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.