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Body in desert identified as that of missing woman

Kathryn Barrett of Phelan vanished in 2000. Two suspects arrested last year remain in custody.

June 19, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino County sheriff's cold case investigators have unearthed the body of a woman missing for eight years.

On Tuesday, the county coroner used dental records to confirm the identity of the woman found four days earlier in the Mojave Desert: Kathryn Barrett, 46, of Phelan, a married mother of four who worked in real estate and disappeared June 21, 2000.

The day after Barrett vanished, her husband of 25 years, William Barrett, called the Phelan sheriff's station to report her missing, authorities said. She was last seen driving the family's 1989 Volvo.

Surveillance video taken at a convenience store at Phelan and Sheep Creek roads that evening showed her with Guy Bruce Johnson, 26, and Christopher Sterling Tolliver, 23, both of Phelan, officials said. Investigators could not determine why Barrett was with the men, whom she did not appear to know.

The next day, investigators found Barrett's Volvo in a remote area of Wrightwood known as Helicopter Hill. The car appeared to have been pushed into a ravine and set on fire, said Cindy Beavers, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

As days passed and Barrett failed to call, investigators began treating the case as a homicide, Beavers said. "They did expect at the very least that she had been injured, because she did not make any contact with her family," Beavers said.

Investigators offered a $10,000 reward for information in the case.

They looked for Barrett's body in the area where she was eventually found in the Mojave Desert west of Adelanto, near El Mirage. Earlier searches had failed to turn up any evidence, Beavers said.

"The problem was it was such a large area -- four acres -- they said: Where do we even begin to dig?" she said.

Last year, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Thomas filed murder charges against Tolliver and Johnson. Tolliver was immediately arrested in San Diego, where he was serving an unrelated prison sentence; and a few days later, Johnson was arrested in Phelan. Both remain in sheriff's custody.

Earlier this month, investigators received a tip from an informant about where Barrett's body was buried, and they began digging Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Sgt. Frank Montanez said.

The search began with Buster, the cadaver dog recently used to search for remains at the Manson family's Barker Ranch in Panamint Springs, Calif. After the dog located a likely spot, investigators began digging with a backhoe at 9 a.m. About 4 p.m., they found a human leg bone, Beavers said. They switched from the backhoe to picks, shovels and sifters.

By 10 p.m., investigators had recovered remnants of clothing matching what Barrett was wearing when she disappeared, Beavers said. They also recovered a fired .22-caliber cartridge casing and most of a skeleton, including a skull with what appeared to be a bullet wound. An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.

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molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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