Cho’s Body Likely Found As Focus Turns To Determination Of Misadventure Or Foul Play

Though the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is not saying so, the human remains found last week in Yucca Valley are almost certainly those of Lauren Cho, who had gone missing more than three months previously, sources close to the situation have told the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
The body of a woman consistent with that of five foot three inch tall Cho was found on Saturday, October 9, less than four miles from where she had disappeared.
On October 10, the sheriff’s department publicly announced, “On Saturday, October 9, 2021, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department conducted an additional search and rescue operation in the ongoing search for Lauren Cho, who was reported missing on June 28, 2021. During the search, unidentified human remains were located in the rugged terrain of the open desert of Yucca Valley. The remains were transported to the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Division where staff will work to identify the remains and determine a cause of death. The identification process could take several weeks. No further information will be released until the identity of the deceased has been confirmed.”
Cho went missing on June 28, 2021. According to Cody Orell, who has been variously described as her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend and companion, she reportedly walked away from the grounds of a bed & breakfast inn, dubbed “The Whole,” and owned by Tao Ruspoli, upon which a bus the couple had purchased and in which she and Orell were living had been parked.
After Cho did not return, Orell and some friends attempted to find her, and when they could not locate her, he contacted the sheriff’s department, roughly three hours after she had left. Based upon publicly available documents, it is not clear what time Cho was last seen.
According to the sheriff’s department, “Cho has been missing since June 28, 2021, at approximately 5:10 p.m. when she reportedly walked away from the residence where she was staying in the 8600 block of Benmar Trail.” That would mean, taking into consideration that Orell notified authorities some three hours after Cho’s disappearance, Orell’s call came in just around sundown, which was at 8:08 p.m. on June 28. There is an indication, however, that the 5:10 p.m. reference in the sheriff’s department statement pertains to the time Orell’s call came in, which means that Cho had disappeared sometime shortly after 2 p.m., at which point the cloudiness that had hung over Yucca Valley that morning had burned off and the temperature had climbed to around 102 degrees.
Investigators attempted to follow all traces leading from the bed & breakfast inn, located in the 8600 block of Benmar Trail in Morongo Valley just outside and slightly south of the middle of the westerly town limits of Yucca Valley. They were unable, however, to pick up Cho’s trail, despite the consideration that she was reported to have been wearing footwear with a very distinctive sole pattern. The investigators networked with her family and friends in an effort to discover leads, all to no avail.
On July 24, 2021, sheriff’s department fixed wing aircraft conducted aerial searches of the remote mountain terrain near the scene of her last known whereabouts.
On Saturday, July 31, 2021, at 6:00 a.m., detectives assigned to the Morongo Basin Station and a search and rescue team executed a search warrant on the entire premises of the bed and breakfast inn. During the search warrant service, seven canines searched the last known location where Cho was seen and surrounding areas for evidence.
Investigators with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations Division were brought in to assist the Morongo Basin Station in the effort to locate Cho, a 30-year-old whose official residence was listed as being in New Jersey, in September.
Parsing the sheriff’s department’s October 10 release, the statement that the “identification process could take several weeks” is suggestive of a delay in definitude about Cho’s demise, but potentially misleading. It belies that Cho’s corpse would be relatively easy to identify if decomposition and ravaging by animals had not taken place. She had several distinctive tattoos and body piercings. The statement that the “remains were located in the rugged terrain of the open desert of Yucca Valley,” while not specifying the exact location, suggests that the body was not buried, which is suggestive of misadventure rather than foul play. Nevertheless, the Sentinel has learned, the sheriff’s department, in the person of Detective Shaunna Ables, is pursuing the possibility that Cho’s death was a homicide.
It is for that reason that specific information, including the precise location of where the body was found, is not being released.
Foremost among the subjects/suspects Ables is cataloging through is Orell.
Cho, 30, had cultivated her artistic talents in the arenas of music, painting and vegetarian culinary. A singer who in her youth had toured Europe as a choir member, she was employed in New Jersey as a high school music teacher. Having grown discontented in that profession, amid COVID restrictions in the winter of 2020, she left the teaching profession and embarked on a trip across the United States with Orell. Upon reaching California, they went to the community of Bombay Beach, a small settlement Cho had heard about on the shore of the Salton Sea that was a refuge of artists and bohemians, which included in the mix some trust fund babies. While there, Orell hit upon the idea of purchasing a bus and converting it into living quarters, and Cho signed onto the idea, convinced it could be converted into a traveling restaurant from which they could further explore the world and she could realize her dream of being a culinary artist. At Bombay Beach they met Ruspoli, an aspiring filmmaker/musician who was making his way in the world by operating rustic bed & breakfast inns in out-of-the-way places that appealed to artists. Both the vacation rental Ruspoli ran in Bombay Beach and The Whole in Morongo Valley had become draws for those fancying themselves as members of the avante-garde and artists.
Orell and Cho purchased a surplus school bus and had driven it along with their traveling vehicle to The Whole, where they were working to transform it into a mobile bistro.
At the same time, according to Orell, Cho was experiencing mood swings and what he told sheriff’s investigators in June was “mental stress.” At one point, they ceased being an item, it seemed, and Cho considered Orell to be her ex-boyfriend. Orell told the sheriff’s department that Cho was “dating” others, yet they continued to live together in the bus at The Whole. Orell had arranged with Ruspoli for Cho to work as a chef at the bed & breakfast inn, and Cho was reportedly able to support herself in this fashion, with at least some of the guests at the bed & breakfast inn willing to pay upwards of $200 for the private group vegetarian meals she prepared for them and those in their entourages.
Orell indicated to the sheriff’s department that on the day of Cho’s disappearance, she was upset and had even made statements to the effect that she was contemplating hurting herself. He thought she might have left to meet someone else, Orell told the sheriff’s department, although he was not able to say whom, precisely. Cho could have taken their traveling car to do so, but she did not. When she walked off from The Whole, she was wearing Doc Martens hiking boots and headed toward hilly terrain separating Yucca Valley and Morongo Valley, generally in the direction of Hoopa Road, and she did not have her phone or any water with her.
Others with whom Cho had contact the previous days said she seemed to be in good spirits, although one of Cho’s and Orell’s mutual acquaintances at The Whole, Jeff Frost, confirmed that Cho was in the doldrums when she left and that she had simply walked off into the desert, leaving her belongings behind.
Meanwhile, Orell, bereft of his girlfriend, must endure that loss, and await the revelation of the forensic findings relating to the grisly discovery on October 9, and any further inquiries by investigators.
The Sentinel left phone messages with Detective Ables, but has not spoken with her this week.
-Mark Gutglueck

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