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Solving one mystery opens the books on another crime

Bones found in the Mojave Desert are traced painstakingly, and a dead man's forgotten confession points to a murder.

August 06, 2011|By Mike Anton, Los Angeles Times
  • Beddie Walraven disappeared without a trace in 1946.
Beddie Walraven disappeared without a trace in 1946. (San Bernardino County Sheriff's…)

The year was 1946 and 25-year-old Beddie Walraven was something of a wildcat, a small-town girl from Texas married to a soldier serving overseas and shacked up with a career criminal in Santa Ana.

That's when things turned bad.

Walraven went missing. Her relatives called the FBI, but she was never to be heard from again.

A quarter of a century later, a man hunting for fossils stumbled upon some scattered bones in the Mojave Desert near Baker in San Bernardino County, a feral landscape that hides its secrets well.

It would take years for those unidentified bones to be linked to a murder confession given by a career criminal in Santa Ana.

But only recently, through a DNA match, would the two come together to put an end to one 60-year-old mystery — and perhaps lead to another.

Authorities announced Friday that the remains are those of Beddie Walraven. The news comes after years of painstaking work by San Bernardino County coroner's investigators and scientists at the state attorney general's DNA laboratory in Richmond.

"We are constantly finding bodies in the desert.... We've had a lot of unsolved cases that were many, many years old," said Deputy Coroner Bob Hunter. But this is the first "that's anywhere near that old.... The science of DNA matching has progressively gotten better and better."

In December 2005, highly degraded biological samples from the bones were sent to the state lab; it took scientists five years to develop a usable DNA profile. Meanwhile, coroner's investigators found two relatives of Walraven who provided DNA.

One of them is Police Chief Shawne Walraven of the DeKalb, Texas, Police Department.

"She was my great aunt," Walraven said Friday. "I didn't know I had a great aunt. Before they contacted me, I didn't even know she existed."

Chief Walraven then began doing a little investigating of his own.

His father led him to a great uncle in Arkansas who told him the story of his sister, Beddie. Walraven knew about the Santa Ana connection and contacted local police, who dug up an old file that included the mid-1950s confession.

For more than two years, the case would become an off-hours obsession for Walraven.

"Once you put it all together, you have the whole story of what happened," he said.

And its a story dark as a desert night.

Chief Walraven's great uncle told him that Beddie was a "sweet girl" who was cheating on her husband with a man who was "mean as a rattlesnake." On a visit to Texas, they stole a $10,000 war bond from Beddie's parents and hightailed it to California.

"That's the last they ever saw her," Walraven said. "To this day, that war bond has never been cashed."

According to the case file, Walraven says, the couple were having sex when a woman — who had the same last name as Beddie's lover — burst into the room and shot Beddie in the head.

The man told police that he and the woman deposited Beddie's body in the desert, Walraven said.

The man was never charged, and why is unclear. Walraven says his research found that he later killed a police officer, was sent to prison and has since died.

And the alleged trigger woman? Up until a few years ago, Walraven said, a woman by the same name was living in Oregon.

On Thursday, a Santa Ana homicide investigator was assigned the case.

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