The Tragic 2009 Disappearance And Death Of Mitrice Richardson

On September 16, 2009, Mitrice Richardson ordered an $89 meal at Geoffrey's, a restaurant in Malibu, California (via NBC Los Angeles). When she divulged that she was unable to pay for it, a series of events transpired that ultimately led to her disappearance. Born in 1985, ABC7 reports that Richardson had recently graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in psychology. She was also working two jobs. Although she was raised in the San Gabriel Valley, Richardson was living in South Los Angeles with her 91-year-old great-grandmother Mildred. Her parents, Latice Sutton and Michael Richardson, have described their daughter as the light in their lives.

When Richardson arrived at Geoffrey's on that fateful day, Los Angeles Magazine reports that she was acting odd. At one point, she entered the valet attendant's car. When the valet asked her what she was doing, Richardson stated, "It's subliminal." Once inside, ABC7 writes that other diners at Geoffrey's noted that she seemed to be mentally unwell. But although she was an annoyance, she was not a cause of concern — at first.

When she was finished eating, Richardson attempted to leave the restaurant without paying (per Los Angeles Magazine). She was stopped by employees, and she insisted that she had no money. They then proceeded to call Mildred, who offered to pay for the meal via credit card. As the restaurant needed an in-person signature to verify this transaction, this offer was no good; the elderly woman was unable to drive to Malibu.

Geoffrey's employees thought she would be safe with the police

ABC7 states that Mitrice Richardson's behavior at Geoffrey's continued to alarm employees and patrons. She told the manager that she was from Mars and was going to have sex with him. Richardson also spoke to the hostess, Caroline Paris Martin, and said, "You know, I don't have to worry about my meal Caroline, because God told me that it would be taken care of, and with the language of numbers that makes sense.'" According to Los Angeles Magazine, the police were called to the restaurant as a precaution. When they searched Richardson's car, they found marijuana and alcohol. However, a sobriety test proved that she was completely sober.

Per ABC7, Martin suggested that the employees at Geoffrey's could pay for Richardson's meal to avoid her getting into any further legal trouble. If they paid, she would have only received a ticket for the marijuana in her car (via Los Angeles Magazine). But in the end, everyone at the restaurant came to the conclusion that Richardson needed mental help and that letting her leave unattended was the wrong choice. Jeff Peterson, the owner of Geoffrey's, told ABC7, "You can't just put them in their car and send them down the road. You don't say you're from Mars, you don't make up languages and talk in gibberish, and then give someone their keys and say, 'have a nice day.'"

While employees believed Richardson would get help for her mental health, Newsweek writes that this was not the case. Her car was impounded, and she was subsequently taken to the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff station in Calabasas (via ABC7).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The police released Mitrice Richardson from jail

Soon after Mitrice Richardson was arrested, ABC7 notes that her mother, Latice Sutton, called the station. Richardson's great-grandmother had called Sutton and explained what had unfolded at Geoffrey's. Deputy Yoav Shalev informed Sutton that Richardson was likely going to stay in jail overnight but said that would be safe behind bars. Sutton told the deputy that her daughter was unfamiliar with the Calabasas area. She said, "It's being released that I'm worried about." With that said, Richardson was released from jail at midnight as she was not displaying any signs of mental illness. Sutton was not informed of this.

Per Los Angeles Magazine, jailer Sheron Cummings knew that Richardson did not have a car, a ride, or even a phone on her. Despite this, she let Richardson leave the isolated station. However, Cummings did offer to let Richardson stay overnight. ABC7 reports that Cummings was never told about Richardson's bizarre behavior at Geoffrey's. Furthermore, Richardson was only charged with possession of marijuana and for not paying for her meal. In other words, her mental health status was completely left out during her arrest and booking. As a result, she was not allowed to be held for a 5150 mental evaluation.

According to ABC7, Richardson left the station without telling her family. When Sutton called the next morning, she was shocked and horrified to learn that Richardson had been released. Newsweek reports that at 6:30 a.m., Richardson was spotted in local resident Bill Smith's backyard. Smith called the police and suggested they check on her. When authorities arrived, Richardson was gone.

Her body was discovered 11 months later

Los Angeles Magazine reports that the authorities waited two days to search for Mitrice Richardson. As her family wanted answers, they asked to see video footage of Richardson in her jail cell. The family, however, was told the video did not exist. By early 2010, Richardson was still missing, and her family was informed by the police that they did have a video of her. In it, Richardson is seen acting strangely. Moreover, the publication notes that the video was heavily edited, bringing more questions than clarity. ABC7 states that Richardson's family found this incredibly suspicious. Still, they continued on with their search.

Per ABC7, the search came to an end on August 9, 2010. Los Angeles Magazine explains that rangers were searching the former site of a cartel-run marijuana farm in a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. Instead, they found Richardson's remains. L.A. County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore stated (via KPCC), "They discovered a skull, a pelvis and a leg. Just bones. We helicoptered in investigators. And we helicoptered in the coroners investigators. After a forensic dentist looked at it and an anthropologist looked at it, they determined officially and unfortunately it was Mitrice Richardson."

ABC7 adds that Richardson's remains appeared to be mummified. Furthermore, the discovery was not without controversy. Los Angeles Magazine reports that the coroner was not immediately informed that Richardson's remains had been found. Although the coroner told the authorities not to move the body, they abandoned protocol and did so anyway.

Her family believes she was murdered

According to ABC7, investigators also did not preserve the site where Mitrice Richardson's body was found. Moreover, the coroner attempted to return to the site the next day to no avail; he had forgotten his GPS. In fact, the rest of Richardson's remains were not found for another two weeks. Lattice Sutton, Richardson's aunt, anthropologist Clea Koff, and Dr. Ronda Hampton — whom Richardson had done an internship with — hiked to the area and unintentionally found more of her remains. Per the Los Angeles Daily News, the coroner later concluded that Richardson's cause of death was undetermined.

Los Angeles Magazine states that investigators believe that Richardson may have hiked into the area and either went into anaphylactic shock or been bitten by a snake. The Los Angeles Daily News adds that they also theorize that Richardson simply fell and died. Then Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca insisted that whatever had happened to Richardson was not foul play. However, Richardson's family disagrees with this — they believe someone else was involved in her death.

Koff told Los Angeles Magazine: "You've got the naked body of a woman who you know was in a vulnerable state, within two miles of where she was last seen, in an area with which she had no expertise, in an unexplained position." She added, "Usually the default move would be to consider this a homicide, at least until you can rule it out." ABC7 reports that not all of Richardson's bones have been found, and her panties, shoes, and other pieces of clothing are also still missing.

The aftermath of Richardson's disappearance

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that Mitrice Richardson's parents both filed wrongful death suits. They were each given $450,000 by Los Angeles County in 2011. That being said, ABC7 states that the county and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have both been heavily criticized for their actions before and after Richardson's disappearance. From the moment she was arrested, it's clear that the authorities made major mistakes. They did not get Richardson mental help and allowed her to walk out in the middle of the night without taking into account her mental state or the fact that she was alone.

Ultimately, her family and the police both believe that Richardson had some sort of mental breakdown (via ABC7). In addition, those who are familiar with the case note that they think Richardson's race (she was African American) had something to do with the authorities' clear negligence of the case. They believe that the police simply did not care what happened to her when she walked out of the police station. Lattice Sutton told ABC7 that her biggest mistake was trusting the police. Although the sheriff's department was investigated, it was been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Beyond this, Los Angeles Magazine explains that Richardson's remains were not fully tested, leaving behind an array of unanswered questions surrounding her death. Despite the conclusion that she was not murdered, Fox 11 reported that as of 2022, there is a $20,000 reward for anyone who comes forward with information regarding Richardson's disappearance and death.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.