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Search for Pitzer in second day
Newberry Springs woman's 2004 disappearance still active case
HINKLEY • Not far from a tiny road in Hinkley, off-shoot desert paths led to a hole in the ground that Gloria Denton on Wednesday was hopeful might have contained the remains of her missing daughter.
April Pitzer vanished in 2004 from Newberry Springs, where she had been living days before she was set to return home to her native Arkansas. The disappearance is being treated as a homicide, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Det. Mike Walker.
Denton was in Hinkley for the second day in a row, acting on a tip that Pitzer had been buried in a well near Dixie Road. By noon, a group of six volunteers were on hand to dig with shovels around the well and eventually inside it.
The well was filled with dirt and debris 20 feet below the surface, but volunteer Randy Partridge estimated it was likely 50 feet deep when empty.
A homemade, four-legged contraption allowed volunteers to shovel dirt onto a table top while a filter caught anything large enough to possibly be human bone.
From underneath a tent, Denton sifted through whatever the filter left behind while others sought clues in rubble immediately around the well. Denton carefully surveyed every rock on the table top and when something had potential to be a bone, she dropped it into a Folger’s coffee can.
She then took pictures of suspected bones and sent them to Walker for examination. One piece in particular, clay-red in color and the length of a dollar bill, moved Denton almost to tears.
“Oh, my God,” she said, “what if I’m holding her?”
One volunteer was quick to point out the significance.
“You’ll be having the resolve you’ve been needing, you’ve been wanting” the volunteer said, “and you can get your life back.”
Walker said later Wednesday that nothing found was determined to be human bones. He will be conducting follow-up interviews in the area Thursday in light of new information received by Denton.
“Any new information that becomes available from Gloria, whatever sources, I look into those,” he said.
The case is an active homicide investigation and has not been turned over to the cold case team, according to Walker.
Pitzer was declared legally dead in August 2012.
If Denton were to find any bones determined to be human, Walker said he has instructed her to halt digging and he will then coordinate with the county’s Sheriff-Coroner’s office on how to proceed from there.
Denton plans to return Thursday and will continue her search through at least Sunday.
On Saturday, a memorial service is scheduled for Pitzer at Mead Mortuary Funerals and Cremations at 36930 Irwin Road. The service, which will include adorning a plaque of Pitzer to a memorial wall, begins at 7 p.m.
The public is invited to attend.
To donate to the search, visit www.gofundme.com/430hOo or contact Gloria Denton at 479-647-3549 or 479-508-7336.
Anyone with information in the disappearance of April Beth Pitzer should call Det. Mike Walker with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department at 909-653-6581. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may also call the WE-TIP hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME.
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.