Investigators Seek DNA to Identify Death Valley Remains

Investigators plan to seek DNA from relatives of the four German visitors who disappeared in Death Valley National Park in 1996. Last week Riverside Search and Rescue volunteers found human remains that appear to be related to these missing people.

In July of 1996, 34-year-old Egbert Rimkus, his 10-year-old son Georg Weber, his girl friend Cornelia Myer and her 4-year-old son Max traveled to Death Valley.Their rental car was found months later on a closed road in Anvil Spring Canyon. Despite a large search at the time and periodic searches over the years, the whereabouts of the missing group remained unknown until last week.

Remains and identification have been found, but many questions remain. Investigators are not yet certain how many people have been found. Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze explained that the skeletal remains have been turned over to a forensic anthropologist to figure out what was found and to start the identification process.

Many of the bones may be too sun bleached after 13 years to extract DNA, but other bones were found that appear to have been in a spot with more shade than others and could be a better source of DNA, Lutze explained.

Lutze says that investigators are working with Interpol to track down family members in Europe with the hope of obtaining DNA from the surviving parents of the two children along with relatives of the two missing adults. Dental and medical records may also be used to identify the remains.

While the intense heat of summer may be the cause of death, that is not certain. Foul play has not been technically ruled out. Sheriff Lutze says the incident, like others, is still considered a criminal investigation until proven otherwise. Again, answers may be months in coming.

What happened to these people may never be known for certain. When we spoke to a China Lake Mountain Rescue Team member in 2008, she explained that she started her initial search assignment in 1996, at the vehicle. The team member said that in her opinion, the family was at the car for a few days as there was debris from chips and yogurt along with places that had been used as restrooms that had been dug up by rodents to expose the toilet paper when search teams arrived in October.

A beer bottle, matching the type found at the van, was found down canyon less than two miles from the vehicle, sitting under a creosote bush in a wash, like someone had sat down for a beer. Until last week, there was not much else to go on.

The Inyo County Sheriffs Department does plan to conduct further searches in the remote southern end of the Panamint Mountains, south of the Goler Wash. As it stands in this heartbreaking story, as many as three people remain missing.

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