Update: Coroner Confirms Identity of Remains in Lake of the Woods

  • Brenda Melech

    Brenda Melech

UPDATE Monday, Dec. 1 at 2:45 p.m.: A dental examination of the skeletal remains found in Lake of the Woods on November 18, 2008, was completed on December 1, 2008. It has been confirmed that the remains found were those of Brenda Lee Melech, 47 who was reported missing on May 14, 2008 from the Lake of the Woods area.

Friends Prepare Farewell For Brenda Melech

By Patric Hedlund

Friends and family have been braced for the past week, waiting for confirmation that the remains found on a charming Lake of the Woods hillside overlooking a favorite view of the valley are indeed those of Brenda Melech.

Kate Heydon Roe, who describes Melech as her best friend, said in an interview last Thursday, “When they told me the location, I felt right away that it was her…she loved that place.”

Roe tells a story of love and disappointment, of hopes raised and then dashed in a little house just below the ridge where George Garrigues and his dog Poppy came across the remains last Tuesday, Nov. 17, six months after Melech’s disappearance on May 13, 2008.

On Tuesday, Nov. 24 the Kern County coroner’s office gave The Mountain Enterprise the news they expect to confirm the identity before Thanksgiving. They received Melech’s dental records Tuesday.

Melech, 48 leaves behind devoted friends and a 14 year old son, Levi, who attended El Tejon School until her disappearance in May. He is now with his aunt in Bakersfield and described as adjusting well in his new school. Concern for Levi’s well-being was foremost to family friends and, in her final note to Roe, foremost in Melech’s concerns as well.

Melech is described by friends at the Frazier Mountain Mobile Village as a joyful and generous person, a hard working, hard partying woman who loved music and dancing.

“She made me laugh every day, and would give anybody in need the shirt off her back, even if it was the last thing she had in the world,” Roe said.

The dark side was Melech’s attraction to men who drank too much, and the hold that alcohol had on her own life at times. She had spent time in a rehab facility in 2006. In 2007 she fell in love and believed life would take on new promise in the little house in Lake of the Woods.

Domestic violence, a restraining order and disappointed dreams brought her back to live in the mobile park managed by Roe and her husband Allen.

The couple believed that by May their friend was getting healthy. Kate Roe remembers the morning of May 13, vividly. Melech had been in her home three times that morning, but Roe was working and hadn’t had time for a cup of tea.

“Brenda looked happy and at peace; her complexion was lovely, she was looking beautiful,” Roe said. “I see that image of her everyday.”

She recals that Melech dressed in pretty clothes and caught a transit bus. She remembers she was wearing flat velvet shoes, embroidered jeans and a leather jacket.

Roe thought her friend was heading to work, but hours later found the good-bye note in her own bathroom. She said the note contained instructions about Levi’s care.

She went to Melech’s home. Inside she found a carefully packed bag for Levi. Melech had left her wallet, handbag and all her identification neatly assembled for Roe to find.

In her note, Melech expressed exhaustion with her financial struggles: “I can’t do this anymore,” she wrote.

The Roes flew into action immediately to find their friend. They located the transit bus driver. They learned Melech had gotten off at Lake of the Woods and that she went to Mountain View Market & Deli.

“The clerks there, Ray and Erica, remembered what she ordered. She went inside and bought a turkey sandwich and a bottle of vodka,” Roe learned.

That same afternoon, the couple filed a Missing Person Report with the Kern County Sheriffs office.

Although there were some reports of sightings after The Mountain Enterprise first published Melech’s photo and a call for help in finding her, none have been confirmed as valid, according to Kern County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bryan Armendariz.

Roe rejects the idea that her friend may have taken her own life.

“I don’t believe she committed suicide. It makes no sense to buy a sandwich and then overdose on pills….I just don’t believe that,” Roe said. She is preparing herself however for the call from officials that is expected as early as Wednesday, Nov. 26.

“I’m 99.9 percent sure. But I need to hear it, because Allen and I have things we need to do,” Roe said Tuesday. They are waiting for confirmation from officials, but are planning a potluck celebration for their friend. The Roes also want to put together a trust fund for Levi.

“She was a wild and crazy free spirit, truly my sister, and we want to put her to peace,” Roe said.

This is part of the November 28, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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