Mystery in Death Valley: Few answers in case of Atlanta man found dead in California desert

Two months after the body of an aspiring writer and filmmaker turned up in the California desert, his family is desperate for answers and certain foul play was involved.

Ryan Singleton, a 24-year-old former model, flew from his family's Atlanta home to Los Angeles in July for a short vacation. Once there, he rented a car for a trip to Las Vegas, but things apparently went awry on the return trip as he drove through the desolate Mojave Desert on July 9. Near the tiny southeast California town of Baker, the car broke down and Singleton called a friend from a rest stop.


It was the last time anyone would hear from him. Tight-lipped investigators have released little information about any progress on the case, and Singleton's family knows little more than they did when he was initially reported missing.

"I'm waiting for answers," Singleton's mother, Iris Flowers, told "I'm in a holding pattern right now."

Joggers would find Singleton's body two-and-a-half months later, its organs gone. While the autopsy report has not been released, law enforcement officials passed the gruesome detail on to Singleton's mother, she said, leaving her to speculate about her son's fate. Although experts told the organs were likely taken from the body by scavenging animals, Singleton's family remains suspicious.

Investigators trying to reconstruct Singleton's final hours have told his family they believe he was picked up by a Highway Patrol officer after his car broke down and driven to the rest stop in Baker. Once there, Singleton called the friend who lived three hours away, and asked to be picked up, according to the family. But when the friend arrived and could not find Singleton, he reported him missing.

The family said authorities have said little to them about what happened to Singleton and have not yet disclosed a cause of death. Singleton's mother and same-sex spouse said they are convinced foul play was involved, but said they are unaware of a possible motive.

"I don’t know anything other than that my son was found with no organs in his body," Flowers said.

Singleton's spouse, who asked not to be identified, said the "lack of answers" from authorities has led him to question various theories: Was Singleton the victim of an organ theft ring? Or was the 6-foot, 4-inch man, described as "kind and gentle," the victim of a random abduction and murder -- with his body dumped in a hot desert for wild animals to dismember? Finally, given Singleton's sexual orientation, he wonders if the openly-gay man could have been the victim of a hate crime.

Singleton's spouse said he was certain of one thing -- that the 24-year-old did not simply collapse and die in Death Valley.

"I believe that he was taken from there [Baker] and later put back there," his spouse said. "I just don’t think he passed out there and was there for two and a half months."

A spokeswoman from the San Bernardino County Coroner's Office told that the coroner is not releasing any information on Singleton's death at this time. She referred all media inquiries to the sheriff's public information officers, who did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a medical anthropologist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it is "highly unlikely" that Singleton was killed for the purpose of harvesting his organs on the underground market.

"There are a lot easier ways to get tissue," said Scheper-Hughes, who in 1999, along with other professors, founded "Organs Watch," an organization that investigates the illegal trafficking of human organs worldwide. Scheper-Hughes' probe into international organ sellers based in New York, New Jersey and Israel led to several arrests by the FBI in 2009.