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Body Found in Ravine May Be That of Missing Teacher

Disappearance: Woman's car, which had gotten stuck off main road, was discovered nearby earlier.

September 23, 1997|BONNIE HAYES and STEVE CARNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Searchers looking for a missing teacher from Laguna Beach discovered a woman's body Monday in a treacherous ravine in Riverside County, about a quarter-mile from where the teacher's car was found two days earlier.

Investigators will not be able to retrieve the body--which authorities described as matching the height and weight of Diana Furry--until this morning to determine if it is the 51-year-old woman who vanished Sept. 13.

"This could possibly be her," Riverside County Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Lohman said.

A search party found the clothed body under a rock overhang about 3:30 p.m., but darkness fell before investigators could remove the remains and determine the cause of death.

The body "does not appear to be traumatized," said Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Doris Weaver.

Lohman said forensic investigators examined Furry's car Monday but found no evidence of foul play.

A security detail spent Monday night guarding the body, which were spotted in a steep rocky area not far from Furry's car.

On Saturday, one week after Furry's disappearance, two Orange County motorists found the car stuck 11 miles off California 243 near Idyllwild while they were driving off-road.

James Campbell, who was driving the rugged roads in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, said Monday the car was stuck on a path, with indications someone had tried to free it from the soft dirt with branches and sticks.

The car was empty except for a pillow and an open suitcase in the back seat, Campbell said.

Lohman added that searchers had earlier found Furry's hat, purse and identification near the car. The discovery of the body, he said, prompted authorities to call off the massive search.

Furry's boyfriend, Robert Brown, 46, of Claremont, told authorities the couple had had plans to meet in Idyllwild.

Furry's failure to report to work Sept. 15 concerned friends and relatives of the first- and second-grade teacher at Monte Vista Elementary School in Santa Ana.

Her sister, Linda Bellstrom of San Diego, filed a missing-person report with Laguna Beach police and had friends check jails, hospitals and even the Tijuana morgue.

Police said it was "totally uncharacteristic" of the woman to not call relatives or friends.

No money has been withdrawn from her bank account since she was last seen, police said.

Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Greg Bartz said it is possible that Furry got lost on the rough trails of Black Mountain Road while trying to find the site of the Whole Being Festival, where she was to meet Brown.

A woman matching Furry's description drove to a nearby campsite on the evening of Sept. 13 and asked for directions, Bartz said.

"If she got stuck and tried to go out on foot, and it was night, any number of things could have happened," Bartz said.

Her car was found in an area dotted with campgrounds and frequented by hikers, he said.

Investigators asked that anyone with information on Furry call (714) 497-0371.

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