SAN BERNARDINO (AP) — Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Ernstein was walking home from school when she vanished on March 19, 1968.
Law enforcement and volunteers searched for the girl for months but came up empty-handed, and the mystery of her widely reported disappearance endured for more than four decades.
This year, a renewed investigation by cold case detectives determined through DNA that human remains found the year after the disappearance and buried unidentified in a county cemetery were actually those of Elizabeth, the San Bernardino County sheriff's coroner division said in a statement.
The teen disappeared a block from home in Mentone, then a small community at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles.
The remains found in 1969 were in a shallow grave near Wrightwood, a town 6,000 feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains, about 35 miles west of Mentone.
In May of this year, the statement said, the coroner's division received "additional information" suggesting the possibility that the teen's remains had been recovered but not identified. The nature of that information was not disclosed.
"Investigators located and obtained DNA samples from Elizabeth's sister and brother," the statement said. "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."
The unidentified Wrightwood remains had been exhumed for DNA testing in 2011 and the coroner's division had learned that they were those of a young adult.
On Aug. 16, the Department of Justice confirmed a DNA match between the remains and Elizabeth's siblings.
Now, the sheriff's homicide cold case unit is trying to determine the circumstances of her disappearance and suspected murder, the statement said.
No further information was being released, Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Thursday.