Homicide detectives were conducting an investigation after apparent human remains were discovered inside the wall of an apartment near Lomita, and family members of a woman who went missing when she lived in the unit said they believe the body is hers.
Investigators were first called out to the 26800 block of Western Avenue on Wednesday, after receiving a confidential tip that possible human remains were inside, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. Steve Jauch.
Scent dogs were used the day of the discovery, and authorities received a "positive alert" from two of the dogs, Jauch said at a morning news conference outside the public housing complex on Thursday.
Linda Campbellhumphrey told KTLA her cousin, Raven Campbell, was living in the unit in May 2009 and went missing at around that time.
"We said bring the dogs, bring ... everything we saw on 'CSI.' We wanted them to do that. They said, 'No, we don't find any reason,'" Linda Campbellhumphrey said.
"They haven't told us that it was positively her, but we -- in our heart of hearts -- know it's her," Campbellhumphrey said.
About two weeks before the discovery, someone had called Raven Campbell's sister to say the person believed Campbell's body was in a "downstairs apartment in the wall of the closet behind the stairs," Campbellhumphrey said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The family contacted the Sheriff's Department, and the detective assigned to Campbell's case went to the apartment, Jauch told the Times.
Investigators requested permission from the county housing authority to knock down the unit's wall, and that permission was granted Wednesday, Jauch said, according to the newspaper.
Raven Joy Campbell was 31 in August 2009, when the Sheriff's Department put out a missing person flier for her. The flier described her as having a "diminished mental capacity."
She had been living with a female roommate at the apartment when she disappeared, her relatives said. The roommate said that Campbell had gone shopping and never returned, but the missing woman's purse was found inside the apartment, family members said.
The apartment is within a public housing complex called Harbor Hills in an unincorporated area next to Lomita.
The Sheriff's Department said in a news release Thursday afternoon that the victim had not yet been identified.
Initially, Jauch told reporters that it was too early to confirm if the remains were human. Then, around 9:30 a.m., he said the remains did in fact appear to be human, but he did not provide any information about who the person was or how they died.
“Coroner's officials have actually done some excavating inside the residence, and they have removed what appears to be human remains," Jauch said. "In terms of identity, sex, race, possible cause of death -- it’s something that’s going to have to be determined in the days that follow.”
It was not known how long the victim had been in the residence.
“It doesn’t appear to be very recent.” the lieutenant said. “I don’t know how long the victim may have been there, I just don’t know.”
Jauch initially declined to state where exactly in the apartment unit they had been located, but later said the remains were found in the wall.
Authorities were seen wheeling a body inside a bag on a stretcher out of the cordoned-off unit, video from the scene showed.
Investigators remained at the scene to search for additional evidence after the body was taken away by the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
"Who knows what else they can turn up in terms of something we can use as evidence if this is a criminal act," Jauch said.
Few other details about the discovery have been released, and Jauch stressed that the investigation was still in its preliminary stages.
Jauch said a family that was occupying the unit had been temporarily relocated. It was not clear how long they had been living there, and investigators were checking to see who previously resided in the apartment.
Anyone with information about is encouraged to call the sheriff's Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
Tipsters wishing to provide information anonymously should call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.