A convicted car thief has emerged as the lead suspect in the slaying of Kelly Laurel Bullwinkle of Redlands, the 18-year-old college student found dead in a citrus grove near her apartment three weeks after she was reported missing, authorities said.
A woman who worked with Bullwinkle at Baker's Burgers allegedly told police that her cousin, Michael McMillan, 19, of Redlands, said he killed Bullwinkle during a robbery.
Police say the woman, 19-year-old Cassandra Ontiveros of Loma Linda, told them that McMillan believed Bullwinkle had "lots of money" because she once spent $100 to buy cocaine and lived in the upper-middle class suburb of south Redlands.
"We're certainly focused on [McMillan], but we're also focused on other scenarios," said Redlands Police Capt. Tom Fitzmaurice, who is supervising the investigation. "Are we sure what happened to Kelly yet? No. Do we have leads? Yes. An accusation has been made. Everything is being processed, and we're not ready to make an arrest yet."
When questioned by police, McMillan denied killing Bullwinkle and told detectives he never told his cousin he was involved in the slaying, a source close to the investigation said. McMillan is jailed in West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga awaiting sentencing for car theft.
Bullwinkle was last seen alive by friends and co-workers at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 13, when her shift ended at Baker's Burgers in Redlands. Her body was found buried in a shallow grave in San Timoteo Canyon on Saturday.
Redlands Police Chief James R. Bueermann said Wednesday that Bullwinkle was involved in illegal drugs but added that his detectives had yet to establish that drugs were connected to her killing.
"I am totally caught off guard by this, and I don't believe my daughter's involved in [drugs]," Diana Bullwinkle, Kelly's mother, said Thursday. "My daughter was a college student who worked a job and was a responsible person. I lost my daughter for something that was senseless."
In an application for a search warrant approved by a San Bernardino County judge, Redlands Police Officer Michael Merriman stated that Ontiveros told police that McMillan admitted he shot and killed Bullwinkle. Ontiveros made the allegation after her Sept. 17 arrest on suspicion of being under the influence of a narcotic, court records show.
Ontiveros alleged that Bullwinkle recently gave her $100 to buy cocaine, which led McMillan to believe she carried lots of money, she reportedly told police. Ontiveros also alleged that McMillan usually carried a small, black handgun, court records show.
McMillan and an acquaintance, Eric McGloughlin, 21, of Mentone, were arrested Sept. 17 on suspicion of stealing a vehicle in Redlands. McMillan and McGloughlin pleaded guilty to felony grand theft and are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 23.
"[McMillan is] not going anywhere," said Rick Young, a San Bernardino County deputy district attorney who supervises the Redlands unit. "If there was a fear of flight with a suspect, an agency might move quicker [toward an arrest]."
Investigators have not disclosed how Bullwinkle was killed, if a murder weapon has been found or if any evidence was recovered from her car, which was found abandoned at the Ontario Mills mall.
Police have reviewed Bullwinkle's bank records, including ATM withdrawals and other transactions. Police also have taken into evidence Bullwinkle's home computer, a journal from her home and a purse from McGloughlin's apartment, court records show. No items were taken from McMillan's or Ontiveros' homes.
A memorial for Bullwinkle is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Redlands' chapel.