The device was found as a coroner's assistant was attempting to remove the body from the car.
The L.A. City Fire Dept. responded to reports of a car fire at Radford Avenue and Hortense Street at about 3 a.m. The blue 1989 Toyota Camry, parked just north of the 101 Freeway off of Laurel Canyon, was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.
When the fire was extinguished, crews found a body burned beyond recognition in the trunk of the car. Detectives say it's unclear how the victim was killed.
Authorities said because the car was near the freeway, any noise would have been masked.
"Upon arrival, they extinguished the vehicle fire, and after examining the vehicle, they determined that there was a human body in the rear portion of the vehicle," said LAPD Lt. Alan Hamilton. "They notified the Los Angeles Police Department, who responded to the location and conducted an investigation and determined the death was of a suspicious nature."
Because the body was so badly burned, investigators have not been able to identify the victim.
"We've been able to determine that the decedent is a male adult," said Hamilton. "We're going to be looking at mode of death. We're going to be examining to determine whether the death was prior to the fire; whether the fire caused the death. We're going to be looking at, was the body transported here? We're going to be looking at a number of possibilities, and they're all wide open at this point."
The vehicle is registered to a Whittier resident. Investigators say they have not been able to contact him.
Inside the vehicle, a suspicious device was found. The bomb squad was called in and nearby residents were evacuated shortly before 11 a.m., and the 101 Freeway was shut down for several minutes.
"The suspicious device does not appear to have been of an explosive nature, but it may have been of an incendiary nature," said Hamilton. "They've removed several what could be described as containers, and they did remove some wires. It could have been rigged to assist in the incendiary nature of the fire. It could be an explosive to destroy evidence. There are a number of different reasons why someone would want to set that kind of device in this kind of situation."
The murder has residents in the area on edge. They've lived through seven homicides in just the past six months.
"I'm thinking of moving," said Gretyl Simon of Valley Village.
R.J. Johnson of Valley Village said this wasn't the first time a body was found in a burning car near the freeway.
"There was another strange murder here. A woman was found in the trunk of a car right down the street. And there's been a couple cars burned along here before," he said. "This isn't the first time a car's been burned under that bridge."
Other residents say the location on Radford Ave., somewhat tucked away and just feet from the freeway, likely appeals to suspects looking for a place to dump their victims.
Authorities said they do not believe the recent murders are related.
"It's a great neighborhood," said Valley Village resident Sean Faris. "It's just families and kids and dogs, and everybody walks their dogs and runs in the morning and at night, and you know, peaceful, calm, quiet, wonderful."
"There seems to be more activity now, when the economy gets bad, people get a little more desperate and aggressive," said Valley Village resident Jim Bates.
The body was removed from the car late Monday afternoon. The cause of death was not released.
Police are hoping the public will be able to help them with leads in this case. Anyone with information related to this case was urged to call the LAPD North Hollywood Station at (818) 623-4045.