Panic In Wonder Valley After Sixth Body Turns Up In Less Than Fourteen Months

A corpse found near Amboy Road and Dandy Road on Sunday, January 31 represents the sixth body found in the area in or around Wonder Valley in the last 14 months, and has triggered even more intense speculation than was afoot previously suggesting a killer is at large in area.
Nevertheless, law enforcement officials have downplayed the discovery and intensifying rumors that the deaths are related and represent anything more than likely misadventures in the unforgiving Mojave Desert environment.
Unknown is whether one of the bodies is that of Erica Lloyd, who had driven from her home in Northern California to Joshua Tree National Park, back home and then back to Joshua Tree within a 48 period before vanishing last June. In December, it was disclosed that one of the bodies was that of a Wonder Valley resident, James Escalante, who nine days after Lloyd went missing disappeared from virtually the same spot where Lloyd’s damaged vehicle was left abandoned and less than two months later was found dead.
Three of the six bodies found have now been identified. Seemingly, enough time has elapsed since two of the bodies were discovered for DNA testing to have been completed to determine whether those match any known missing individuals from the local area, the Southern California region or elsewhere. If such identification has been made, there has been no public disclosure. DNA and other forensic examinations are being carried out on the body found January 31. It is not yet known whether results from those tests subjected to comparisons with available data on known missing persons will provide an identifying match.
Meanwhile, many of the residents of Wonder Valley, a remote unincorporated county community of fewer than 700 residents some ten miles east of Twentynine Palms spread out over 146.72 square miles, have expressed their belief that they are not receiving any protection either from the State of California or the County of San Bernardino. The California Highway Patrol no longer regularly oversees that stretch of Highway 62. The County of San Bernardino shut down its primary presence in town, Fire Station 45, in August 2019, and has discontinued sheriff’s department patrols, dispatching personnel to Wonder Valley only upon specific calls for service deemed serious enough to warrant a response.
The Lloyd and Escalante disappearances are both baffling and troubling, the more so because they occurred within the same relatively tight eight-to-ten-day timeframe, indications that both were or may have been in virtually the same spot when they disappeared, that law enforcement has, officially at least, ruled out foul play in the disappearances of both in the face of indications otherwise, and involve circumstances that in some respects come across as downright incomprehensible.
Erika Lloyd, a 37-year-old single mother who worked as a hairdresser, sojourned from her Bay Area home in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 11 or thereabouts to San Bernardino County’s Desert Outback, where she had announced her intention to camp for a few days at Joshua Tree National Park. Her friends and family say the COVID-19 crisis had put a crimp in her work and cash flow as a beautician, and the situation suggests that she was seeking to make a getaway to the national park as a break from the tension in her life. She left her 12-year-old son in the care of a friend in Walnut Creek before departing. Of note is that before leaving, she deleted the contents of her Facebook page, though she remained active on Instagram until June 15.
According to her sister-in-law, Lloyd was “under a lot of stress and wanted to get away and unplug.”
An unconfirmed report is that one of Ericka’s friends, whose precise identity or gender is not available through any source found by the Sentinel, moved to Twentynine Palms in April 2020. There has been speculation that Lloyd had perhaps made the trip to see that person. It is unknown to the Sentinel whether Lloyd’s phone records provide any information with regard to whether she attempted to contact or indeed contacted that person.
In phone contact with her family and friends after her departure from Walnut Creek on June 11, Lloyd indicated she was on a road trip.
There is evidence suggesting she covered the roughly 533 miles between Walnut Creek and Joshua Tree National Park on Thursday, June 11, and was camping at the Jumbo Rocks campground the nights of June 11 and Friday, June 12, having left early on Saturday, June 13 to make the 533-mile return trip to Walnut Creek, arriving later that day, and spending the night there with her son and her roommate. The following day, Sunday, June 14, she departed Walnut Creek, again without her son, to return to the Jumbo Rocks campground, where, she represented to her friends, two people identified simply as “James” and “Christian” were looking after her campsite and, presumably, her camping gear. Later in the day of June 14, Lloyd arrived at Jumbo Rocks Campground. She noted in her journal that James and Christian were not there.
According to Lloyd’s mother, she spoke with her daughter for the last time on June 14 or June 15. She said Ericka was “talking really fast” and it sounded like she was driving. There was no known telephonic contact between Lloyd and anyone after that.
Park rangers on Monday, June 15 came across Lloyd’s vandalized 2006 Black Honda Accord in the parking area for the Indian Cove campground, some 21.9 miles from Jumbo Rocks but still within the confines of 1,234 square-mile Joshua Tree National Park. There was no camping equipment in the car or in its immediate vicinity when the rangers observed the vehicle. The back window had been completely shattered, the windshield on the passenger’s side in the front had been broken, and the dashboard damaged. The rangers noted the vehicle’s presence in a report, and left a note on the car. That evening, the car had been removed.
The next day, Tuesday June 16, a video captured the car leaving the north entrance into/exit from Joshua Tree National Park at 1:20 p.m, and the car was later videoed passing a school in Twentynine Palms at 2:50 p.m.
Around 4 p.m. on June 16, a California Highway Patrolman spotted Lloyd’s Accord parked on Shelton Road, east of Twentynine Palms, just north of the intersection with Highway 62, facing south toward the highway, at a distance just shy of 23 miles from Jumbo Rocks campground. The car was blocking the roadway such that it inhibited access onto Shelton Road, which is unpaved. The CHP summoned Twentynine Palms-based Bailey’s Auto Repair & Towing to tow the car. David Bailey, the proprietor of the tow company, subsequently told News Channel 3, based in the Coachella Valley, that the Accord’s rear window was completely busted, that the front windshield was smashed on the passenger side, that the airbag had deployed and radio was damaged. In addition, Bailey said, there was damage to the outside front of the vehicle in that the bottom of the radiator and the air conditioning condenser were pushed backwards as if the car had hit a very large object head-on. Bailey speculated that the car had run into a berm beside the road near the intersection of Highway 62 and Shelton Road.
Beginning on June 16, Lloyd’s friends calling her cell phone encountered no answer. They continued to try to reach her.
On Wednesday, June 17, her family reported her missing, giving indication she might be in the area of Joshua Tree National Park. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department dispatched a helicopter to scour the area. That effort was not fruitful.
Lloyd’s camping gear was located at a camping site in Jumbo Rocks Campground. An expensive Yeti cooler she was not known to have owned was found among her possessions at the campsite.
The Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station was put on a special alert to be on the lookout for any sightings of her throughout the entirety of the more than 3,000 square mile desert area that includes Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley and outlying areas. Park Rangers began searching areas within the park. Sheriff’s deputies, including ones with canines, searched areas at the entrance of the park and its periphery, as well as along Highway 62.
The Joshua Tree Search and Rescue Team engaged in an effort to find her or spot any signs that she was in the area.
On June 19, Lloyd’s parents caught a flight from Maryland to California in an effort to help with and intensify the search for their daughter. They posted photos of her and posters alerting the public to her disappearance in the area within the national park and in around Twentynine Palms and Wonder Valley. Those posters and media alerts put out by her family and law enforcement sought input from anyone who had seen her.
Friends and family persisted in trying to reach her by calling her cell phone. On June 20, it was answered by a man who said he had found the phone on June 18 “on Cottonwood,” that is on Cottonwood Drive in Twentynine Palms.
The media and poster blitz related to Lloyd’s disappearance prompted Martin Cox, who lives in Los Angeles County but owns a home in the desert, to come forward, saying he saw a woman matching Lloyd’s description on Saturday, June 20 at a rest stop on the 10 Freeway near Whitewater, some 57 miles from Wonder Valley and 45 miles away from the north entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. According to Cox, he believed a woman he saw “just staring off toward the west” who had no visible injuries was Lloyd, based on both her physical appearance and a distinct tattoo on her arm matching one that Lloyd had, which had been featured on the missing posters her family had distributed.
In the immediate aftermath of Lloyd’s vanishing and the search that ensued, the sheriff’s department put out that no foul play was suspected in the disappearance, and that there were no indications Lloyd drove her car out of the park. That would prove inconsistent, however, with the videos that later emerged indicating the Accord had left the park on the afternoon of June 16 and had been driven into Twentynine Palms, then ultimately to the intersection of Highway 62 and Shelton Road. The search conducted by the search and rescue teams in the days and week after Lloyd’s disappearance were mostly concentrated within the national park.
On June 25, 2020, ten days after Lloyd’s car was observed by rangers in a damaged and/or vandalized state in the parking area for the Indian Cove Campground, nine days after the car was found abandoned near the intersection of Highway 62 and Shelton Road and eight days after Lloyd was reported missing, 56-year-old James Escalante left the home located off of Shelton Road he shared with his girlfriend, whose first name is Sherry, and rode his bicycle toward Highway 62 to assist his girlfriend’s friend, Dee, whose vehicle was stuck in the sand, described as just off Highway 62, a mile or so from Shelton Road.
When Escalante, who also went by the nickname Blackhawk, reached the intersection of Highway 62 and Shelton Road, he used his cell phone to call Sherry, telling her that he could not find Dee or her car. Sherry thereupon made a three-way conference call to Dee and told her to honk her horn. According to Sherry, she could hear over the phone the honking of the horn. Escalante indicated he too could hear the horn and told Black, “I got it,” and hung up. Thereafter, Escalante never made contact with his Dee, and was never heard from again.
On July 22, 2020, a dirt bike rider found human remains in the desert at a location not precisely delineated.
On August 8, 2020, a man who was going shooting in the desert found a badly decomposed body on Shelton Road in Wonder Valley.
Oddly, Sherry did not report Escalante as missing until September 7, 2020, doing so after Escalante’s family expressed concern about his unexplained disappearance.
Meanwhile, the Lloyd family, still intent on finding Ericka, intensified its efforts, and leased space on billboards in the Morongo Valley to feature oversized and highly visible photos of their daughter and make notice of her being missing, while continuing to put up photos and posters throughout Joshua Tree National Park and in businesses in the Morongo Basin to encourage anyone who had sighted her to come forward. They also hired a mining and cave expert, Doug Billings, to explore those areas throughout the 3,000 square mile desert area encompassing Joshua Tree National Park, Wonder Valley, Twntynine Palms and their surrounding areas where Ericka was likely to have become lost or perished.
While conducting his search, Billings came upon a red bike believed to be the one ridden by Escalante when he disappeared. In the same timeframe that Billings was carrying out his search, two sets of human remains were found. One of those was located roughly a quarter of a mile south of Amboy Road and Wilson Road. It is believed that Billings’ search of the area led to that find. The other corpse was not too distant from Shelton Road and Highway 62. Based upon limited information available, that discovery appears to be the remains found on August 8.
Shortly after the discovery, one of those bodies was determined to be that of a man. Investigators said they found a cell phone nearby and believe it was Escalante’s.
On December 15, 2020, according to a published report, the coroner’s office notified Escalante’s family, who live in South Carolina, that the remains found on August 8 were those of James Escalante.
As of this time, there has been no disclosure as to the whether the other body that was found has been identified as Lloyd.
This week, after learning of the January 31 discovery of the remains near Amboy Road and Dandy Road, the Sentinel inquired of the sheriff’s department’s homicide detail as to whether reporting on the incident would interfere with any ongoing investigation. That prompted a response to the effect that such a report would not obstruct the department’s operations relating to the matter. Shortly thereafter, the Sentinel was contacted by the sheriff’s department’s spokeswoman, Cynthia Bachman.
Bachman said the information available to her was that there had been four bodies discovered between December 2019 and last Sunday.
Bachman said “Human remains were found in Joshua Tree National Park on December 23, 2019. On January 14, 2020 the remains were identified as Paul Miller, and his family was notified.”
Then, according to Bachman, “On January 16, 2020, human remains were found in Joshua Tree National Park. The remains found on January 16, 2020 were identified on February 12, 2020 as Tawny Camarillo. The cause of death is pending. Camarillo was last seen on May 13, 2019, in the area of Yucca Valley. Camarillo was reported missing on May 14, 2019.”
Bachman said “On July 22, 2020, a dirt bike rider found human remains in the desert. Those remains have not been identified.”
With regard to the corpse found last Sunday near Amboy Road and Dandy Road, Bachman said, “On January 31, 2021, human remains were found in a field area. Positive identification is pending.”
Bachman made no reference to the body discovered on August 8 proximate to Shelton Road and Highway 62, which was determined to be that of Escalante. Nor did she reference the body found on an as-yet undisclosed date in the same rough timeframe approximately a quarter of a mile south of Amboy Road and Wilson Road.
With regard to the discover of the Miller and Camarillo corpses or the bodies that turned up on July 22, 2019 and January 31, 2021, Bachman said, “There is no evidence that any of these cases are related.”

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