San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detectives recently revived a 44-year-old cold case after Coroner investigators determined that human remains found in 1969 near Wrightwood were those of a teenage girl who disappeared near her Mentone home the previous year.
Elizabeth Ernstein, 14, was last seen March 19, 1968 one block from her home while returning from school in Mentone.
For months afterward, Sheriff’s Department personnel and volunteers searched for clues of Elizabeth’s disappearance, but to no avail. The case took on national attention with news media covering the story from across the nation. Her disappearance went unsolved and 44 years passed.
In May 2012, investigators with the San Bernardino County Sheriff, Coroner’s Division received additional information that lead to the possibility that Elizabeth’s remains had been previously recovered but not yet identified. Investigators located and obtained DNA samples from Elizabeth’s sister and brother. Those samples were sent to the California Department of Justice for entry into a database which routinely searches possible matches between family members and unidentified individuals.
In 2011, some of the remains of an unidentified person, found in 1969 in a shallow grave near Wrightwood, were exhumed from the county cemetery and submitted for DNA testing. Investigators with the Coroner’s Division learned the remains were those of a young adult. Working on the additional leads developed in May, investigators asked the Department of Justice to compare the DNA samples from Elizabeth’s sister and brother to the DNA from the unidentified remains found in the Wrightwood grave.
On August 16, 2012, Sheriff’s Coroner Investigator/Unidentified Persons Coordinator Bob Hunter received confirmation from the Department of Justice that the samples obtained from Elizabeth Ernstein’s brother and sister were a match to the remains found in 1969.
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department Homicide Cold Case unit is continuing the investigation in an effort to determine the circumstances surrounding Elizabeth’s disappearance and suspected murder. Anyone with any information regarding this investigation is urged to call Cold Case Detectives Ryan Ford or Scott Cannon of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Detail at (909) 387-3589. Callers wishing to remain anonymous should contact the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (1-800-782-7463.)