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Remains Identified as Seal Beach Man

Dental records are used to make the determination almost 4 1/2 years after the man's wife reported him missing.

November 05, 2002|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Skeletal remains found in a remote part of Joshua Tree National Park in San Bernardino County were identified Monday as those of Joseph Dimento, 60, a Seal Beach man who disappeared more than four years ago.

"I was stunned," said his wife, Uraiwan. "I always thought he was alive somewhere doing volunteer work."

She reported him missing in June 1998, a week after she said the couple returned from a camping trip in Joshua Tree. She told Seal Beach police at the time that on the way home, they'd had an argument and he had left angrily with only his driver's license and $200 after dropping her off at the house.

She waited to report him missing, she said, because she knew him to be moody and thought he was staying with friends. But several days later, she said, she found his wallet -- with credit and ATM cards inside -- in the bushes in front of their house and called police.

Seventeen months after the disappearance, Seal Beach Police Det. Darrell Hardin, who'd been investigating the case, said he thought the retired IBM repairman -- whose wife had put up a $100,000 reward for information leading to his return -- was eking out an existence somewhere under a different name. "It's easy to get false identification," Hardin said.

On Oct. 28, however, a troop of Boy Scouts practicing land navigation found the remains; Monday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department announced that the body had been identified through dental records as that of the missing man.

"At this time it's not known how he came to be in the park and what led up to his death," said Cindy Beavers, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department. "We don't know if it was homicide, suicide or accidental. We are waiting for the coroner's office to determine the cause of death."

A coroner's spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Interviewed by telephone Monday, Uraiwan Dimento, 62, suggested several scenarios that could have led to her husband's death, including murder, suicide and accidental exposure to the elements.

"Any survival class will tell you not to go to Joshua Tree without any [equipment]; in one or two nights the environment will kill you," she said.

Her husband, she added, had been depressed for several months due to pain in his heel.

"I feel sad that he could have had another 10 to 15 years of a good life," she said. "Maybe you hang on to unrealistic things. Everybody around me told me he might be dead, but I chose to believe what I wanted to believe."

She described Dimento as a "very nice husband" with whom she had enjoyed a good life. "We were very happy," she said.

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