Duffel bag body dumping case remains unsolved
Ten months after discovering a dead woman stuffed in a duffel bag in a Truckee parking lot, local police are still looking for those responsible for dumping the body.Cynthia Erler, a 54-year-old homeless woman from Reno, was discovered dead, bound and stuffed into a duffel bag in the parking lot of Tahoe Donner’s Northwoods Clubhouse on Feb. 28. Two golfers, returning from a golf game in Reno, found the bag.Police officials, who initially investigated the case as a murder, now believe Erler died of natural causes and was illegally left in Truckee.”The autopsy showed no signs of foul play or illegal drugs,” said Truckee police Chief Scott Berry.Police initially made progress in retracing Erler’s last days living on the streets of Reno. Both Truckee and Reno investigators discovered she was last seen walking down Fourth Street in Reno the day before she was found dead in Truckee.The black duffel bag and rope used to dispose of Erler’s body were purchased in a second-hand store on Fourth Street in Reno at 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 27, according to police. But investigators ran into difficulties getting information from Erler’s homeless friends, who were often afraid to talk to police or unhelpful, investigators said.The obstacles were compounded by the fact that Erler, who police said lived a successful middle-class life before becoming a transient, used as many as 12 names over the last 15 years.Recently, however, police have received new information on the death, Berry said. “We’re still actively working this case,” he said.Berry would not provide any details on the new information police received.The coroner determined that Erler’s heart may have given out, although because of the suspicious nature of the body dump the coroner did not rule the cause of death as a heart attack. Erler’s brother, a resident of Sparks, claimed her body and buried her in Sparks, according to police.While Truckee police are no longer pursuing the case as a homicide, they are looking to charge the person or people responsible for dumping Erler with a misdemeanor charge of illegal disposing of a body.”Dumping a body is still a crime,” Berry said.Someone who disposes of a non-cremated body, without a license, can face misdemeanor charges, said Nevada County District Attorney Michael Ferguson, in the days following the body’s discovery. 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, Erler’s body had to be manipulated to fit it inside the fairly small duffel bag.Berry noted that those responsible for leaving Erler in Truckee likely dumped her body far enough from Reno so that police would not investigate them.”Obviously they wanted her discovered,” Berry said. “Just look at the forest around here.”
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