It was an unlikely spot to choose for such a horrible deed.
The brick and concrete wall in front of a squat South Whittier machine shop Friday still bore the scorch marks of an intense blaze, as did the bush under which a young woman's charred remains were found.
Her body was so badly burned July 9 that firefighters thought at first they might be dealing with a mannequin. Surely, they said, no human body could have been discarded so casually, burned beyond recognition.
Investigators speculate that the victim might have been held captive and escaped on foot. If so, she was run down, her hands still bound behind her, and cornered on this spot, with nowhere to flee.
No one yet knows who she was or how she came to meet her fate. But a week after her death, she at least has a face and there is hope that her story might unfold. A composite drawing of the woman was done by forensic sketch artist Sandra R. Enslow, who attended the autopsy and worked with photographs of the remains.
Finally armed with something concrete, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies began fanning out in the working-class South Whittier neighborhood in the hopes that someone will recognize the victim. They have also called in an anthropologist to help determine the woman's age and a dentologist to study her teeth, although if she was a transient with no dental records, that may prove futile.
As depicted in the sketch, she was about 5 feet 2, 130 pounds, in her late teens to early 30s, with full lips, high cheekbones and braided hair tied in a green-and-white paisley bandanna.
"There's no way to tell if this person is a prostitute or a kindergarten teacher, but it doesn't matter; nobody deserves to die like this," Enslow said Friday at a news conference, when the drawing was released.
The crime occurred about 4 a.m. outside D&B Machine, at 10704 Inez Ave., in a neighborhood of repair shops, refrigeration factories and other light industrial businesses. About half a block away are a few homes, and it was there that a man awoke to what he at first thought were the sounds of a cat fight and then determined to be a woman screaming and pleading for her life.
Witnesses saw a blue-and-white 1984 Chevrolet Silverado pickup, with tinted windows and a black strip of molding on the sides, being driven from the area about the time of the crime. The suspect is believed to be a man in his 30s.
"She was set afire while she was alive and died a very, very violent death," Sheriff's Lt. Ray Peavy said. Investigators said she was doused with a flammable liquid, probably gasoline.
Even though the body was badly burned, Enslow said, the artist could tell that the bridge of the woman's nose was low, that her eyes were not deeply set and that, while not skinny, she didn't carry a lot of weight on her body. The appearance of her hair was difficult to determine until Enslow could get to the crime lab, where she found a lump of charcoal. Under the microscope she detected threads of braided hair of the type fashionable among many African American women.
"I don't expect this drawing to be an absolute portrait," said Enslow, who trained at the FBI Academy in forensic facial identification and has worked as a civilian sheriff's employee since 1994. "More than anything, I'm hoping it's a small cog in the entire investigation."
But investigators admit they are running out of avenues to pursue and are putting great weight on the sketch.
There have been plenty of calls from anxious relatives, sure that the woman must have been their lost daughter or niece, but none of the leads has checked out, said Sgt. Craig Melvin, a sheriff's homicide investigator.
Many neighbors have also reported seeing homeless people in the area, including a young woman thought to be similar to the victim. But the person they seemed to be talking about was later found alive, Melvin said.
Sheriff's investigators were able to obtain partial fingerprints from the victim, but have so far turned up no match.
Melvin said he has retrieved a week's worth of surveillance videotape from convenience stores near the crime scene in the hope that something might show up.
"If she's a local to that area, I think we'll get her identified eventually," he said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the identification of the victim and suspect or suspects. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff's Department at (323) 890-5500.