Body left in Tahoe Donner identified | SierraSun.com

Body left in Tahoe Donner identified

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

After shifting the focus of their investigation to Reno, Truckee police said they are close to locating the person who left a duffel bag containing the dead body of a Reno woman in a busy Tahoe Donner parking lot on Monday.

Cynthia D. Erler, 54, a transient who lived on the streets and in low-budget hotels in Reno, was identified as the dead woman on Thursday, using her fingerprints. Truckee police, who are now centering 90 percent of their investigation in Reno, are talking to her boyfriend and acquaintances, and hope to solve the case by today.

Presented with a tied-up body in a fairly small duffel bag on Monday evening at the Northwoods Clubhouse in Tahoe Donner, police initially began the investigation as a murder case. But after autopsy reports came back showing no wounds or obvious causes of death, investigators are also looking into whether the woman may have died of a drug overdose or natural causes.

“There are no obvious signs of trauma to the body,” said Truckee police Lt. Dan Johnston. “There are no obvious signs of death.”

Even if Erler died of natural causes, someone who “deposits or disposes” of a non-cremated body, without a license, can face misdemeanor charges, said Nevada County District Attorney Michael Ferguson. The mutilation or disfigurement of a corpse is also punishable as a misdemeanor, he said, although it is unclear whether the treatment of the body constituted disfigurement.

Police said the woman’s body was not treated well after she died. Although small, approximately 5-feet-4-inches tall and just more than 100 pounds, the woman’s body had to be manipulated to fit it inside the fairly small duffel bag.

“The bag is smaller than she would be standing up, and she was placed in that bag,” said Johnston.

Erler had been dead for 12 hours of less when she was found, officials believe. She had a criminal history in Reno, but had no ties to the Truckee area, Johnston said. She also had record of health problems, police said.

“She had a long history with law enforcement,” Johnston said.

Reno police said she was arrested numerous times over the years in Reno, the most recent in November on a charge of public intoxication.

The St. Vincent’s Food Pantry in Reno has records of her picking up food once a month for the past seven months.

Originally from California, Erler lived a fairly successful middle-class life more than 15 years ago. But she lost her husband, Johnston said, and began living a transient life on the streets of Reno. Erler used as many as 12 different names in the last 15 years, officials said.

“I think it is pretty clear as a long term transient and street person, there may have been mental issues,” said Johnston.

Toxicology reports, which could take as many as 10 weeks to finalize, will determine if drugs or poison were involved in her death.

“Our plans are to attempt to locate where she might have died, how she might have died, and who was involved with … placing her body into a fairly small bag and bringing her up into this area,” Johnston said.

The police will refer the case to the district attorney, whether or not it was a murder, police said.

No Truckee eyewitnesses have come forward, but the police are busy following up on about 250 tips that have come in. They also took evidence off of a brown Ford pickup that the person that dumped the body brushed up against while leaving the body.

The Northwoods Clubhouse, where the body was discovered by four golfers returning from a Reno golf game, appears to be a “random location” for the body to be dumped, police said.

Those with any information on the death can call Truckee police at 550-2323.

” The Associated Press contributed to this report. Check sierrasun.com for more updates on this story.