LOS ANGELES — Call it a forgotten paradise, a little brush-covered canyon pushed up against the majestic “Hollywood” sign. Celebrities go there to get away. So do nearby residents, with their dogs or children in tow.
This week, everyone’s been calling it a crime scene.
The seclusion — the hustle of urban Los Angeles vanishing into Bronson Canyon’s hiking and walking trails — may have led a killer to think it was the perfect spot to cut up a victim’s body. And get rid of it, quick.
A head. Feet. And hands.
Whoever it was that left the gruesome scene may be long gone now. That’s one mystery, in a town that thrives on them and often rings up millions of dollars making up tales filled with gory scenes just like the one discovered Tuesday.
The other, more pressing mystery: Who do the body parts belong to?
So far, police believe the unidentified man is between 40 and 60 years old.
They also believe the body, found by a dog walker who let one of her animals off the leash, had only been there a short time. Just a few days at the most.
They note that the coyotes that roam the park in packs at night — their howls are the only sounds people hear after dusk — would have destroyed the remains if they had been there longer than a few days.
“If it had not been for the dog walker, we might never have found it,” police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.
As if to make Smith’s point, a coyote strolled by a hillside at that moment, stopping no more than 30 feet away and turning its head curiously toward the assembled reporters as the officer continued to speak.
As 120 officers and firefighters on foot and horseback fought their way through 7 acres of brush, some searchers used ropes to rappel into a steep drainage culvert. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office was attempting to identify the remains.
Smith said they would try to identify the man through fingerprints first and, if that doesn’t work, search DNA databases and dental records.
Police are still searching for a motive, reviewing hundreds of theories provided by both detectives and local residents, Smith said.
They don’t believe the head, feet and hands are connected to a torso police in Tucson, Ariz., found on Jan. 6, Smith said.
That was too long ago for the head and other parts to have survived in the condition they were found. The head was found inside a plastic bag. They also believe the victim was killed somewhere else and brought to the park.
They also don’t believe a serial killer was involved.
“We have no indication there is a serial murderer running around,” Smith said.
The discovery also was the first time police could recall finding a head or other body parts in Bronson Canyon Park. Griffith Park, a huge, rugged expanse on the other side of the hill, is usually the dumping place for bodies, Officer Bruce Borihahn said.
Until the remains turned up, the most serious things residents said they had to worry about were the coyotes and the smash-and-grab robbers who sometimes target hikers’ cars.
“At dusk they all come out in packs,” Mark Hart said as he walked his two pit bull mixes down the hill from the park. “I’ve seen them literally take little dogs right off the leash as people were walking them.”
Renee Dake Wilson, who was walking Sweet Pea, her boxer-pit bull mix, said she was unnerved by the find, especially the fact that the head was uncovered right off the trail where she and her dog walk every day.
“I’m a little worried,” she said. “It’s a concern to have such an event happen in your neighborhood. But I do think it’s an isolated event.”
Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.