A ringing phone confirmed detectives’ suspicions about Miriam Travis’ case

Date:

The daughter of the woman that was found in freezer days ago had her mother’s cellphone.

As Carol Lynn Etchells’ explanation of her mother’s disappearance unraveled, a Riverside police detective dialed the cell phone belonging to 87-year-old Miriam Travis, who Etchells had asserted was in Minnesota checking on a burglarized cabin.

A detective said in a sworn affidavit written to obtain a search warrant that he heard the phone ring, and the sound was coming from Etchells.

Hours later on Sept. 19, after police served the warrant at the New Ridge Drive home, Travis’ well-preserved body was found in a freezer in the garage.

Etchells, 64, whose relatives told police was taking care of her mother, has not been arrested or charged and has not been accused of anything beyond some questionable statements.

Travis’ cause of death has not been announced.

But police, including an economic crimes detective who focuses on elder abuse, are investigating, among other angles, whether Travis died of natural causes and her death was kept a secret so her pension checks from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – where she once had been a homicide detective – would continue to roll in, said Riverside Police spokesman Javier Cabrera.

Officers knew something was amiss the moment they stepped on the property located on a ridgetop with a view of Sycamore Canyon Park. The officers, asked to investigate why out-of-state family members who talk frequently with Travis had not heard from her in more than a month, initially could not find the front door, the affidavit said.

“Officers walked around the entire large property and found that every entrance and exit to the residence was blocked by huge piles of trash and debris,” the document said. Eventually, they found a sliding door in the back, where they knocked and got a response from Etchells. She told the officers that Travis had left the state and had not been able to talk to anyone on the phone after having throat surgery. Etchells refused to allow officers in the house.

But the officers were not dissuaded, and searched the home because of odors they smelled, the lack of communication with the family and poor cooperation from Etchells, the document said. The interior was beyond cluttered.

“We had to climb through piles of garbage and debris that could be as tall as 4-5 feet. There were times where my feet/knees were at the top of door frames 6 feet high,” a detective wrote.

Officers could not immediately find Travis. They again questioned Etchells, who said Travis left a month ago and this time added that Travis went with Etchells’ boyfriend, Steve Muniz. Etchells could not provide a cell number for Travis.

But she did telephone Muniz, and as a detective spoke to him, Etchells shouted “Tell them you’re in Minnesota with Miriam Travis,” the document said. In fact, Muniz told the detective, he was at home in Long Beach. Muniz, who had known Travis for 40 years, also said he knew nothing about the surgery.

That prompted detectives to place Etchells in a patrol car while they investigated. Later questioned again, Etchells first said she saw Travis two to three weeks ago before changing the timeline to one and a half weeks.

That’s when detectives called Travis’ cell phone.

“We heard the phone ring and found out that the phone Carol Etchells had in her possession and had been using while we were on scene was Miriam Travis’,” the document said. The inconsistent statements and the smells coming from the home prompted detectives to seek the warrant to more thoroughly search it.

Another document listed what detectives found:

“Miscellaneous financial documents for Miriam Travis.”

“The deceased body of Miriam Travis.”

Brian Rokos | Contributed

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