Dateline | June 08, 2013
>>> on a sun-splashed sunday in l.a.'s south bay , clouds were rolling in over one household. it was july 2004 , el segundo real estate agent julia keller, known to the world as deede, was missing. deede's son mike had gone to her home when he hadn't heard from her for three days. the biggest red flag ? deede's beloved dogs left without food or water. what did you think had happened?
>> i didn't know at that point. i just knew that something was very, very wrong.
>> reporter: mike called his mom's best friend , linda dondero and cindy ertman. cindy who had last spoken to deede three days before as deede prepared for a date rushed to the house.
>> you could tell just the dogs had been, you know, run ining around for days, but the way the tv was on and the way the shades were, i felt like thursday night had never ended. i felt like friday morning never came.
>> reporter: cindy immediately phoned deede's new boyfriend, car salesman bobby lowe . he reported they had dinner thursday at a local restaurant, then returned to deede's house for a night cap .
>> he said she'd had a little bit too much wine and laid down on the couch and was starting to fall off to sleep, so he just said good night and let himself out.
>> reporter: anything about what bobby lowe said sound in any way suspicious to you?
>> not at all.
>> reporter: the next call, to el segundo police. and soon of the scene then detective sergeant carlos mendoza .
>> this does not happen in el segundo , especially people as well known as deede is.
>> reporter: and what detectives found in their initial search of deede's home, only deepened the mystery. in the kitchen, deede's purse, her cell phone still inside but no wallet. a vodka bottle that police learned was usually kept in the freezer was out on the counter. and in the living room, the tv was on cnn .
>> we discovered that whenever she left the house, she always put the tv on to a classical music station so it would relax the dogs, but it was on cnn when we came into the house.
>> reporter: so deede was watching cnn , had the dogs there, was having a drink and then left for some reason. suggesting kind of whatever happened happened in a big hurry.
>> she didn't have time to do her routine that she usually does before she leaves.
>> reporter: and it appeared deede had left in her car. the garage was empty, her silver 1999 mercedes gone. but strangely, police found the car keys sitting on deede's patio.
>> we decided to call the l.a. county sheriff's department homicide bureau to come and assist us.
>> reporter: and answering that call, veteran detective jimmy gates.
>> there was no forced entry whatsoever. and when we started walking through the house, i noticed several articles that were very valuable.
>> reporter: so she let in whoever it was and it wasn't robbery?
>> absolutely correct. she didn't let them in, that person let themselves in. and they may have had a key.
>> reporter: gates wondered had deede left in her car with someone she knew? and how did her car get taken without its key? if you don't have a key, is it as easy to steal a car as movies depict?
>> it's certainly not a 1999 mercedes that's hard to hot wire that's hard to steal it. you almost need a key to gain access to it.
>> reporter: if your car doesn't have a key, the next stop is a car dealership to have one made, but first gates and his crew searched the house looking for deede's spare mercedes key, without success. and gates quickly became convinced of one thing. you thought finding deede's car was going to be the key to this?
>> that was going to be extremely importt.
>> reporter: deede's friends and family printed up posters and, along with law enforcement , launched a massive search.
>> an army of people band together to try to help find her, and we broke up into teams, and we mapped everything out in one-mile increments to start to search every parking lot looking for her car.
>> we would ask people have you seen this woman? have you seen this car? it was frantic, it was heartbreaking.
>> reporter: and it was leading nowhere. at the same time, detective gates wondered who might have had a motive to have abducted deede from her home? those most common of motives, love, money, jealousy, are always the ones police hug first like old friends. deede made a lot of money being a realtor.
>> she was successful, yes, sir.
>> reporter: how much money did she have in the bank?
>> i think it was over seven figures.
>> reporter: seven figures. a lot of murders committed for a lot less than that.
>> reporter: who got that money in the event of her death?
>> the benefit ris were her two children.
>> reporter: and the detective noticed something about the whereabouts of deede's two children, mike and julie. at the time of deede's disappearance.
>> they were both out of town at the time that their mother went missing.
>> reporter: why is that significant? why wouldn't the reverse be more true?
>> i thought that the mother goes missing and it just so happens that mike, you know, is gone in san jose and julie's gone at a resort, and it's been my experience that sometimes people dissipate stress when they commit a crime in different ways. some people drink, some take drugs and some leave the area to dissipate stress.
>> reporter: and there was, strangely, one more person who just happened to have been traveling near the time of deede's disappearance, her ex-husband erwin howard had just flown to his home country of bolivia. and erwin was a mechanic who worked for american airlines in l.a. the common thread in all these trips? nearby l.a.x. airport. and so the detective thought, what better place to dump a car? l.a.x. is a big place.
>> very big place.
>> reporter: a lot of parking lots .
>> it took a few days.
>> reporter: you looked through them all?
>> every one of them.
>> reporter: no mercedes and no shortage of persons of interest. a lot of people close to deede keller were about to be hugged like old friends.