Investigators tore through the walls and floors of Thyme Contemporary… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
Authorities with pickaxes, shovels and cadaver dogs dug through the floor and walls of a popular Lomita restaurant, trying to solve a 16-month-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of the cafe owner's wife.
"At this point we believe she is buried beneath the restaurant," said Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "We are excavating parts of the restaurant. We expect to be there for some time."
The excavation at the Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita is the latest in a series of twists in the case that included a police pursuit last week that ended when the cafe's owner, David Viens, jumped from a cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Viens survived the fall but suffered critical injuries. L.A. County Sheriff's Department detectives booked him Monday on suspicion of murder. Viens, 47, was arrested at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, where he is recovering from his injuries.
"Mr. Viens dove off a 100-foot cliff to avoid talking to our detectives, and that is somewhat telling," said Bill McSweeney, chief of the Sheriff's Department's detective bureau.
Authorities said information gathered during the investigation led them to the cafe, but they would not provide more details.
Viens' wife, Dawn, went missing on Oct. 18, 2009. Viens later told police that she walked away from the restaurant and never returned. But authorities say he never reported her missing. Rather, her family and friends went to police three weeks later.
Some time later, Viens remodeled the cafe, adding new floors and walls that investigators now believe may conceal his wife's body, officials said.
Thyme Contemporary Cafe is one of four locations where investigators served search warrants. Authorities suspect Viens' wife may have been killed at the couple's former home in Lomita, where they recently found signs of blood on a bedroom wall.
Viens fell under suspicion shortly after his wife's disappearance because of what authorities called his inconsistent statements. He told detectives and friends that they should look for her in the mountains because she liked going there. But investigators were skeptical because her wallet, cellphone and other personal belongings were left behind. Investigators learned from witnesses that Viens had thrown most of his wife's clothing and personal items into the trash behind the restaurant.
Suspicions grew when Viens' girlfriend took over his wife's job at the restaurant and moved into his home.
Before he jumped from the cliff, Viens apparently spotted deputies watching him and sped off in a car, authorities said. In the parking lot of the Point Vicente Lighthouse, Viens and his girlfriend got out of the car and became involved in a scuffle, Whitmore said. After deputies tried to break up the struggle, Viens ran and jumped from the nearby cliff to the beach.
Authorities began distributing fliers this week, asking possible witnesses to come forward.