Dateline | June 08, 2013
>>> in the days after the disappearance of el segundo realtor deede keller , all of l.a.'s south bay seemed to be looking for her and for her missing mercedes. leading the search -- her best friend cindy and linda. a lot of times people disappear and you get the immediate family working on it and everybody else is like well --
>> not in this town.
>> she had an army.
>> reporter: deede's daughter julie rushed back to l.a. from a trip to mexico.
>> it was the most surreal experience.
>> reporter: only to be greeted by suspicion. l.a. sheriff's detective jimmy gates had discovered that in the event of their mother's death julie and her brother mike stood to inherit more than a million dollars, so he confronted deede's kids using one of the oldest tricks in the investigator's handbook. do you remember an interview that you did with jimmy gates?
>> i do.
>> reporter: in which he ask you had some pretty basic questions like what's your name, where do you live, pretty ordinary stuff, then all of a sudden he says, did you have anything to do with your mom's disappearance?
>> i think it was more, did you kill your mother.
>> reporter: and you're what, startled or angry?
>> it was a horrible question, but i can understand why it needed to be asked.
>> reporter: detectives ask similar questions of julie . next, in attempting to rule out as suspects those closest to deede, detectives turn their attention to her ex-husband erwin howard. it turned out that, although deede and erwin had been divorced for more than a year at the time of their disappearance, friends told police she had recently invited him back into her life. about six months earlier deede's been in a car accident . as she recovered she needed help with her dogs. deede also apparently felt bad about the pain their divorce had caused erwin .
>> she called erwin to help her because that is what he did best was to help and assist her. so he helped kind of nurse her back to health and take care of the dogs and the house and her.
>> reporter: and in taking a hard look at erwin howard, the detective found he had a rock solid alibi. on the night of deede's disappearance, july 8th , erwin had clocked in to work for his job as an airline mechanic at the american airlines hangar at l.a.x. at 8:30. he said he worked all night but it wasn't just erwin 's word. he had to use an electronic key card to get into the hangar. that's not something the employee can influence.
>> that's absolutely correct.
>> reporter: that left the last person to admit seeing deede alive, her new boyfriend car salesman bobby lowe . lowe said he left deede's house between 11:00 and midnight that night, then gone to the gym the next morning. what possible motive could bobby lowe have to want deede either dead or out of the picture?
>> there was no motive that i could determine whatsoever.
>> reporter: and lowe provided investigators with two important clues. first, he said, while he was at deede's that night her dogs had all started barking at something outside as if someone were lurking. and the next morning, he discovered someone had keyed the side of his ford explorer , leaving a long scratch. which suggests what, somebody's following them on that date?
>> absolutely. that's what it meant to me.
>> reporter: but who was following deede and bobby? who was that angry? that act of vandalism pointed away from bobby lowe .
>> i was an investigator for several year, and i've never known anybody to vandalize their own car.
>> reporter: that kind of thinking is what would make it a perfect alibi?
>> sure, sure, if he's sophisticated enough. but his background indicated that he was a well-liked guy, kind of successful himself and didn't have a lot of enemies.
>> reporter: and then, even as investigators looked at suspects, came the news that all who knew deede had at once hoped for and feared -- deede's car had been found. not at l.a.x., not in l.a., but 2 1/2 hours down interstate 5 in san diego . that silver mercedes had been parked on this street in downtown san diego for days, earning it several parking tickets. when the local pd ran the plate, it came up as belonging to a missing person . and when the trunk was finally opened, there was a body wrapped in sheets covered by a blanket which was itself decorated with dog paws. deede keller was no longer missing. police asked to meet with deede's family.
>> it was just a wide range of emotions. there was almost some type of retrieve that they had found her because we were starting to think at that point how long could this go on.
>> hardest days of my life.
>> those were the hardest days for my children and all of her friends and her family.
>> reporter: deede keller was dead at age 54, an autopsy showed she'd been asphyxiated. and the clues that were and were not left in her car were about to take this case back in a familiar direction.