A sick feeling in your stomach
Seven years later, in 1998, Susan Orr was looking through a Bodega Bay newspaper when she came across a curious article. She recalls, "It was about a man in Yreka who was in jail and calling himself Master David Jesus Christ. So I called the state number. I used to call LAPD every year on David's birthday and in 1993 they told me I could just call the state missing persons [unit] here in Sacramento because they shared the same information, which turned out to be not true.
"I called the state and said, 'This looks like my son. Please check into it.' They said, 'We'll get back to you within a week.' So after a week and a half, I called them back and they said, 'We have a lot of current missing persons and so we haven't had time to even call L.A., yet.' So I told them I would do it. L.A. told me they would get back to me soon."
The next day, Gilda Tolbert, a 10-year veteran investigator of the LA County Coroner's Office, made the hard call to Susan Orr, informing her that her son was dead, that he had actually been identified back in 1991. For reasons unknown, Susan had not been notified when that discovery was made.
Tolbert told the SN&R that coroner investigators do everything they can to identify unknown bodies that come their way. "We try to obtain fingerprints on the deceased, and if they're decomposed we re-hydrate the fingerprints and send them off to the FBI and Department of Justice, and of course our own local law enforcement agencies, to see if we have any hits on them. Also we're hoping that the family, friends, neighbors, whoever will call in looking for that person." The coroner's office maintains it ran David's fingerprints through both the LAPD and LA County Sheriff's systems.
"We get approximately 300 John or Jane Does a year. At the end we probably have 20 to 25 remaining unidentified. They are active until we make an identification and also notify next of kin. Once that ID and next of kin have been notified, then the case is closed," said Tolbert.
"If I have leads to work on, I'll work on it if it takes me months. If I really have nothing to work on, after about a month I'll start preparing the case for cremation. We eliminate everything we can before we actually have the county cremate the remains. We make sure we have X-rays on the body, dental X-rays as well."
While it's mysterious why David's body wasn't identified in the days soon after his death, it's also murky as to why the subsequent identification languished in a file cabinet somewhere.
Craig Harvey, the assistant director of the LA County Coroner's Office, says it is usually his office that notifies the families. "I can't believe -- I don't believe -- my investigator did nothing because all they do is identification and notification. In this case there was a missing person's report filed with a police agency -- the LAPD. What I believe happened -- I can't prove it -- is that the notification of next of kin was taken over by them. It's happened in the past where they will say something like, 'It's our missing person; we'll take care of it from here.'"
One of the reasons Harvey doesn't know for certain is that the LAPD hasn't relinquished its records of the case. While investigating this matter, the coroner's office requested the file but has yet to receive any response from the LAPD either verbally or in writing. Harvey concludes, "From what I know, it's one of those cases that gives you a sick feeling in your stomach because something went horribly wrong here. What's doubly frustrating for us is we're not being given access to the whole record so we can help decide what it was."