Coroner’s officials were still trying Saturday to determine the identity of a body found Thursday evening in a car at the bottom of a ravine north of Castaic.
The Associated Press reported Friday that a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit said the car belonged to 88-year-old Culver City resident Melvin Gelfand, who was reported missing Sept. 15.
The body was too decomposed for a visual identification. The car owner’s identity was determined from the license plate, and the Associated Press did not report whether it asked the LAPD detective if she believed Gelfand was behind the wheel or if the car might have been stolen.
The LAPD detective handling Gelfand’s case, Marla Ciuffetelli, was off duty Saturday, and an officer answering her phone said she had no knowledge of another detective’s case.
An investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said Saturday he could not confirm the victim’s identity, and a California Highway Patrol spokesman said the agency had not yet received a report.
Emergency responders found the body Thursday at about 6 p.m. when they arrived at the scene of a car crash on Lake Hughes Road, 1.5 miles south of the Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center.
The 911 call had come from relatives of Lake Hughes resident David J. Lavau, who crashed there Sept. 23 and survived alone in the wilderness for six days until family members found him Thursday.
Emergency responders discovered Lavau’s car had landed next to another car with a deceased victim inside, still clutching the steering wheel. It appeared the body had been there “for some time,” a CHP report said.
The second vehicle matches the general description of Gelfand’s car.
According to an LAPD report, Gelfand was last seen the morning of Sept. 14 at his home in the 2900 block of Tilden Avenue near the 405-10 Freeway interchange – 50 miles south of the Lake Hughes Road crash scene.
Castaic would have been the wrong direction from where he was reportedly headed. Gelfand’s relatives thought he might have taken a Luxury Line bus to a casino in Valley Center in northern San Diego County, “but there are no records of him boarding the bus or using his player’s card at the casino, so it is doubtful that he made it there,” the LAPD report says. Relatives said he suffers from high blood pressure and told the Associated Press he exhibits no signs of dementia.
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