Debra Jean  Kent

Debra Jean Kent

Bundy Confession May End Family's 14 Years of Agony

    BOUNTIFUL, Utah — For the first month after her 17-year-old daughter vanished from Viewmont High's parking lot, Belva Kent slept on the sofa so she could be near the picture window overlooking their quiet suburban street.

    Over and over again, she would dream that somebody had driven by and dumped Debi's body on the frozen front lawn.

    She would bolt up and peer into the silent night. Debi was never there.

    That first month turned into the first year, and then the fifth, and then the tenth.

    A decade after the Nov. 8, 1974, disappearance of their eldest child, the Kents bought a burial plot. In the eleventh year, they put up a headstone.

    Debi's four younger siblings grew up, went to college and started families of their own. Her mother kept her charm bracelet. Her sister wore her graduation gown. Friends sent flowers on her birthday.

    Now, 14 agonizing years after Debra Kent was reported missing, the family's nightmare may finally be ending.

    Just hours away from execution in Florida, serial killer Ted Bundy confessed what the Kents had long suspected--that he had kidnaped Debi that evening in Bountiful and killed her.

    On a highway map, Bundy showed investigators the mountains where he said he had buried the pretty teen-ager and another Utah victim, 16-year-old cheerleader Nancy Wilcox. Authorities plan to search for the remains as soon as Utah's bitter winter permits.

    The Kents were up at dawn Tuesday to watch the news of Ted Bundy's execution on television. Unlike the crowd at the prison in Florida, they felt no jubilation.

    "I thought I'd be breathing such a sigh of relief," said Debi's younger sister, Trish, now 28. "But now that it's here and gone, I don't feel any different.

    "Just this empty, knotty feeling inside."

    The family found gallows humor on the day of Bundy's execution offensive, and Belva Kent even expressed sympathy for the killer's mother: "I feel so sorry for that woman, to raise a child that vicious and just not know."

    Debi was the first of five Kent children, the mother hen of the close-knit brood. She was kind and caring and had thought about becoming a social worker after being graduated from Viewmont that spring.

    She was the kind of girl who slipped quarters into strangers' expired parking meters while shopping downtown.

    "Deb, you're going to go broke doing that!" her mother would laugh. But Debi always seemed to have more to give.

    On the November night when she was last seen, Debi took her parents to a production of "The Redhead" at her high school. As a member of the school drama club, Debi had already seen the musical but wanted her family to enjoy it, too. It would be her father's first outing since suffering a massive heart attack.

    Debi's 10-year-old brother, Blair, went skating that night. When "The Redhead" ran late, a worried Debi left early to pick him up because the roller rink closed at 10 p.m. Her parents would wait for her to drive back for them.

    An hour passed. What was taking Debi so long? The janitor locked up the school auditorium, and the Kents decided to walk to a nearby friend's house for a ride home.

    "We were walking down the sidewalk, and all of a sudden I had this terrible feeling," Mrs. Kent recalled. "Just a panic.

    "I ran down the walk and saw the car still there in the parking lot. I ran up and tried the door. It was still locked, and Debi's purse was still inside where she had left it.

    "She had never even made it to the car."

    Girl Called Runaway

    At the Bountiful police station that night, the Kents listened in disbelief as they were told that Debi was probably just another runaway and that no search could begin for 24 hours, when Debi would officially be listed as a missing person.

    Her parents were insistent. Debi wasn't a runaway, and she would never have let her father wait outside in the cold when he was still so weak.

    "I don't know how to say it," said Mrs. Kent, "but that very night, I knew she was gone."

    Neighbors and friends from the family's Mormon church organized their own search that night, combing the school grounds and the hills near Bountiful.

    When pressed into action the next morning, the police found no evidence of a struggle and no trace of Debi Kent. Later, a tiny handcuff key would be found outside the auditorium.

    Earlier on the night of the disappearance, a frightened 18-year-old, Carol DaRonch, had stumbled into the police station in Murray, just 17 miles from Bountiful, and spilled out a horrifying story about being kidnaped and nearly killed by a handsome man who had lured her into his Volkswagen.

    The handcuffs he had snapped on still dangled from her wrist. Bountiful police quickly discovered that the key found at Viewmont High fit the type of cuffs used on Carol.

    It would be a year before the pieces began to fit together and Ted Bundy was arrested after a routine traffic stop in Utah. Carol DaRonch identified him, and Bundy was convicted. Police had only circumstantial evidence but felt certain that Bundy had kidnaped Debi Kent also. The drama teacher and a handful of students remembered seeing him in the auditorium that night.

    While Bundy sat on Death Row in Florida for 10 years, Mrs. Kent would write letters imploring him to take pity and tell them where Debi's body was. Then she would throw the letters away. Instinct told her Bundy had no pity.

    Over the years, the Kents learned to cope with their grief and anger. At first, young Blair blamed himself. If he hadn't gone skating that night, would Debi still be alive?

    "I would catalogue things in my mind to tell her when she came back," Blair, now 24, remembered. "I wanted to tell her everything I'd done, about every movie I'd seen."

    Wants More Information

    The family still hungers for information about what happened that night and hopes the Utah detective who spent 90 minutes interrogating Bundy on Sunday may be able to provide some details.

    "It's so much better knowing than not knowing," Trish Kent said after the police chief called Tuesday with news of Bundy's confession.

    Trish grew up feeling her best friend had been taken away. For three years, she left the bedroom she and Debi had shared the way it was when her sister disappeared. Trish still won't walk alone at night.

    Brother Remained Bitter

    Bill, the oldest brother, "never really accepted it," Blair said. "He was very bitter and hateful" toward Bundy.

    Bill Kent was killed by a drunk driver three years ago. It wasn't until they had to bury their eldest son that the Kents decided to buy a grave for their eldest daughter.

    A year later, they put up a headstone inscribed with ballet slippers and memories of Debi as a loving daughter, a caring sister, "a friend to everyone."

    And now, the Kents hope they may finally be able to lay Debi to rest there.

    The Ogden Standard-Examiner, 12 Nov 1974, Tue, Page 11

      The Ogden Standard-Examiner, 11 Nov 1974, Mon, Page 7

        The Daily Herald, 17 Nov 1974, Sun, Page 27


            It wasn't just discovery of a human kneecap that convinced Belva Kent her daughter had finally found her rest. Just as telling was the serenity she felt in the rocky rangeland where Ted Bundy said he'd left the body in 1974.

            This Christmas is the first in 15 years to find Belva Kent at peace, a relative term for a deeply religious woman whose sorrows bespeak a modern-day Job. The irony does not escape her that it was Bundy, wrecker of her family, who made the respite possible.Shortly before his Jan. 24 execution in Florida, Bundy confessed to having killed Debra Kent and 22 other young women in the 1970s. The condemned man also indicated on a map torn from an atlas where he dumped three of the eight victims he claimed in Utah.

            Numerous searches over several months at the three locations in central Utah netted hundreds of animal bones but only a single human patella. It was among 10 bags of bones collected by searchers in early May near a road leading into Fairview Canyon.

            That was where Bundy, a former Utah law student, had said to look.

            Within days, Belva Kent, her ex-husband Dean and two of their three surviving children journeyed with detectives to the rock-strewn hillside. They were seeking a sense for the place.

            "We were very peaceful down there," Belva Kent said in an interview Friday night. "I came home feeling better than I have in 15 years."

            It took longer for Dean Kent. But after some weeks he concluded that Bundy, in this rare instance, hadn't been lying.

            "Based on what we had known from his confession, his description fit the area. I'm confident it's a good possibility that's where he disposed of the remains," Dean Kent said. "It's given me peace of mind to believe that's what happened."

            The state medical examiner said the patella was likely that of a young woman, but there was no way to determine if it was Debra Kent's. The pretty 17-year-old disappeared the night of Nov. 8, 1974, from a Bountiful high school parking lot as she left a play early to pick up her younger brother, Bill, at a roller rink.

            Even though the Kents had been certain for years Debra was a Bundy victim, his eleventh-hour confession and execution struck them in surprising ways.

            Belva Kent, 53, relived the grief all over again.

            "Everyone says you're not given more than you can handle, but I've been questioning that a bit lately," she said, wondering when the bitter hand dealt her by Bundy will finally play itself out.

            After Debra disappeared, her brother Bill, who idolized her, blamed himself. His bitterness toward Bundy was matched only by his inability to stifle the pain. Five years ago, after his marriage had broken up, he died at 26, in an alcohol-related auto accident.

            Within months of Bill's death, Dean Kent started drinking, walked out on a 29-year marriage, quit his job as an oil company executive and fathered a child. He lives alone now, trying to come to grips with his shattered life.

            "I certainly feel he (Bundy) was the cancer that destroyed our family," he said.

            Belva Kent had raised five children and never worked outside the home. Her self-esteem departed with her husband.

            "But then there comes a point where you see the bitterness doesn't get you anywhere," she said, so she got a job and has been working since.

            Three months after visiting the spot where the patella was found, Belva Kent was diagnosed as having a benign brain tumor behind her forehead the size of a tangerine. Surgery had to be put off when doctors found she also was suffering from multiple sclerosis.

            Belva Kent's been back to work for three weeks now, slowly regaining strength for the brain surgery she will have in late spring. Dean has helped her through the crisis and they sometimes share a movie or dinner together.