Santa Barbara police are willing to dig as deep as twenty feet into the ground near the Winchester Canyon overpass in their search for the remains of seven-year-old Ramona Price, according to Police spokesperson Lt. Paul McCaffrey.
Police focused their investigation Tuesday on the embankment adjacent to the northbound side of the overpass, which is being torn down by Caltrans in an unrelated construction project. Tuesday’s search marked the first day of the digging phase in the search of Price’s remains.
The fifty-year-old cold case resurfaced last Wednesday when police brought out a team of cadaver dogs to investigate the area surrounding the overpass, where police say they believe freeway worker and notorious child killer Mack Ray Edwards buried Price’s body after murdering her in 1961.
After Wednesday’s team of cadaver dogs alerted to “an area of interest,” police coordinated with Caltrans before beginning the digging phase of their search nearly a week later.
Tuesday’s investigation brought out a new team of cadaver dogs, their handlers, an anthropologist to help identify any discovered bones, and a police detective from Los Angeles Police Department who has worked on freeway excavation sites where the bodies of several of Edwards’ victims have been uncovered. Chief Cam Sanchez also made an appearance at the dig site at around noon.
Although Tuesday’s digging team used a backhoe to shovel and remove dirt, hand tools such as shovels and picks will be brought in if any large bones or pieces of clothing are discovered. The dirt removed Tuesday has also been set aside to allow the digging team to search for small body parts such as toes and fingers if such a discovery is made.
“I’ve been here 31 years and this is the first time we’ve done anything like this,” McCaffrey said.
Police made their decision to carry out the investigation at a depth of up to twenty feet after studying a previous excavation in which the remains of a child killed by Edwards were uncovered between eighteen and twenty feet beneath the surface. The department believes that Price’s remains could be anywhere in this region, according to McCaffrey.
Although McCaffrey said he is confident that the cadaver dogs alerted to “something associated with the death of a human,” police do not yet have enough information to definitively discern whether any remains are still present at the site.
Because cadaver dogs can only alert to the odor of decomposition of human remains in the soil, they are unable to identify the specific site of the actual human remains. Furthermore, underground seepage and water springs may spread the scent into a large area over time, broadening the potential region in which Price’s remains may be located, McCaffrey explained.
However, police have been able to narrow down their search with the help of 50-year-old Caltrans records, McCaffrey said.
These records indicate that the concrete span of the overpass—including the foundation, footings, and bearings—were in place prior to Price’s disappearance, leading police to believe that Edwards could not have buried Price’s remains under these completed structures, McCaffrey said.
Police are instead turning their attention to the ramps and road to the overpass bridge, both of which were in construction when Price went missing.
McCaffrey said that if police do find and identify Price’s remains, they will analyze the body to determine cause of death before turning over the remains to Price’s closest living relative, an older sister.