Reed Saxon, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — It's the perfect secluded hiking spot for those in the know, celebrities trying to keep clear of the paparazzi and others seeking a close-up view of the "Hollywood" sign or sweeping panoramas of downtown.
This week, someone apparently thought Bronson Canyon, a twisting, tiny warren of narrow streets just a mile up a hill from the studio where the TV show "Wizards of Waverly Place" was filmed, could also be the perfect place to hide a dismembered body.
A head. Feet. And hands.
Whoever it was that left the gruesome scene may be long gone now. That's one mystery, in a town that thrives on them and often rings up millions of dollars making up tales filled with gory scenes just like the one discovered Tuesday.
The other, more pressing mystery: Who do the body parts belong to?
So far, police believe the unidentified man is between 40 and 60 years old.
They also believe the body, found by a dog walker who let one of her animals off the leash, had been there only a short time. Just a few days at the most.
They note that the coyotes that roam rugged Bronson Canyon Park in packs at night — their howls are the only sounds people hear after dusk — would have destroyed the remains if they had been there longer than a few days.
"If it had not been for the dog walker, we might never have found it," police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Thursday at the park.
As if to make Smith's point, a coyote strolled by a hillside at that moment, stopping no more than 30 yards away and turning its head curiously toward the assembled reporters as the officer continued to speak.
As 120 officers and firefighters on foot and horseback fought their way through 7 acres of brush this week looking for the victim's torso, some searchers used ropes to rappel into a steep drainage culvert. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, meanwhile, was attempting to identify the remains.
Smith said they would try to identify the man through fingerprints first and, if that doesn't work, search DNA databases and dental records.
Police are still searching for a motive, reviewing hundreds of theories provided by both detectives and local residents.
They don't believe the head, feet and hands are connected to a torso police in Tucson, Ariz., found on Jan. 6, Smith said.
That was too long ago for the head and other parts to have survived in the condition in which they were discovered. The head was found inside a plastic bag. Police also believe the victim was killed somewhere else and brought to the park.
They don't believe a serial killer was involved.
"We have no indication there is a serial murderer running around," Smith said.
The discovery, just inside Bronson Canyon Park's front gate, also was the first time police could recall finding a head or other body parts there.
Griffith Park, a huge, rugged expanse on the other side of the hill, is usually the dumping place for bodies, Officer Bruce Borihahn said.
Bronson Canyon is a quiet neighborhood of homes of various architectural styles and sizes that dead-ends at the rustic park, which features picnic tables, hiking trails and the so-called "Bat Cave," where segments of the "Batman" TV show were filmed.
"We're the area even celebrities come to hike when they don't want paparazzi following them," said Susan Moss, who has lived just seven houses down from the park's gate for the past 12 years. "It's so quiet the paparazzi don't even come up here."
Until the remains turned up, the most serious things residents said they had to worry about were the coyotes and the smash-and-grab burglars who sometimes target hikers' cars.
Renee Dake Wilson, who was walking her boxer-pit bull mix, Sweet Pea, near the park, said she was unnerved by the find, especially the fact that the head was uncovered right off the trail where she and her dog walk every day.
"I'm a little worried," she said. "It's a concern to have such an event happen in your neighborhood. But I do think it's an isolated event."
Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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