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Body of Missing Boy Found; Parents Held

February 08, 1996|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN BERNARDINO — The body of a 5-year-old boy was found at the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft, and his parents--who had reported him missing a day earlier--were arrested on suspicion of murder, authorities said Wednesday.

The parents, Martin Jennings, 35, and his wife, Michelle, 20, walked into the Apple Valley Police Department on Tuesday morning to report that their boy, Arthur W. Jennings, was not in his bed when they went to awaken him, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy Cheryl Huff.

But as detectives interviewed the couple, they grew suspicious of their story, Huff said, and arrested them on suspicion of murder Tuesday night.

Information gleaned during the interrogation led detectives to several sites in the High Desert where they believed the boy's body could be found. On Wednesday, the body was discovered at the bottom of a 40-foot mine shaft north of the desert town.

Huff said the motive for the killing was unknown. Neighbors told reporters that the boy had been living with his aunt in Montana until three months ago, when he returned to his parents.

The Jennings originally told police that they put their son to bed inside their small travel trailer home about 10:30 p.m. Monday, and checked on him at 2 a.m. Tuesday--but that he was not in his room at daybreak.

Based on a description of the boy--and told that he was probably wearing bluejeans, hiking boots and a ski jacket, scores of search and rescue volunteers fanned out across the desert looking for the boy all day Tuesday and into the night.

But around midnight, the parents reportedly broke down and offered enough information to lead searchers to look in the various mine shafts that dot the desert floor, said Jenny Risley, a Police Department spokeswoman.

His body was found about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday by searchers who specialize in cave explorations.

An 8-month-old sister of the victim was taken into protective custody, Huff said.

The couple is expected to be arraigned on murder charges today.

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