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Police seek clues in murder mystery

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra SunTruckee police carry the body of a woman found in a parking lot in Tahoe Donner on Monday.
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Investigators are narrowing down clues about a woman found dead inside a duffel bag left in a Tahoe Donner parking lot Monday afternoon.

Police believe the Caucasian woman in her 50s was murdered at a different location and dropped off in the parking lot of the Northwoods Clubhouse. An autopsy at the Placer County Morgue in Auburn identified the woman, but her identity will not be released until her relatives are notified, police said. The cause of death was also not released.

In their first homicide investigation since the department was formed in 2001, Truckee police are using their entire force to turn up clues on the mysterious death that has shocked the quiet Tahoe Donner subdivision.

A group of four golfers returning from a Reno golf game reported the body in the parking lot of the Northwoods Clubhouse at 3:40 p.m. Monday, police said.

“One of the gentlemen noticed a duffel bag placed next to his vehicle,” said Truckee police Lt. Dan Johnston. “He felt the duffel bag and it did not feel normal to him, so he called police.”

Police opened the bag and discovered a dead woman. The woman was clothed and did not appear to be dismembered, said Johnston. No one has been reported missing within Truckee town limits, police said.

“This is going to be a very slow, painstaking process to take the bag apart with the body inside, and you have to do it layer by layer,” said Johnston.

Clues at the scene have police convinced that the victim was not killed in the parking lot, but taken there in a duffel bag with straps and left on the pavement during the day on Monday.

The person who left the body did it during the day in a busy parking lot, said police, which makes them hopeful that they will find an eyewitnesses to the act.

“This person inside this bag was placed there in broad daylight, undoubtedly in front of someone,” said Johnston. “It is my belief that somebody had to see somebody carrying a duffel bag and putting it down beside a truck.”

Although they believe this is a murder case, police said that residents in the area have little to be afraid of.

“We have an interstate here that travels … between two metropolitan areas,” said Johnston. “Frankly, we get thousands of cars a day that come through on the freeway. We are not immune to this.

“However,” Johnston said, “it appears clear that this did not happen directly in that parking lot and I see no reason for the public to be concerned in the area.”

Residents of Truckee’s largest subdivision were shaken by Monday night’s events, said Darren Shaw, general manager of the Tahoe Donner homeowners association.

“Everyone is obviously concerned and disturbed that this sort of thing happened ” and happened so close to home,” said Shaw.

At Ames Deli, a popular lunch spot and convenience store in Tahoe Donner, the discovery of the body was the main topic of conversation.

“People are just freaked out,” said Dan Filimon, who was grilling hamburgers outside the deli. “Tahoe Donner is a pretty quiet neighborhood.”

Inside the store, Manager Maria Thomas said shoppers come in hunting information on the “bizarre” incident.

“We get a lot of people who ask, ‘who would dump a body in the middle of a parking lot,'” she said.

Police are looking at surveillance tapes from around town, following up missing persons reports from out of the area, and passing out hundreds of fliers that may lead them to eyewitnesses. Working with the state Department of Justice and other local agencies, the police have gotten 15 to 20 missing person reports from the Bay Area and outside of California, said Johnston. The fliers have also turned up some tips, he said.

“Is it a mystery? Absolutely at this point, but that is why we work at it to solve it,” said Johnston.

Anyone with information should call the Truckee Police Department at 550-2323. The Northwoods clubhouse in Tahoe Donner is open today, although part of the parking lot is still taped off.

Check sierrasun.com for updates on this story.


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