Dateline | June 08, 2013
>> we call tithe sand box . no one thinks that this part of o los angeles exists, but it does.
>> reporter: their seaside playground is lined with beachfront properties worth millions and nestled among these small beach towns is an oasis called el segundo .
>> it's main street usa .
>> a great place to raise kids.
>> reporter: in el segundo and the south bay a decade ago, one of the rainmakers in the real estate business selling those beautiful homes in the sand box was the woman on this business card julia keller known as deede.
>> she really just embraced everyone that came into her path.
>> deede's best friends , mortgage executives cindy ertman and real estate sales partner linda doddero. she was good at her job.
>> i loved working with deede. everybody did.
>> she was so easy to like and wanted the best for everybody. her clients were loyal over the years.
>> reporter: deede was loyal, too, not only to her clients but as a divorced mom, to her children, mike and julie .
>> i remember my mom explaining to me when i was about 10 years old that, as you get older, we're probably not going to be as close our won't like me quite as much. and it never happened. if anything, we just got closer.
>> reporter: but deede keller had a heart problem, not literally. it may have been a little too big. she loved without limits, and she simply hated to disappoint or let anyone down. she loved dogs so much she literally couldn't say no to another one. she was surrounded by them at home. even in her real estate ads.
>> i would joke that as soon as i graduated college, that's when shstarted replacing us with dogs. she never stopped being a mom.
>> reporter: and she never stopped sort of loving everybody, i guess?
>> no, she never did. she was ready to be embraced and to embrace you whenever you wanted it.
>> reporter: but there was one area of her life in which deede keller 's honesty and embrace hadn't caught hold. your mom was so lucky and life was so easy in so many ways, she couldn't quite make the man in her life thing come out right sfr?
>> she had a wonderful life , but no, i guess she hadn't found that person.
>> reporter: she did have a long-term relationship but that ended sadly in 1997 . soon after, she met someone new. he was a real estate client named irwin howard, a pilot and airline mechanic originally from bolivia.
>> i remember deede telling me that she was not going to date anyone else unless they loved, treasured and adored her. and she did feel loved, treasured and i doored by irwin . he treated her like a queen.
>> reporter: when irwin popped the question, deede said yes.
>> reporter: at deede's bridal shower in march of 1998 , irwin dutifully delivered his fiancee to the surprise party , but the smiles didn't last after the engagement was over and the marriage began.
>> it wasn't more than six months after they were married and she just blurted out that she had married him on the rebound.
>> reporter: and was having second thoughts?
>> apparently so.
>> it was very hard for her to think about ending it because of what it was going to do to him because she knew he loved her.
>> reporter: so much, in fact that the marriage lasted another four years after that conversation. ultimately, their divorce was amicable and a year after the split, in the summer of 2004 , deede seemed to be finding her footing once again. she'd begun dating a well-known south bay car salesman named bobby lowe . that new relationship was going so well that on the evening of thursday, july 8th , bobby lowe took deede out to dinner at this restaurant to meet his father.
>> i talked to her before her date.
>> reporter: any sign that she was nervous about anything?
>> she was in a happy state when i talked to her. and we had made plans to hopefully get together the following night, and so i could get any update on the date.
>> reporter: but that conversation never took place.
>> i called her on friday, and she didn't call me back, which was not unusual for deede. i called her on saturday, and she didn't call me back. that was pretty typical. but by sunday i started getting concerned.
>> reporter: concerned, too, was daughter julie . she talked of meeting her mom that same friday during a layover at l.a.x. as julie headed for cabo san lucas , mexico.
>> i might have an appointment that morning, but if i don't, i'll come by, i'll text you, we'll have coffee. i didn't get a text. it was a little odd. i didn't think much of it.
>> reporter: deede's son mike was beginning to worry. after he returned from a business trip to the san francisco area.
>> when i called her cell phone, the voice mail was full. and that has never happened with my mom. and she prided herself on being responsive.
>> reporter: so you go over to your mom's house?
>> i went in the back gate. and instantly, it was clear that she had not been there for a while.
>> reporter: what made that clear?
>> the dog's water dish was bone dry. my mom would die of thirst before her dogs went without water.
>> reporter: mike's first call was to cindy .
>> and he said, cindy , where's my mom? and i just -- i instantly knew in that moment that something had happened. i just knew. and i just said, michael, call the police, i'm on my way.