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L.A. County sheriff orders homicide probe in Mitrice Richardson disappearance

December 14, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Mitrice RichardsonLos Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has ordered a homicide investigation into the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, though officials stressed they have no evidence she is dead.

Baca's decision today allows a three-person sheriff's homicide team to join the Los Angeles Police Department's search for the 24-year-old who mysteriously vanished after walking out of the Lost Hills sheriff's station nearly three months ago.

"He has declared it a homicide investigation. That does not mean the sheriff believes Ms. Richardson is dead. But by opening up a homicide investigation, it does allow the Sheriff's Department to put some of our top investigators on the case," said Steve Whitmore, a department spokesman.

Whitmore said a lieutenant and two detectives would join LAPD detectives already investigating Richardson's Sept. 24 disappearance.

Based on that investigation and the contents of her diaries, authorities believe that days before she was arrested for not paying her bill at a Malibu restaurant, the 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate had gone without sleep for as many as five nights and "had a major mental breakdown," said LAPD Det. Chuck Knolls.

Mental health professionals who read the journals at the request of police say Richardson may have been suffering from severe bipolar disorder, Knolls said.

Police uncovered four or five journals -- small bound books as well as spiral notebooks -- in the car she drove Sept. 16 to Geoffrey's in Malibu, where she behaved bizarrely, spoke in gibberish and ordered a steak dinner and cocktail.

-- Richard Winton