Finding Lynsie Ekelund

How the search for a missing Fullerton College student began with Chris McAmis, the last man who saw her alive

"Indy," as Fleak referred to the dog, showed interest in a few spots around the ranch, but subsequent digging hadn't led to the discovery of any remains. "Even with the dogs and backhoe, it's still a needle in the haystack," she remarked.

However, both Fleak and Montgomery were certain a body was hidden somewhere in that chunk of dirt..

"We need [McAmis] to give us a clue," Montgomery told me over the telephone.

Nancy Ekelund and OC District Attorney investigator Larry Montgomery at a victims'-rights rally in 2012
R. Scott Moxley
Nancy Ekelund and OC District Attorney investigator Larry Montgomery at a victims'-rights rally in 2012

He asked if I might consider going to McAmis' house as part of a ruse aimed at tricking him into revisiting the clandestine grave. The plan involved my telling McAmis I was doing a follow-up to my Torch story. Specifically, Montgomery wanted me to tell McAmis that investigators had found Ekelund's body, then ask him for a comment.

Sitting in my car with cell phone pressed against my ear, I had little time to think.

I wanted to help, but standard journalistic ethics dictated that I decline. Reporters do not work as unpaid informants for the police. I wanted to do the interview, just not for the cops. But now that they'd brought me in on their plan, I couldn't very well attempt to contact McAmis myself, lest I interfere in their investigation. In the end, I felt I had no choice but to refuse Montgomery's invitation. He congratulated me on my new job and wished me luck.

A few weeks after Montgomery called me, a beautiful young blonde knocked on McAmis' front door. She identified herself as Nicole Anderson and claimed to be a student reporter for the Torch. Unbeknownst to McAmis, in addition to a notepad and pen, she was armed with a small recorder and a service pistol. Her real name was Spring Sendele, a motorcycle cop for the Laguna Beach Police Department.

"We just received word that remains have been found that they believe belong to Lynsie," Sendele told McAmis. "I guess they're doing DNA testing right now."

Clearly rattled but trying to sound nonchalant, McAmis ventured that it wasn't a good time to talk. Sendele asked if they could schedule another time. "There probably won't be a good time," he answered.

Montgomery had hoped that after Sendele left, a spooked McAmis would immediately hop in his truck and drive to the LARC Ranch. That's exactly what happened, but McAmis never got there. As he drove north, he realized he was being followed by someone driving a gray Dodge Charger with no front license plate. Officers broke off the pursuit, and McAmis returned home.

On Oct. 27, 2010, Placentia police arrested McAmis at his house while Montgomery waited in a small interview room at the Fullerton police station. Placentia Police Detective Bryce Angel led McAmis into the room. Over the next 40 minutes, as recorded in a police video I viewed, Montgomery calmly laid out the evidence while McAmis slumped in his chair, his legs crossed at the ankles and hands glued to his thighs.

Occasionally, McAmis uttered an unintelligible grunting sound. He listened as Montgomery told him a lie: that Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies near LARC Ranch had recently dug up Ekelund's body after it had been unearthed by heavy flooding. Then Montgomery produced a damning piece of accurate evidence: a record of a credit-card transaction in McAmis' name dated the day after Ekelund disappeared. For years, McAmis had maintained to investigators that he stayed close to his Whittier apartment the day after supposedly dropping Ekelund off. But the receipt showed a purchase of $33.08 at a gas station in Santa Clarita, almost 100 miles from Whittier but just a few miles from the LARC Ranch.

"I think I need a lawyer to talk to you about this," McAmis replied.

"It's up to you," Montgomery said.

Then Angel, who had been quietly sitting next to McAmis during the interview spoke up. "Nobody likes to be labeled the monster," he told McAmis. "In this case, that's the way it's pointing. Only you have the other side of the story. Nobody is going to be able to speak for you. That's why we're here now."

McAmis suddenly broke down, seemingly relieved to have been caught. He admitted he never dropped Ekelund off, but had instead taken her to his apartment. While there, he attempted to kiss her, but she rebuffed his advance. Then, he went to the kitchen, opened the refrigerated liquor cabinet and downed some vodka straight from the bottle.

When he returned to the bedroom, Ekelund appeared to be pretending to sleep. "I pulled her pants down and tried to put my penis inside her," he recalled. Ekelund grabbed the phone and threatened to call the police, then slammed the receiver across his face.

"Being drunk, it enraged me," he said. "It set me on fire. I grabbed her, threw her onto my bed, got her into a headlock. I just thought she was going to pass out, and I ended up killing her."

McAmis kept Ekelund's corpse in his apartment for up to two days. Eventually, he wrapped her body, which had stiffened with rigor mortis, in a green blanket, carried her down the stairs of his second-floor unit and loaded her into the extended cab of his pickup. He told police he bumped her head as he hurriedly put her in the vehicle, causing her head to bleed. (Forensic experts say the bleeding would be impossible.) Once he arrived at the LARC construction site, McAmis said, he dug Ekelund's grave using a skip loader. Then, during his lunch break, he drove his truck into the clearing and dumped her body into the hole.

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