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Missing woman's journals probed for clues

Diary entries indicate Mitrice Richardson, 24, had not slept for up to five nights and may have had a 'mental breakdown' before her disappearance. She was last seen at the Malibu sheriff's station.

December 14, 2009|By Carla Hall

Nearly three months after Mitrice Richardson walked out of a Los Angeles County Sheriff's station above Malibu Canyon and vanished into the dark, authorities still don't know where she is or whether she is alive.

But based on their investigation and the contents of her diaries, authorities believe that days before she was arrested for not paying her bill at a Malibu restaurant, the 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate had gone without sleep for as many as five nights and "had a major mental breakdown," said Los Angeles Police Det. Chuck Knolls.

The mental health professionals who read the journals at the request of police say Richardson may have been suffering from severe bipolar disorder, Knolls said.

Police uncovered four or five journals -- small bound books as well as spiral notebooks -- in the car she drove Sept. 16 to Geoffrey's in Malibu, where she behaved bizarrely, spoke in gibberish and ordered a steak dinner and cocktail.

When she said she couldn't pay her $89.21 tab, staff at the restaurant called the Sheriff's Department. "She sounds really crazy," a staffer said during the call, a tape of which is posted on the website findmitrice.info.

Deputies arrested Richardson and held her for several hours at the Malibu-Lost Hills station before releasing her some time after midnight without her purse, cellphone or car, which had been impounded. The Sheriff's Department said it turned the case over to the LAPD because Richardson is a Los Angeles resident.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for an investigation into the department's practices. Richardson's father said he is "outraged" that the department released her without a mental evaluation, even though staff and patrons at the restaurant told deputies she was acting strangely.

Regardless, Michael Richardson said, the department should have ensured her safety upon release.

"I didn't see anything safe about the mountains, the mountain lions roaming around, the canyons, the ditches, the sexual predators around there," he said.

Knolls, who has been working the case with Det. Steven Eguchi, said there is no evidence that Richardson was the victim of a crime or involved in drugs. However, the other possible outcomes that he proposes offer little comfort to the family, friends and well-wishers who have posted fliers, held vigils and set up two websites to publicize the disappearance of the slender, 5-foot-5 black woman.

"She may have succumbed to the elements," said Knolls, who believes this is the most likely scenario. Although Malibu Canyon has already been searched by air and on the ground, Knolls and the Sheriff's Department have discussed searching the rugged terrain to the east and west.

Suicide is another possibility. Or, Knolls said, "she may have gotten herself into a comfortable relationship outside of her immediate friends and family. If that's true, until that falls apart, she may not reach out to her friends and family,"

In interviews with Knolls and Michael Richardson, a portrait emerges of an intensely spirited young woman grappling with a variety of issues -- her sexual orientation, her career aspirations, her feelings about her family.

According to her father, she wanted to be a club promoter. In addition to her day job as an executive assistant at a freight company, she worked part time as a go-go dancer at Debra's @ The Beach at Club Ripples, a gay and lesbian nightclub in Long Beach that features women dancers on Friday nights.

And though she had a long relationship with a woman who lives in San Francisco, Richardson had recently become captivated by another woman who rebuffed her interest, according to her father.

"This was the biggest slap in the face," her father said. He quoted her writing: " 'It's tough to be in love with someone who doesn't love you back.' "

Richardson said he only now realizes that she was also bedeviled by a mental disorder.

In the five days leading up to her arrest, she apparently had not slept, instead phoning, texting, making entries on her MySpace and Facebook pages and writing in her journals around the clock.

"It's hard to find a spot when she rested," Knolls said of the sequence of events.

The journals were among a jumble of possessions found in her vehicle. "It appeared she had been living out of her car -- there were clothes that weren't folded, makeup, books, several purses, these journals," Knolls said. "It looked like she was homeless -- even though she wasn't. Her friends said it wasn't unusual for her to stay in her car for several days."

Knolls said police have spoken to both of her parents about their findings and shared the diaries with them.

Michael Richardson, who said he has found more of her journals, believes his daughter is still alive. "I think someone has her," he said.

carla.hall@latimes.com

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