County officials are working to positively identify three different sets of human remains found in remote areas of southeast Inyo County over the past five months.
Assistant Coroner Jeff Mullenhour has been collaborating with local and out-of-the area forensics experts to match DNA and dental records of the remains to missing persons reports.
Mullenhour is investigating a set of bones located in the Anvil Springs Canyon area, believed to belong to one of four missing German tourists who disappeared in Death Valley in 1996.
The second set of bones was located Feb. 11 just west of Pahrump, Nev.
The third set of bones was located March 19 in the Badwater area of Death Valley.
Mullenhour said that no positive ID has been made by his office or any local law enforcement office in any of the cases.
The four German tourists were 33-year-old Egbert Rimkus, Rimkus’ 10-year-old son, Georg Weber, 28-year-old Cornelia Meyer, and her son, Max, 4.
The last sign of the quartet came in the form of a signed guest book on July 23, 1996 at the Butte Valley Stone Cabin, an abandoned mining camp. The entry, made in German, suggested the four had crossed, or were about to cross, Mengel Pass.
Their van was found in October 1996 a few miles up the inhospitable and rugged wash with three flat tires.
A set of remains, later identified as those of Rimkus, was discovered in 2009 by Les Walker and Tom Mahood, off-duty Riverside County Search and Rescue Team workers and amateur sleuths who had picked up the investigation where local law enforcement left off.
Local officials have continued combing the area where Walker and Mahood discovered Rimkus’ remains and in late December, they located another set of bones.
Mullenhour said that he is awaiting DNA results to positively identify the remains.
Thus far, no bones believed to belong to children have been located in the area.
Because the bones are so old and have spent so much time in the harsh elements of Death Valley, Mullenhour said the DNA recovery process will be lengthy.
The second set of bones Mullenhour is investigating was located by a dirt bike rider near the state border with Nevada. Again, Mullenhour said the remains have been sent to an out-of-the-area agency for DNA comparisons which “will likely take many weeks.”
The final set of remains was discovered March 19 in the Badwater area by Mahood and off-duty Carson City Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Freer. Freer and Mahood had heard of a missing persons case in Death Valley and dedicated their time and efforts to locating the person or their remains.
“Those remains have been associated with someone out of Carson City,” Mullenhour said. “We are currently trying to cross-match a mandible bone that was located with the remains with that person’s dental records, but there has been no positive ID made by this office or any other law enforcement agency in Carson City.”
News agencies in Carson City have identified those remains as that of Carson City resident Norman Cox, who disappeared in August of last year, apparently sending his family a suicide note from Death Valley.
Those claims, Mullenhour said, have not been substantiated and Inyo County officials will not speculate on the identity of remains.
A local forensic odontologist is currently attempting to match the mandible bone found with the remains with dental records belonging to Cox.
If and when those results are conclusive, Mullenhour said, a positive identity will be released.