Fifty years after 7-year-old Ramona Price went missing, Santa Barbara police detectives believe they have found her.
They’ve connected the cold case to convicted serial killer Mack Ray Edwards, who turned himself in and confessed to killing at least six children in California during the 1950s and ‘60s.
Police Chief Cam Sanchez and cold-case Detective Jaycee Hunter said Edwards worked as a heavy-equipment operator at construction sites, which he used to hide the bodies, saying no one would find them because, “who’s going to dig up a freeway?” The only two bodies ever recovered were found at freeway construction sites where he had worked. While in custody, Edwards apparently talked about killing up to 18 more children.
Edwards killed himself in 1971 while on death row at San Quentin State Prison and never mentioned Price or Santa Barbara, Sanchez said, so he was never considered a suspect in the Price case.
That all changed four years ago, when author and researcher Weston DeWalt told Santa Barbara police detectives that Edwards often visited a friend in the area and worked for a construction company that built the overpass at Hollister Avenue at Highway 101 in Goleta.
That overpass was completed a few weeks after Price disappeared on Sept. 2, 1961.
On Wednesday, three cadaver dogs, or historical human remains detection dogs, searched the area on both the northbound and southbound sides of Highway 101 at the overpass. Police Lt. Paul McCaffrey said the dogs found “an area of interest” during the search that will be further investigated, and Caltrans and Sanchez will decide whether to excavate for human remains.
Hunter said the dogs undergo intensive training so that they respond only to human remains, and they can even smell traces of them through concrete and asphalt. They’re trained not to disturb crime scenes and can detect one drop of blood in five quarts of water.
“These dogs are amazing — so yeah, they’ll be able to sense something if it’s here,” he said.
On that Saturday of Price’s disappearance in 1961, Price’s parents, now deceased, were packing for their move from Oak Avenue in Santa Barbara to Goleta. Price told them she would walk to the new house, about 7 miles away. Her father, thinking she wasn’t serious, dismissed the thought and didn’t realize she was missing until a half-hour later, Hunter said. A full police and Sheriff’s Department search from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Ventura County proved fruitless, and there was never enough evidence to arrest a suspect.
Price was last seen getting into a Plymouth sedan driven by a white male in his 30s or 40s near Modoc and La Cumbre roads, witnesses stated.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Santa Barbara resident Charlie Meraviglia said he had a flashback when he read the news and saw Price’s face.
“When I saw the paper this morning I went way back in my memory; it was the same photo I was shown by police,” he said.
Then 11, he was at a playground near Modoc Road when authorities came by asking if anyone had seen Price and then told the children to go home. He said it was common practice then to be out without parents.