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Suspect in O.C. Girl's '69 Killing Admits Helping Bury the Body

September 01, 2004|Mai Tran and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

A suspect in the 1969 slaying of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter confessed that he helped bury the body in an Orange County mountain canyon, authorities said Tuesday.

In a videotaped interview with sheriff's deputies in Lake County, Ill., James Michael Kent denied killing Michelle Pulsifer but said he helped the girl's mother move the body from the couple's Huntington Beach home 35 years ago and bury it in Silverado Canyon.

"It seemed like it was bothering him for a very long time," Lake County Sgt. John Byrne told the Associated Press.

A law enforcement official familiar with the case, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that investigators had visited Silverado Canyon this week to look for signs of a grave.

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Yellin, lead prosecutor in the case, declined to comment on the confession or where investigators might search.

Silverado Canyon borders the Cleveland National Forest in the Santa Ana Mountains, between Orange and Riverside counties. In the decades since Michelle disappeared, housing tracts have been built in some of its backcountry.

The canyon is about 26 miles east of Tigerfish Circle, the Huntington Beach street where Kent was living with Donna J. Prentice before, authorities say, the couple packed up their belongings and moved to Illinois.

Michelle has not been seen since then. Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said she never got out of the house alive. The couple, who also had two 6-year-old sons from separate marriages living with them, told the boys that there was not enough room in the car and that they were leaving their sister in California with a relative, Rackauckas said. No one filed a missing persons report.

The girl's father, Richard Pulsifer, said he had been visiting his daughter every other weekend since the couple divorced in 1968, until he showed up one day and found the house empty.

He said he tried for years to get a straight answer from his ex-wife about their daughter's whereabouts, or to get help from authorities.

He was hampered because he did not have custody.

The investigation into her disappearance did not begin in earnest until 2001, when Ann Friedman -- the widow of Pulsifer's brother -- hired Los Angeles private investigator Paul Chamberlain to figure out what happened to her niece.

Kent, 62, of Lakemoor, Ill., and Prentice, 57, of Genoa, Wis., split up years ago. They were arrested last week and charged with murder.

Kent is being held on $1-million bail at the Orange County Men's Jail.

Prentice is being held in Vernon County Jail in Wisconsin.

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