”

Later that night, at Geoffrey’s, a Malibu restaurant, she bought a $65 Kobe steak and Ocean Breeze cocktail. At some point, she randomly joined a larger party at another table. Guests later described her as mentally unbalanced.

Richardson was unable to pay her $89 dinner tab, authorities said. But it was her behavior, the staff would later say, that led them to call sheriff’s deputies. At the restaurant, the staff said she was talking strangely and stated she was from Mars.

A fateful call

As a deputy drove her to the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station, her mother, Latice Sutton, who learned of the arrest, called the station. She told a deputy she would come to get her that night if they planned to release her.

“I hate to wake up to a morning report of a girl lost somewhere with her head chopped off,” a recording of the conversation captured her telling the deputy.


That deputy never informed the watch commander about the call and that her mother had offered to pick her up, according to records.

The deputy who arrested Richardson did not document her strange behavior in a police report. A jailer would later, in a deposition, say she was unaware of any mental health issues. But video of the jail cell area showed Richardson pulling on the cell’s steel mesh sides strangely shortly before her release.

Staff at the restaurant later revealed that sheriff’s officials tried to get them to sign statements after her disappearance that omitted the information about Richardson’s bizarre behavior.

Released with nothing

While the arresting deputy left out the details of her odd behavior from his incident report, his supervisor, in an internal email to the then-captain, revealed the deputy opted to detain her because of that behavior. At the station about 12:15 a.m., a jailer told Richardson she could voluntarily stay until the morning but she opted to leave. She signed a promise to return to the Malibu courthouse on Nov. 16, 2009, and then was released without her wallet or cellphone, which were in her car. The car was impounded after her arrest.

Detectives later found evidence in Richardson’s diaries and text messages that she had bipolar disorder and may have been awake for as many as five nights when she had what appeared to be a mental breakdown. Her parents say she should have been placed on a mental health hold.

A grainy video shows Richardson slipping out a side door, and it is officially the last time she was seen. She was wearing a shirt, jeans, a brown hat, a pink belt and Vans sneakers.


A couple in Monte Nido that night reported a prowler in their backyard. In a call to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, one of the homeowners described the prowler as a “tall, slim Black woman with Afro hair, very skinny.” Investigators were convinced Richardson had somehow wandered from the station on Agoura Road down Malibu Canyon and Piuma roads to Cold Canyon Road in Monte Nido.

Her Vans were tracked near the house heading east on Cold Canyon Road. She may have also been sighted near Malibu Canyon and Piuma roads in the morning.

A grim discovery

Months of searching yielded no signs of Richardson. Investigators from both the Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department investigated a sighting in Las Vegas. Then on Aug. 9, 2010, state park rangers in a remote part of Dark Canyon came across mummified human skeletal remains. The skull and spine were detached.

It was about 2 1/2 miles from the sighting in Monte Nido.

In December 2010, Latice Sutton placed sunflowers, her daughter’s favorite, on the ground where Richardson’s remains were found. Supporters played some of Aretha Franklin’s music.

But the effort to bring some closure took a turn for the worse when Sutton found something yellowish in the dirt. It turned out to be a finger bone that belonged to her daughter.


Richardson’s disappearance led to an outcry by her relatives and others about the actions of sheriff’s deputies in their handling of her arrest and middle-of-the-night release.


The county’s then Office of Independent Review concluded in a report that deputies at the Malibu-Lost Hills station acted appropriately the night Richardson was released and gave her the chance to stay voluntarily. “They had no legal justification,” the report said, “to deprive her of her freedom.”

A sheriff’s investigation into Richardson’s death remains open. The manner of death was never determined by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Sheriff’s detectives over the years have insisted they have no evidence of foul play. Her family and friends have repeatedly contested that.

Richardson’s friends and family have long accused the Sheriff’s Department of a cover-up. In 2011, the family reached a $900,000 settlement with the county.

Changes in policy

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, upon taking office in 2019, met with family and friends of Richardson. Villanueva said the department had changed its procedures since Richardson’s disappearance, which occurred while Lee Baca was sheriff.

The department doesn’t wait now to take missing person reports for adults. And it makes sure that people have their cellphones and personal property returned to them before they are released from jail.

More coverage

What went wrong in Richardson case? (2010)


Search comes to a tragic end (2010)

Settlement in Richardson family case (2011)

Unanswered questions haunt case (2012)

Attorney general probe of case ends (2017)

Releasing Richardson misguided (2019)

New hopes in Richardson case? (2019)