TRUCKEE - More than 10 months after discovering a dead woman stuffed in a duffel bag in a golf course parking lot, authorities are still looking for those responsible for dumping the body.
Cynthia Erler, a 54-year-old homeless woman from Reno, was discovered dead, bound, and stuffed into a duffel bag in the parking lot of Tahoe Donner's Northwoods clubhouse on Feb. 28. Two golfers, returning from a golf game in Reno, found the bag.
Police officials, who initially investigated the case as a murder, believe that Erler died of natural causes and was illegally left in Truckee.
"The autopsy showed no signs of foul play or illegal drugs," said Truckee Police Chief Scott Berry.
Police initially made progress in retracing Erler's last days on the streets of Reno. Truckee and Reno investigators discovered she was last seen walking down Fourth Street the day before she was found dead.
The black duffel bag and rope used to dispose of Erler's body were purchased in a second-hand store on Fourth Street in Reno at 1:15 p.m. Feb. 27, according to police. But investigators ran into difficulties getting information from Erler's homeless friends, who were often afraid to talk to police or unhelpful. The obstacles were compounded by the fact that Erler, whom police said lived a successful middle-class life before becoming a transient, used as many as a dozen names over the last 15 years.
Recently, however, police have received new information on the death, Berry said.
"We're still actively working this case," he said.
The coroner determined that Erler's heart may have given out. Erler's brother, a resident of Sparks, claimed her body and buried her in Sparks, according to police.
While Truckee police are no longer pursuing the case as a homicide, they are looking to charge the person or people responsible for dumping Erler with a misdemeanor charge of illegal disposing of a body.
Someone who disposes of a non-cremated body, without a license, can face misdemeanor charges, said Nevada County District Attorney Michael Ferguson, in the days following the body's discovery. The mutilation or disfigurement of a corpse is also punishable as a misdemeanor, he said, although it is unclear whether the treatment of the body constituted disfigurement.
Although she was small, approximately 5-feet-4-inches tall and just more than 100 pounds, police said Erler's body had to be manipulated to fit it inside the fairly small duffel bag.
Berry noted that those responsible for leaving Erler in Truckee likely dumped her body far enough from Reno so that police would not investigate them.
"Obviously they wanted her discovered," said Berry. "Just look at the forest around here."