Foul play is suspected in disappearance

Foul play is suspected in disappearance

Larry Altman

Police suspected foul play Monday in the disappearance of a prominent South Bay real estate agent whose former husband was detained when he exited a jet in Bolivia.

Julia “Deede” Keller, 54, of El Segundo was last seen Thursday at 11:30 p.m. Her car, a 1999 silver Mercedes-Benz E320 with California license plate number 4ENR010, is missing.

“We think there is foul play involved here,” El Segundo police Sgt. Carlos Mendoza said. “Definitely there are some suspicious circumstances.”

Although police did not call Keller’s former husband a suspect in her disappearance, he was met by U.S. State Department officials when he arrived in La Paz, Bolivia. The husband, who also lives in El Segundo and is a mechanic for American Airlines, told investigators he flew to Bolivia to visit family and sick relatives, Mendoza said.

“He flew out Sunday and she is missing since Thursday,” Mendoza said. “He hasn’t admitted to anything.”

Keller’s son, Mike, found her prized four dogs without food and water on Sunday after a friend could not reach her for a few days.

“It’s very suspicious because of that,” Mendoza said, adding Keller was “very meticulous, very schedule-oriented.”

Keller, an agent with Shorewood Realtors’ Manhattan Beach office, was last seen at11:30 p.m. Thursday by an acquaintance at her home in the 500 block of Richmond Street. She missed her weekend appointments, never checked her e-mail or voice mail, and did not notify her grown son and daughter that she was leaving town.

El Segundo police detectives are working the missing person case, but on Monday consulted with Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives.

Chris Plank, a manager in the Manhattan Beach realty office, said Keller went through a difficult breakup with her husband. Police and family members did not disclose his name. The divorce occurred about a year ago.

“It was a divorce and he was not willing to let her go,” Plank said. “He just did not want the breakup.”

Friends and family members reported Keller missing Sunday at 6 p.m. Rose VanHook, a real estate agent with Shorewood Realtors in El Segundo, said friends became concerned when Keller did not show up for a few engagements over the weekend.

She typically walked with friends every Saturday, VanHook said, and she had made plans to celebrate her brother’s birthday in San Diego.

“I called her, actually … to ask her to go to this barbecue, and she never called back,” said VanHook, a longtime El Segundo resident.

Keller’s son discovered the dogs and cat unattended. Police said Keller’s door was open and her wallet and purse were in the house.

“It’s completely out of character,” said friend Cindy Ertman, a mortgage broker. “The people who know and love her know one thing about Deede: She had four dogs. She would never leave her dogs unattended. They had very obviously not been fed or had water probably in a couple of days.”

Keller’s ads in The Beach Reporter and El Segundo Herald show her with three of them, Annie, Rusty and Mickey.

“No one has seen my mom since Thursday night,” Mike Keller said. “We need everybody to pitch in and help and look. It would be very, very unlike her to leave unannounced by not telling family or friends and disappear for this length of time.”

On Monday friends began posting 10,000 fliers on Main Street and locations throughout El Segundo, where police officers and sheriff’s deputies combed Keller’s house for evidence.

“We absolutely 100 percent believe she is alive and we are going to find her,” Ertman said. “The family is saying many many, many prayers. We are just determined to get her home safely as fast as we can.”

Keller is described as white, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 140 pounds with light brown short hair. She was last seen wearing dark pants and a tan shirt with black print.

Torrance resident Richard Beynon, who on Monday was cleaning out his deceased father’s home across Richmond Street from Keller’s house, said Keller is a professional woman with a pleasant demeanor.

“She is a nice lady. She was always good to me,” Beynon said.

Laura Miller, who rents an apartment nearby, called Keller well- groomed and “very professional, just like a go-getter.”

Bill Ruane, who competes with Keller for business in El Segundo, called her a friend and a “super lady” who raised the standard of quality of real estate agents.

“You want to hope for the best and that’s all we can hope for,” he said.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2004

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