Potential CSUN student found dead

Danielle R. Swopes

The search for Renee Fox, 25, a Simi Valley woman missing for more than two months, is over. The body of the young mother who hoped to come to CSUN this fall was found under a bush in the desert near Independence, 200 miles from her home, on Aug. 10.

Inyo County Coroner Leon Brune used dental records to identify the body, which had been exposed to the harsh desert summer. It could be up to two months before tests are in and the cause of death can be determined.

Fox’s remains were discovered by residents of Independence, a small town nestled between King’s Canyon and Death Valley National Park, more than 200 miles away from Fox’s home in Simi Valley.

Fox was last seen alive on June 24, walking toward Independence. Investigators said that the their leading theory is that Fox made a wrong turn onto Mazourka Canyon Road on her way out of Independence.

Mazourka Canyon, popular among off-roaders, quickly turns to gravel, leading off into the desert and abandoned mining country. Fox’s late model Volkswagen Jetta broke down on Mazourka Canyon Road after the car bottomed out, damaging the oil pan, said Simi Valley Police Detective David Del Marto.

Her cell phone was found in the car, its battery dead. Her purse, which contained $900, was found the next day.

Fox was last seen alive 4 p.m. four miles from her car by a family from San Diego that keeps a cabin in the area. They asked if she was okay, and gave her bottles of water before she walked away. The family called the local police later that evening, trying to get them to go look for Fox.

“They called and they were like, ‘Hey, we think there’s a girl up here that needs your help,'” said Reese Somes, Fox’s brother, as he described the call.

The police went out to look for Fox after her purse was found Sunday.

“We’re upset that they didn’t go up right away,” Somes said.

“The sad part is, obviously she was alive around 4 or 5, and it cools down at night. If nothing criminal happened, she would have been alive Sunday morning. Had they gone up there, we probably wouldn’t be talking.”

“They told us that ‘she’s probably partying, you will be hearing from her in a few days,'” Somes said.

Somes and his wife, Tracey, went up to Inyo County and began combing the desert for his sister. The San Diego family that was the last known to see her alive, among others, joined the search. Beth Holloway Twitty, Natalee Holloway’s mother, contacted Fox’s mother, Judith Cairns. Equusearch, an organization that assists in searches for missing persons, looked for Holloway, sending volunteers and aerial drones to Independence.

“We checked into them before, to make sure they’re legitimate,” said Inyo County Sheriff Detective Paul Bedell. He added that his department shared information, but that Equusearch “pretty much worked on their own.”

“There’s issues when we work with others,” he said. “We’re not going to assume liability for a company that uses all untrained people.”

The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office went over the area with dogs, but Fox’s scent disappeared, only to be picked up again miles away. They called off the search on June 28, deciding that Fox was no longer in the area.

“The cops say that she probably got a ride. Well, obviously it wasn’t friendly,” Somes said.

“From day one, they acted as if we were inconveniencing them. They kept blowing us off,” said Somes. Fox’s family hired a private detective, Tye Atwater.

In Simi Valley, Del Marto pulled phone records and performed a forensic exam on Fox’s computer, checking to see who she’d been talking to, if she’d e-mailed anyone near Independence, or obtained maps of the area. He checked out these resources after offering the service to the family, he said, but found nothing.

“If it’s a homicide, it’s a whodunit; she was last seen up there by herself,” Del Marto said, noting that she passed on opportunities for assistance.

“Things are probably not going to turn out well for the family as far as closure, based on the circumstances,” he added.

Fox’s family has their suspicions. Who or what caused the complete loss of the scent trail? Who sent the Inyo Register, the local newspaper, the collaged postcard with Fox’s picture on it? Plus, the family says that Fox was found nude, with her pants and sandals nearby.

“No animal is going to just drag away her sandals,” Somes said.

Bedell would not discuss Fox’s state of dress, citing an ongoing investigation.

“It was probably just a need to kind of get away,” Somes said.

At Fox’s funeral on Saturday, August 26, Brian Fox stood up with his son, Eric, and praised Renee’s skills as a mother.

“I would come home for lunch, from work, and, it was pretty funny actually, on the table there would be breakfast crafts, like Cheerios, and fruit, toast and jelly, and whatever you’d be able to put stuff together. The type of stuff she did to make sure that Eric was entertained and Eric was happy, was amazing. I think for me, it made it easier to be a dad, because I knew that if I ever slacked, she’d pick it up. She picked it up all the time,” he said.

Brian made no reference to their marital relations, and quickly had Eric ask for volunteers to speak. There was a pause, as people made out what the little boy had said and summoned up the courage to speak in front of a large audience.

“I know, we all love her. Everybody does. Everybody misses her. I hear some people crying ?We all miss her,” Eric said. After that, even more people were crying.

Many of the friends that spoke referred to the past, the good old days of junior high and high school. They all mentioned Fox’s bright smile, constant good mood, and care for those around her. Several mentioned electric blue highlights, which elicited laughter from the somber audience.

More than 200 people attended the service, which was held at Reardon Mortuary in Simi Valley.