Remains of Mentone Girl Identified 44 Years After She Disappeared Near Home

Elizabeth Ernstein, 14, was last seen March 19, 1968, one block from her home while returning from school in Mentone, according to sheriff's detectives.

Human remains found near Wrightwood in 1969 were confirmed this month to be those of a teenage girl who disappeared near her Mentone home the previous year, cold case detectives announced Friday.

Investigators suspect she was murdered.

Elizabeth Ernstein, 14, was last seen March 19, 1968, one block from her home while returning from school in Mentone, east of Redlands, according to the coroner.

"For months afterward, Sheriff's Department personnel and volunteers searched for clues of Elizabeth's disappearance, but to no avail," coroner's personnel said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

"The case took on national attention with news media covering the story from across the nation," the statement said. "Her disappearance went unsolved."

More than 40 years passed. Then in 2011, remains of an unidentified person found in 1969 in a shallow grave near Wrightwood were exhumed from a county cemetery and submitted for DNA testing, according to the coroner.

Investigators with the Coroner's Division learned the remains were those of a young adult.

In May 2012, San Bernardino County coroner's investigators received more information that raised the possibility Elizabeth's remains had been recovered but not identified.

Investigators obtained DNA samples from Elizabeth's sister and brother and sent the samples to the California Department of Justice for a database search of possible matches, according to the coroner.

Working on leads developed in May 2012, investigators asked the Department of Justice to compare DNA samples from Elizabeth's sister and brother to DNA from the unidentified remains found in the Wrightwood grave, coroner's personnel said.

"On August 16, 2012, Sheriff's Coroner Investigator/Unidentified Persons Coordinator Bob Hunter received confirmation from the Department of Justice that the samples obtained from Elizabeth Ernstein’s brother and sister were a match to the remains found in 1969," coroner's personnel said.

Mentone is a rural citrus community in southwest San Bernardino County, about 45 miles southeast of Wrightwood, in the San Gabriel Mountains near the Los Angeles County line.

The sheriff's Cold Case unit is seeking more information to determine the circumstances of Elizabeth's disappearance and suspected murder.

Anyone with more information was urged to call Detectives Ryan Ford or Scott Cannon at (909) 387-3589. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may contact the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME.

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sharon horne September 01, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Thank you for finding her now the family has ther closure and she can rest in peace
debra green September 02, 2012 at 07:55 AM
What they couldn't confirm it was her all those years ago? Why not? Surely they must have known it was her, how many young missing people in that area were they. What a fail for the police, and what a tragedy for her parents who must have spent years thinking she may come back.
Guy McCarthy (Editor) September 02, 2012 at 08:02 AM
Mentone is a rural citrus community in southwest San Bernardino County, about 45 miles southeast of Wrightwood, in the San Gabriel Mountains near the Los Angeles County line.
Dennis Stevens September 05, 2012 at 05:17 AM
Mentone is a rural citrus community in southwest San Bernardino County, about 45 miles southeast of Wrightwood, in the San Bernardino Mountains about 40 miles from the Los Angeles County line, near the city of Redlands.
James Gale September 06, 2012 at 12:55 AM
It's so sad that they didn't identify the remains until 2012, even though they were found in 1969. It meant that Elizabeth's parents and a brother passed away without knowing.
James Gale September 06, 2012 at 01:25 AM
I would like to ask the writer of the article if it's known for certain that Elizabeth was seen only "one block" from her home on the day she disappeared. I believe a careful investigation will show that this is not factual. Also, Elizabeth actually vanished on March 18 and was last seen alive on that date, (not the 19th as this article reports). Perhaps March 19 is the date on which the parents reported her missing to the police.
Guy McCarthy (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Hi James. Nothing in this world is ever known for certain unless you see it with your own two eyes. In the news business we have to quote people and attribute the info. In this news report, the information comes from cold case detectives and the coroner and it is attributed that way. See Coroner case #706934257 on the coroner's website, http://www.co.san-bernardino.ca.us/sheriff/coroner/PressRelease.asp After 44 years, it would not surprise me if someone with the Sheriff's Department got a detail or two wrong. If you have original documents about this case that contradict what the coroner and cold case detectives have reported, please email me at guy.mccarthy@patch.com My name's at the top of the story, you can call me Guy.
James Gale September 06, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Thank you, Guy, for publishing the news about Elizabeth Ernstein. I am grateful to anyone who has helped in any way to bring her to people's attention. What I know is that ever since it happened, all the reports and the posters printed and distributed by Mr. and Mrs. Ernstein have said that she disappeared and was last seen on March 18. I still have one of the early ones that appeared in the newspaper in 1968. The man who reported possibly seeing her close to home saw her on March 18. That was the last time she went to school and was seen by anyone. Also, all the other reports in the past have said that this man only reported seeing someone who fit Elizabeth's description a short distance from home. I would like to see a quote from him saying the girl was "one block" from Elizabeth's house. That would be very significant if it was indeed Elizabeth. It would indicate that she reached home that day. My question: is it known whether other family members were usually at home when Elizabeth arrived from school? Were they at home on the 18th at the time she was expected to arrive? The reason I ask this and am interested in these things is that I was a friend of Elizabeth's at the time of her disappearance.
Guy McCarthy (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Hi James, I found an archived Minnesota newspaper clipping from December 1968 with a letter from Ruth and Norman Ernstein. The letter says Elizabeth vanished March 18. I'll ask the coroner and cold case detectives about it. As far as the "one block" detail, that may come from the 1968 news account, which states "a Redlands businessman who was driving through the area . . . thought he saw a girl resembling Elizabeth walking toward the corner of the street on which she lived." Here's link to the archived clipping. http://sau.stparchive.com/Archive/SAU/SAU12121968p02.php Do you still live in the Redlands area?
James Gale September 06, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Hi Guy, I want to thank you for posting that information. I find it very significant. How does anyone get from "walking towards the corner of the street on which she lived" to "one block from home"? There are other errors in the articles. She wasn't a "Mentone Girl" and the school she went to was not in Mentone. She went to Moore Jr. High which was at the same address as the present Moore Middle School, 1550 Highland Ave., Redlands 92374. Some articles also refer to Elizabeth's "Mentone home." She actually lived on a hill overlooking Redlands and Yucaipa, in the area between San Timoteo Canyon and Interstate 10. I don't know where the idea comes from that she was a Mentone girl. That would be true only if the city maps have been redrawn so that those sections of Redlands are now a part of Mentone. Thanks again for your help. I do live within a very short distance of Redlands and I pass by where she used to live quite often.


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