SALT LAKE CITY — Renewed interest in notorious serial killer Ted Bundy led police to announce on Monday that DNA testing helped them confirm he also killed a Bountiful teen.
In November 1974, 17-year-old Debra Kent was with her parents at a Viewmont High School play when she left during intermission to pick up her brother at an ice skating rink, Bountiful Police Sgt. Shane Alexander said.
"After she left, she never returned," he said.
The public interest evoked by the recent Netflix documentary series "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" and the movie "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" prompted police to announce the discovery that was made more than three years ago.
Thirty-six hours before his execution, Bundy confessed to killing Debra and other young women and told police where he left Debra's body, according to Alexander.
But her body wasn't found, Alexander said, and police were not able to officially close the case.
That is, until 2015, when human remains were found in Fruit Heights, leading investigators to review missing persons files. Two of the cold cases for the city were women who'd gone missing, Alexander said.
As they researched Debra, they came across news reports. In one of the reports, her mother, Belva Kent, pulled out a box with a human patella bone, or kneecap, that had been found where Bundy said he left the teen's remains.
In spring of 1989, officials had done a search in the Fairview Canyon area and found hundreds of bones. The only human bone had been the patella, Alexander said.
Police had given the bone to Debra's family.
"At that time, this is your closure that we can give you right now," Alexander said of that gesture. He said it is unclear why police at the time gave the family that evidence, however.
Three and a half years ago, after learning the family had the patella, investigators retrieved it from the family to use for DNA testing.
"(Belva Kent) was very hesitant at first, but eventually she agreed, believing that it would be a good thing to know and have that confirmation," Alexander said. "I sent the patella to the University of North Texas as well as the samples that were collected, and then they were able to determine that the patella matched the family DNA that was collected."
The family received an official death certificate and got the patella back.
Alexander said the Kent family was grateful for the DNA confirmation.
"That was probably one of the biggest moments in my career," he recalled.
"To finally be able to go to this family and say, 'kay, here it is, here's the scientific proof now, this is your daughter.' To me, that just was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, knowing that I can help this family hopefully have closure and help them move on," Alexander said.