Christopher McAmis, 31, an unemployed construction worker with a young family, had long maintained that he dropped the Fullerton College student off near her suburban northern Orange County home on the morning of Feb. 17, 2001, after she joined him on a trip to San Diego. |
But Ekelund, a hazel-eyed journalism student who lived with her mother in Placentia and was partially paralyzed from a childhood car accident, was not seen again.
With her disabilities, family members thought it unlikely that she would run away and be able to survive on her own. She didn't drive, and had little money with her.
Though searches of his house and car yielded no hard evidence, investigators were convinced that McAmis, of Fullerton, was involved in her disappearance.
"For many years we were often in a place of 'Yes, you did,' 'No, I didn't,' 'Yes, you did,' 'No, I didn't,' " Placentia Police Det. Corinne Loomis said.
Last Wednesday, detectives confronted McAmis with fresh evidence, including enhanced footage from ATM cameras that contradicted his statement that he had driven up Rose Drive in Placentia and gone home after dropping her off, police said.
"The statements that he made were laid against the information we had and it didn't match up," Loomis said, adding that detectives confronted him "in a way that made him realize he had nowhere to go."
As Loomis watched the interrogation through a window, she said the man who had always maintained his innocence uttered a sentence that stunned her: "I might as well tell you."
In a confession that Loomis described as "unemotional" and "matter-of-fact," McAmis said he attempted to rape Ekelund at his Whittier apartment and strangled her in the struggle, then drove her body more than 50 miles to a Santa Clarita construction site where he had worked with his father and dug the grave with a backhoe, police said.
"I really couldn't believe that I was hearing him confess to what we knew in our hearts for years," Loomis said.
That day, she said, he pointed out the burial spot on a satellite map, and detectives accompanied him to a hillside in Bouquet Canyon, near a ranch-like facility for the mentally disabled.
The topography had changed slightly since 2001, but police said McAmis indicated the general area in which he remembered burying the body.
McAmis has been charged with murder during the attempted commission of a rape and remains in custody.
In an interview last year with a Fullerton College student magazine McAmis maintained his innocence. He speculated that Ekelund may have encountered a burglar, or been picked up by someone else after he dropped her off. Neither his attorney nor family members could be reached for comment Thursday.
Police believe the sneaker and the excavated remains belong to Ekelund, though they have not been officially identified.
Some in Ekelund's family had held out hope that she might still be alive, though they knew the odds were against it.
She had already survived one close brush with death when she was 5. Her father, Stewart, recalled doctors telling him that she wouldn't survive the car accident that put her in a coma for months. He remembered her waking up and saying, "I love you, dad."
He said that although police were vague about McAmis' involvement in his daughter's disappearance, he always suspected that McAmis had killed her.
The possibility that she had run away didn't make sense to him. She lacked motor control of her left arm, and would have had trouble surviving on her own. "I thought the worst had happened a long time ago," he said. "There was just nothing to indicate that she was alive."
Ekelund's older brother, Scott, described her as an upbeat and caring person who never complained about her disability, "though she had every reason in the world" to do so.
For years, he said, he had not understood the strategy of Placentia detectives investigating the case, but now he praised the work that culminated in the confession. "They played a psychological game with this guy," he said. "They poked at this guy little by little by little, all along knowing that he was the one who did it."
With no crime scene and no body, the investigation dragged on for nine years. Loomis said the break came after her department asked the Orange County district attorney's office for help in 2008. Investigators reexamined McAmis' statements and studied video cameras that would have captured him on streets he said he passed.
During the investigation, Loomis said, she spoke often with Lynsie Ekelund's mother, Nancy, who would call with questions and feared that her daughter might have been the victim of a human trafficking ring. Mother and daughter had been close.
After the confession, Loomis arranged to meet Nancy Ekelund at her home to inform her of the development.
By Loomis' account, Ekelund said she suspected the news would be bad, but
told her, "I held out hope that you had found her, and that when I came home you were going to be standing on the porch and Lynsie would be with you."
Father of missing Fullerton College student Lynsie Ekelund says he had concerns about suspect from ‘very beginning'
November 4, 2010
Stewart Ekelund said knew this day would come. He said even though the police were vague, he always suspected that Christopher McAmis was the culprit in the disappearance of his daughter nearly 10 years ago.
"He was the last person that supposedly let her off," he said. "I just felt that he was the main person of interest in this from the very beginning."
Placentia police arrested McAmis last week. Officials said that after he was confronted with new evidence, he confessed and told them where they could find Lynsie Ekelund's body.
Humain remains were discovered Wednesday at that site in Santa Clarita. Although they have not been positively identified, Placentia police Det. Corinne Loomis said investigators found a blue athletic shoe at the site that they believe to be Lynsie Ekelund's.
Though some believed the Fullerton College student could have been kidnapped, or that there was a chance she was still alive, Stewart Ekelund said he never felt that way.
He said he is not in a position to criticize the Placentia Police Department and that he believes its officers worked on the case to the best of their abilities.
"It was very, very frustrating, but it's hard for me to second-guess them," he said. "One of the worst things you can do is arrest a suspect and not have enough evidence and not have it stick."
After Lynsie Ekelund disappeared, her family and friends blanketed the community with signs asking for help. Her mother published a cookbook to raise funds to aid in the search. A reward was offered.
But after about a year, Stewart Ekeland said, the tips and clues stopped coming from the public. People weren't calling to say they saw her in the grocery store or at a nightclub, he recalled.
"There was just nothing to indicate that she was alive," he said.
Now, however, he says he feels some relief.
"The long arm of the law has come to clamp down, finally," he said.
As remains are recovered, victim's grandmother says, 'How could anyone be so cruel?'
November 4, 2010
Over the years, Patricia Ekelund grew accustomed to scanning crowds for her granddaughter.
Lynsie Ekelund, then 20 and living with her mother in Placentia, disappeared in 2001. Authorities launched a massive search for the Fullerton College student, but she wasn't found.
"You're always thinking about it," her grandmother said.
Last week, Christopher McAmis, 31, was charged with Ekelund's murder, said a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. McAmis told authorities that Ekelund's remains were at a construction site where he worked at the time, she said.
On Wednesday, workers began digging up what were believed to be Lynsie Ekelund's remains at a site off Bouquet Canyon Road in Santa Clarita.
Authorities say that on the morning of Feb. 17, 2001, McAmis attempted to rape Ekelund at his apartment in Whittier and then killed her and disposed of the body. McAmis had driven Ekelund and two other friends to a San Diego nightclub that evening.
"How could anyone be so cruel?" Patricia Ekelund said. "She was just a nice, little, lovely girl."
"This has been a terrible thing for all of us," she said. "At least we know she's not going to be harmed anymore."