LOMPOC VALLEY – "She was very, very shy to people outside of the family but when you got to know her she had the greatest sense of humor", says Lompoc Valley resident Rose Ernstein as she reflects on the little sister she lost nearly 45 years ago.
"We called her Betty Lou", Ernstein says about her younger sister, "she had not returned from, not made it home from school and everybody was in a panic because that was absolutely not like her."
Ernstein says the last anyone ever saw of Betty Lou was while she was walking home through a local orange grove from Moore Junior High School in Redlands in March of 1968.
With each passing hour and day she remained gone, the Bernstein's faced a grim reality.
"We knew that she had either been abducted or run off", Rose Ernstein says, "there were a lot of kids in the 60's that did runaway, she was not the type of person to do that."
Her parents, Norman and Ruth Ernstein, launched what was believed to be the largest direct mail campaign by sending out more than 10,000 letters to newspapers and magazines across the country.
"Requesting they run a story on my sister's disappearance and just asking for information if anybody had seen her", Rose Ernstein says about the search effort.
Decades later Rose Ernstein says the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner's Office asked if she and her brother Jeff, the last of her surviving family members, would provide DNA samples with Betty Lou's case re-opened which they did.
"About three weeks later, the deputy called me back and he said, "well I have news", they had identified her (Betty Lou's) bones", Rose Ernstein says.
The Ernstein family held a memorial service for Betty Lou many years ago believing together she was no longer alive.
Norman Ernstein died in 1997, Ruth Ernstein died in 2002.
"I so much wish that my parents would have known about her remains", Rose Ernstein says, "it would have meant so much to them."
Rose Ernstein says it's a relief for her and her brother to finally have her sister's remains identified, but she says there are still so many questions that will likely never be answered including what really happened to Betty Lou on that afternoon in March 1968.
Ernstein says the reason it took so long for Betty Lou's remains to be identified is because remains found in a shallow grave near Wrightwood, California in 1969 were initially mis-identified as those of a young man.
It was only after those same remains were exhumed and the DNA test conducted that they were positively identified as being those of 14 year old Betty Lou Ernstein.
Rose Ernstein says she and her brother expect to receive their sister's remains soon.
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