The remains of a young child have been discovered by hikers at a remote site in Joshua Tree National Monument, less than three miles from where 3-year-old Laura Bradbury disappeared in 1984, San Bernardino County authorities said Monday.
Although sheriff's investigators have not connected the physical evidence to the Bradbury case, which has attracted nationwide attention, deputies immediately contacted the family because of "the coincidence" of the age of the child whose bones were found and where they were found, a family member said.
In addition, San Bernardino County Coroner Irving Root said the remains, including a skullcap and other bone fragments, appeared to be those of a child of 2 to 5 years old who had been dead for about two years. But, he added, the remains seemed to have been exposed to sunlight for only the last six months. Laura Bradbury disappeared from her family's Indian Cove campsite on Oct. 18, 1984.
The remains will be taken to the office of forensic anthropologist Judy Suchey, at California State University, Fullerton, who will perform further tests to determine the age and sex of the victim, Sheriff Floyd Tidwell said.
Laura's parents, Mike and Patty Bradbury of Huntington Beach, were out of town and could not be reached for comment. Eileen Winters, who is married to Patty's brother, said the couple had left Sunday with their two other children on their first vacation since Laura disappeared.
Deputies telephoned family members, Winters said, to let them know there was a "coincidence between the size of the skull, the age and the location where the bones were found. They wanted us to know before we heard it on the news so we weren't caught off guard. They just wanted us to know."
Tidwell said the discovery was made at about 6 p.m. Saturday by a husband and wife who were hiking on the western boundary of the monument's Indian Cove campground, where Laura was last seen accompanying her brother to a restroom. The couple turned the remains over to deputies Sunday morning, authorities said.
More than 100 searchers immediately began an extensive search of the campground for additional bone fragments as well as articles of clothing, but no additional evidence was found and no further searches have been scheduled, Tidwell said.
Authorities in San Bernardino and Orange counties have questioned scores of suspects since Laura's disappearance, but there have been no arrests.
On several occasions, the Bradburys and sheriff's investigators felt they were close to breaking the case. Law officers at one point took into custody a Pasadena woman with a young girl who looked so much like photos of Laura that Mike Bradbury had to drive to the police station to determine that the child was not his daughter.
After Laura disappeared, Mike Bradbury remained at the campsite for more than three weeks, at first aiding in the investigation and then maintaining a lonely, determined vigil. Later, both parents devoted all of their waking hours to trying to find the youngster.
Over the next few months the case attracted nationwide attention. An extensive volunteer network in Orange County and throughout Southern California was organized, with many businesses contributing cash and services in the search effort.
Laura's disappearance coincided with rising recognition of the issue of missing children, and by the time of the first anniversary of her disappearance, her face was peering out from millions of flyers and thousands of bumper stickers, milk cartons and shopping bags.
A storefront center was established in Huntington Beach and a hot-line number was set up, eventually expanding the area of concern to all missing children.