- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Three-year-old Michelle Pulsifer was never seen again after her family got into their car and left California 35 years ago. But no one ever filed a missing person report, prosecutors say.

Now, authorities are searching for the girl’s body, and her mother and an Illinois man have been arrested as part of an investigation into Michelle’s killing.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office said Monday that it spent a year looking into the case after a private investigator hired by the girl’s aunt told them that he could find no public record of Michelle after July 4, 1969.

Days after Michelle was last seen, her family suddenly moved to Illinois from their home south of Los Angeles. Her mother, Donna J. Prentice, and Mrs. Prentice’s former boyfriend, James Michael Kent, insist that she was left with a relative in California, investigators say.

“We’ve concluded that Michelle never left that home in Huntington Beach alive,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.

“A search for her body is under way,” Mr. Rackauckas said. He declined to reveal where the search is taking place, or to discuss evidence that investigators think links the pair to the girl’s disappearance.

Mrs. Prentice, 57, of Genoa, Wis., was arrested Friday in Wisconsin. She refused to waive extradition to California on Monday, and will remain in custody pending a Sept. 22 hearing.

Mr. Kent, 62, of Lakemoor, Ill., was arrested Aug. 25 in Illinois. He waived extradition and was being held in the Orange County Jail on $1 million bail.

Before his extradition to California, Mr. Kent made a videotaped confession, telling authorities that he did not kill the girl but helped bury her body in a mountain canyon, Sgt. John Byrne of the Lake County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Department told the Chicago Tribune.

Michelle’s brother, Richard Pulsifer Jr., said he is relieved at the arrests.

“A lot of questions, hopefully, will be answered and it will all be resolved,” said Mr. Pulsifer, 41. “In the past, we’ve always hit dead ends.”

Mr. Pulsifer was 6 when he last saw his sister.

“The very last conversation I had with her was when she came into my room and asked me to hide her,” he said. He hid her under the bedcovers, but their mother came and took the girl.

Within days of that July 1969 incident, the family moved to Illinois. One other child was in the house, Mr. Kent’s 6-year-old son from a previous relationship.

“They told the children there was not enough room in the car for Michelle. Instead, Michelle would stay with relatives in California,” Mr. Rackauckas said. “No missing person report was filed, and no one talked about Michelle again.”

Mr. Pulsifer said he had little contact with his mother over the years and never got solid answers when he asked about his sister.

In 2001, Michelle’s aunt, Ann Friedman, hired a private investigator, who determined that there was no sign of the girl’s existence after the couple’s move: no school records, work history, marriage license or death certificate.

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