Antelope Valley

Electronic Sniffer, K-9 Locate Suspected Clandestine Graves in Antelope Valley

Families of loved ones who disappeared from the Antelope Valley virtually without a trace will gather Saturday in Littlerock to bring attention to their cases and appeal for help.

Two of the missing are young mothers, who -- then in their mid-20s -- went to visit people and never returned.

In the disappearance of Monique Figueroa two years ago, investigators received informant information that she had been murdered, and buried in a clandestine grave, said Jeff Figueroa, her father.

"I feel strongly my daughter is probably not coming home," Figueroa said.

A year ago, investigators traveled to a parcel of desert off Pearblossom Highway east of Littlerock, and searched with a mini-excavator, but without success.

Later, an independent forensics team brought to the site a cadaver dog and an electronic sniffer that detects the signature chemicals of human decomposition. The team pinpointed a location perhaps 15 feet from one of the dig holes, Figueroa said.

The forensics team is associated with the website Antelope Valley Missing, and at this point is not publicly naming the personnel who identified the location.

The team has traveled to other areas identified by informants as places where murder victims were buried, and concluded that human remains are present at eight sites.

Disappearances and other law enforcement in the Antelope Valley are handled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Figueroa believes investigators should authorize a second search of the site identified by the informant, and where the Antelope Valley Missing Team concluded there is forensic evidence of human remains. NBCLA has placed calls to Sheriff's Homicide and is awaiting a response. 

Four years after the disappearance of Michelle Russ, her family clings to hope she remains alive, but fear she may have been victimized by human trafficking.

"I really don't understand. That's why there are so many scenarios in my head," said her twin sister Christine Russ Nolte, now 30.

Russ had significant medical issues, including cerebral palsy and susceptibility to seizures, but as a single mother was able to raise her son, who was 7 at the time she disappeared, her sister said.

Among other disappearance cases in the Antelope Valley: Rodney Catsiff, who went missing 16 years ago. Only afterwards did his family learn from legal documents that he had been acting as a confidential law enforcement informant.

Catsiff's daughter plans to join members of the Russ and Figueroa families for the meeting and rally Saturday. They will meet at a Littlerock landmark, the Charlie Brown farm.

"We really need our community to come together to find these people," said Nolte, before adding a second message: "It's going to continue happening until we stop it."

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