Magazine article Newsweek

A Tragic Discovery: The Hunt for Danielle Van Dam Has Ended. Now a New Search Begins: For the Motive Behind Her Murder

Magazine article Newsweek

A Tragic Discovery: The Hunt for Danielle Van Dam Has Ended. Now a New Search Begins: For the Motive Behind Her Murder

Article excerpt

Byline: Ana Figueroa and Jamie Reno

Self-employed milkman Karsten Heimburger doesn't usually pay attention to the news. So when a friend asked him last week if he wanted to join volunteers searching for "the missing van Dam girl," his response was, "Who is that?" That would make Heimburger unique among his fellow Californians--and most Americans, for that matter--who for the past month have been obsessed with the fate of a 7-year-old Girl Scout kidnapped in the middle of the night from her pink-and-purple bedroom in an upscale San Diego suburb. As fate would have it, the man who says he "knew absolutely nothing about the case" would be the one to put an end to the agonizing mystery of Danielle van Dam's whereabouts. Heimburger and a dozen other volunteers had spent the better part of last Wednesday combing through a trash-strewn lot off a two-lane road southeast of the van Dam home when he spotted a small, badly decomposed body lying next to a clutch of oak trees. "It sort of stunned me to see it. It looked like someone had carried it over there and placed it down, rather than thrown it from a car," Heimburger, 32, told NEWSWEEK. The body was adorned with the plastic necklace and one of the Mickey Mouse earrings Danielle had been wearing on the night she was abducted, but was otherwise so unrecognizable that it took medical examiners another 24 hours to positively identify it.

Even before the grim discovery, police had charged van Dam neighbor David Westerfield with Danielle's murder and kidnapping, after DNA evidence linked him to the crime. Westerfield pleaded not guilty in an arraignment last Tuesday. But the discovery of a body will certainly make the case against the 50-year-old divorce easier to prosecute. The body's location is consistent with earlier reports of Westerfield's wanderings in his 35-foot Southwind motor home on the weekend of Danielle's disappearance. On the morning she went missing, Westerfield was spotted in his RV by a park ranger at a state beach in Coronado; the following day, Westerfield sought out a towing company to help pull the same vehicle out of a remote desert area some 150 miles to the east. Adam Day, spokesman for the nearby Sycuan Casino, told NEWSWEEK that casino employees had spotted a motor home similar to Westerfield's in their parking lot that weekend, and that Westerfield is listed in the casino's records as having been a member of its "gaming club. …

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