Homicide detective: Tick Fire skeleton is not Will Cierzan 

Will and Linda Cierzan enjoying the outdoors.

This past weekend came and went quietly for Linda Cierzan, whose husband, Will, remains missing after three years.

There was no sound of hushed TV announcers describing golf, no sound of Will tinkering at one of his many hobbies, no sound of his voice.

White SUV seen backing into Cierzan driveway shortly after 5 p.m. Jan. 26, 2017. (Courtesy of KCBS-TV)

Saturday marked the third anniversary of Will Cierzan’s disappearance. The 58-year-old, church-going, long-standing loyal staffer at Six Flags Magic Mountain remains missing.

On the afternoon of Jan. 26, 2017, he was watching golf on TV with his nephew Dan inside his home on Cuatro Milpas Street, near Seco Canyon Road.

He phoned his wife between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. about plans for that evening and, after his nephew left, began cooking a chicken dinner for him and his wife.

At 5 p.m., his wife called again and Will said the chicken was cooked.

The planned meal never happened.  

At about 7 p.m., Linda Cierzan arrived home and found the chicken cooked, with the oven turned off.

Her husband’s wallet, keys and coat were in the house, with credit cards and money in the wallet. The family dog was in the house.

“She still holds out hope,” Will’s sister Andrea Peck said this week, referring to her sister-in-law.

“That, somehow, this is all a misunderstanding,” she said, adding, “It’s really hard.”

Human remains

Hope that suffering might end for the Cierzan family — tormented over not knowing Will’s fate — emerged Oct. 28, when a Public Works staffer found a human skeleton among the charred terrain left by the Tick Fire.

The skeleton, which is believed to have been there for more than a year, was found near the intersection of Sand Canyon Road and Thompson Ranch Drive, per officials.

“We contacted the coroner immediately, to find out if it was Will or not,” Peck said.

Area that burned in the Tick Fire as viewed from the end of Yellowstone Lane. October 26, 2019 Dan Watson/The Signal

Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Homicide Bureau, however, had placed a “security hold” on the case, essentially a gag order on the release of any information kept with the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.

Still eager to know if the remains were those of her brother, Peck reached out to Homicide Detective Ralph Hernandez, who’s now pursuing the case into its fourth year.

This is what he told the family about the Tick Fire skeleton: “We are confident it is not Will Cierzan.”

On Tuesday,  Hernandez said: “The case remains open and we encourage anyone with information to call us and help us find the truth.”

Had officials told the family the human remains found in Tick Canyon were those of Will Cierzan, it would have ended the mystery and removed all hope he would return home.

Learning the identity of the remains may still end the emotional suffering of some other family, as investigators remain hopeful.

Identification difficult

On Tuesday, Lt. Derrick Alfred described the deteriorated condition of the Tick Fire bones as challenging for detectives trying to figure out who they belong to.

“It’s a little harder than our normal (identifying) process,” he said, adding anthropologists have been asked to help study them.

When they were found, Alfred said: “There is a possibility that fire can destroy evidence, and there’s usually evidence left at the scene to point us in a direction.”

“We don’t have any reason to believe that this is a victim of this fire or previous fires,” he said in October. “It looks like the body may have been concealed up here or was here in the vegetation and, after the fire, the body was revealed and found by the public.”

Was there foul play?

“We can’t say for sure until the coroner investigates, but it is an odd place for … somebody to just walk up there and die,” Alfred said at the time.

On Tuesday, the homicide detective was optimistic.

“There’s no identity right now but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost,” said Alfred.

No news on the identity, however, puts the Cierzan family back where it was in January 2017.

The past three years have been rocky for the Cierzan family, Peck said, noting she doesn’t hear from Will’s nephew, Danny, or Will’s brother, Charles, anymore.

If there’s hope of solving the mystery, it seems tied to an unclaimed $20,000 reward.

$20,000 reward

Two months after Will vanished, the city of Santa Clarita put up a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person, or persons, responsible for Cierzan’s  disappearance.

By the end of the first year, the reward — thanks to an undisclosed private donor — was doubled to $20,000. 

On Tuesday, Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city, confirmed the $10,000 reward posted by the city remains in place, she said, for “the apprehension and/or conviction of the person, or persons involved.”

For Peck, “The reward is what keeps it alive.”

“Somebody out there may have seen something and thinks, ‘Maybe this is important,’ and that tip is what turned the case around,” she said.

White SUV

One of the few bits of evidence shared with the public by detectives shortly after the disappearance was video footage of a white SUV seen pulling out of the Cierzan driveway.

Detectives said they hoped someone would recognize the SUV. They still do.

The “unique” vehicle, captured by a video surveillance camera fixed to a neighbor’s house across the street from the Cierzan home, appears to be a white Toyota 4Runner custom-fitted with large tires.

The video is date-stamped and time-stamped.

It shows the Toyota backing into the Cierzan driveway at 5:06 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2017. It also shows the vehicle pulling out of the driveway at 5:12 p.m.

What it fails to show, however, is the driver.

The only thing detectives know with certainty is that the 4Runner traveled along on Cuatro Milpas Street.

Cuatro Milpas leads to only two streets, even if it had turned down Lugar De Oro Drive: Garzota Drive at the north end of the street or Festividad Drive at the south end.

From there, the vehicle could have gone anywhere. It’s that place detectives want to get to, even after three years.

Could larger tires have enabled the 4Runner to leave main streets and travel off road?

The missing man’s sister says yes.

“My belief is that somebody knows something,” Peck said.

Blood evidence

The only other piece of the puzzle shared by detectives was the discovery of Will’s blood.

In February 2017, Hernandez revealed blood evidence collected inside the Cierzan house revealed that the blood belonged to Will Cierzan.

“The blood stains found in the home came back to Will,” Hernandez said at the time. “And, we also found his blood at a location outside of his home.”

Hernandez did not disclose where the blood found “outside of his home” had been found.

“The evidence indicates that an assault did occur,” Hernandez said at the time.

Meanwhile, as long as he remains missing, the mystery over Will Cierzan continues to grip his family, friends and former co-workers.

“Will’s former co-workers at (Six Flags) Magic Mountain still keep calling,” Peck said. “Some are still looking.”

“They want to know what happened to him,” she said.

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On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt

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