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Mendocino County homicide victim’s mother also was killed

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It’s been three years since Rachel Sloan, 22, vanished from her hometown of Laytonville. Two years ago, what turned out to be the burned remains of her body were found in an abandoned refrigerator by railroad tracks about 10 miles south of Laytonville. That link was confirmed in September by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

Finally, her family, one afflicted by a number of grim tragedies and violence over the years, was able to say goodbye.

But the questions surrounding her disappearance and death are now growing as the Sheriff’s Office launches a homicide investigation in the case.

Neither her family nor law enforcement officials knew definitively that Sloan was dead until DNA tests confirmed remains found in May 2013 near Highway 162 and Highway 101 belonged to the troubled young woman, whose life was on a downward spiral when she disappeared.

“The first major hurdle was finding out who the remains were,” Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten said.

The revelation added to the suffering endured by Sloan’s grandmother, Pauline Sanderson, who already had lost three children and one grandchild to violent, premature deaths in the past 25 years. Rachel’s mother, Debra Sloan, was brutally killed in 1998 by John Annibel, who was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying. Annibel has been accused but never charged with killing at least two other people, including a 15-year-old girl who was last seen in 1976.

Sanderson previously lost two children and a grandchild in fatal car crashes.

“Pretty soon, I won’t have any kids,” Sanderson, a mother of five children, said Tuesday.

The confirmation of Rachel Sloan’s death reopened what had been a cold case shrouded in mystery. Authorities have yet to disclose the time and cause of death.

Sloan was last seen at a family funeral in August 2012, but her family didn’t report her missing until May 2015. If they had notified the Sheriff’s Office sooner, DNA tests could have confirmed her death nearly two years earlier, after her remains were discovered. Van Patten said Tuesday there are “indications” pointing to the cause of death but “nothing that can be disclosed at this time.”

Sloan’s family told detectives that they hadn’t reported Sloan missing earlier because she had a history of disappearing for extended periods of time.

Sanderson said she and Sloan’s brothers were very worried about her, but the victim’s father, Allen Sloan, had told them she was staying on the Hopland Rancheria, about 60 miles south of Laytonville. Sloan was Native American on her father’s side.

Allen Sloan could not be reached this week for comment.

Rachel Sloan had a history of drug abuse and mental health problems and had been living a transient lifestyle in recent years, according to court records and family members.

Sanderson said her granddaughter was sweet and eager to learn through high school in Laytonville. She said Sloan had aspired to become an oceanographer.

Her former junior high school teacher, Mark O’Neill, described her as outgoing, spirited, kind and hardworking and having a “finely tuned sense of humor.”

“She was respectful and did her schoolwork religiously,” he said. She worked hard, achieved a solid B average and played sports, O’Neill recalled.

But soon after high school, her life began to unravel, her grandmother said.

She had been arrested at least three times since 2010 in connection with methamphetamine use, according to Van Patten. She also had arrests for probation violation and vandalism.

Sanderson said she’d attempted to get mental health treatment for her granddaughter but was told that nothing could be done unless Sloan posed an immediate danger to herself or others.

“She was mentally disturbed,” Sanderson said. She recalled Sloan becoming angry with her paternal grandfather and breaking out windows in his house. She also beat up another woman and nearly burned down her house, Sanderson said.

Just before Sloan disappeared, she shaved her head, an incident one of her uncles said “let the demons in,” Sanderson said.

“She should have been in a mental place where they could have helped her,” Sanderson said.

Instead, she wandered the streets and no one could keep track of her or make sure she was safe.

Van Patten said one of the first steps in the investigation is figuring out Sloan’s whereabouts before her disappearance.

That “allows us to go back in time and establish a timeline of her life,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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