Michelle Kelly Pulsifer

Sunday is generally the day that I take the day, if I can, to sit down and do my blogging.  The rest of the week I am working on other things and usually adding to my list of cases to research.  From time to time a case will strike me and I feel the need to stop what I am doing to concentrate on that case here.  This is just such a case. This is was not necessarily a new case for me, nor was the show (this time it was Dateline)a show I had not seen before today. It just happened to be the day that this case pulled at me. 

When it comes to how things were handled in history I seem to be more lenient than a lot of people it seems.  I often find myself looking a comments made about "old" cases and defending the actions of others, whether I agreed with them or not, because we were a different society. A good example of this would be the Sylvia Likens case for a few reasons.  I have often seen arguments of posters who comment that they blame the neighbors who never reported hearing her cries or any abuse they may have seen.  I often come to their defense.  I do not have to like that the neighbors minded their own business or they did not get involved, but that is how things were. And it was not just a "thing" in that Indianapolis neighborhood where Sylvia would later be found tortured to death... it was all over and just simply the way societies were... right or wrong.  This case began a few short years after the Likens case, half way across the country but still in a time where laws and societies were different.

Michelle Kelly Pulsifer was born to Richard and Donna Pulsifer in March of 1966.  She had a brother who was three years older, Richard Jr.  Michelle's parents were still in high school when they married and began having children but within a few years of Michelle's birth the marriage was falling apart and they divorced when Michelle was two years old.  It was not uncommon in those days for the mother to be granted full custody of her children.  Joint custody was rarely even thought of although father's had visitation rights.  But, from a legal, and society standpoint, children were better off in the care of their mothers.  Today those thoughts are fading away (although not fast enough it seems), but in 1968 when the Pulsifer's divorced it was not really thought that a father could or should have custody of their children.  That of course does not mean that there were not cases in which fathers obtained custody of their children but it really was a rarity.  And, in this case it does not seem that Richard argued with the decision.  According to him at the time of the divorce things seemed amicable, or at least as much as they could be during a divorce, and he saw his children on a regular basis.

Within a year or so Donna was living with a new boyfriend named James Michael "Mike" Kent.  I was unable to determine just how many children Mike Kent had at the time he and Donna met but one of his sons lived with him.  My research indicates there were more children (and he definitely had more children many years later). So Donna, Mike, Richard Jr., Michelle, and Mike's son all lived in a rental house in Huntington Beach California.  

Most of my research indicates that Richard Sr. saw the children on a regular basis but there was indication that he possibly had not seen them for a bit when he went to Donna and Mike's house for the last time.  In fact, I cannot even tell you for sure when that occurred but according to Richard they were not necessarily expecting him so he was not overly concerned when he found no one at the home.  He says he returned later that day and there was still no answer. It seems he talked to a neighbor and learned that Donna and Mike had left the state in early July 1969.  Richard says he contacted people with family services but was informed there was nothing he could do because Donna had full legal custody of the children and it was her right to go wherever, whenever she chose. For the next year there seemed to be nothing that Richard could do. And then suddenly he heard from people that Donna was back.  He met up with her and she only had Richard Jr. with her.  When he asked where Michelle was Donna simply told him that she was with friends.  He claims that when he pushed her to tell him with who she said "It's none of your business." Donna did apparently let Richard take his son for a bit of a visit and Richard Jr. told his father that he had not seen his sister since they left California.  According to Richard Jr. (either at that specific time or over the years) he and Mike Kent's son had been told there was not enough room in the car for Michelle and that she was staying behind for at least the time being.  Richard Jr. did later point out that while there supposedly was not room for Michelle on the trip there was room for "cats and dogs" that they owned.  I do not know how many this entailed, not that it really matters.  Upon returning his son to Donna, once again Richard confronted her about Michelle.  In fact, he threatened to keep Richard Jr, but legally he had no right at that time.  Finally he stopped fighting with her thinking that now something should or could be done legally.  Richard went to the police to file a missing person's report on Michelle.  Apparently the police spoke to Donna and she claimed that Michelle was with friends and Richard was told that no report would be made because Donna, who had full legal custody of Michelle, claimed to know where she was so she was not apparently missing.  A few days later Donna and Richard Jr. once again left California.

When Donna and Mike had left California in 1969 they had gone to Illinois.  It seems as if Mike must have had some family there (as his mother, who lived in California in 1969 was buried in Illinois when she died in 1972) and this is where Donna went back after her visit back to California.  Over time Donna and Mike were married but by 1979 they were divorced and she was living with Richard Jr in Wisconsin, although Richard Sr. did not know this.  Then in 1980 it seems that Donna, who was working as a waitress filed for government assistance.  It becomes a little sketchy here but apparently Richard had never been ordered to pay support from the divorce (and really at that point why should he? Donna had taken the children), but apparently in order to receive the public assistance she was required to file for support.  Richard was notified. The first thing that he noticed was their contact information.  He could now reach Donna, but more importantly, his children.  But, secondly, he was troubled because the order for child support only listed Richard Jr., who by this time was nearly 17 years old. Richard contacted Donna immediately and once again of course asked about Michelle and was left with resistance.  He still apparently had no way to file for a missing person's report but it seems he let the judge in his child support case know the circumstances and the judge told Donna that until she told Richard where his daughter was her child support was on hold.  That did not deter her and she remained silent.  It seems that soon after, or just after he turned 18, Richard Jr. moved back to California to live with his father.

A father's obsession to find his daughter soon became a brother's obsession too.  Richard Jr. had said that sometime around July 4, 1969, in the middle of the night Michelle had come into his room saying "Hide me, please hide me" and attempted to get under the covers.  He said just after his mother came into the room (she did not seem angry or upset) and retrieved her but that was the last time he had seen his sister.  He said the following day he was in the garage where he saw a large cardboard box with a lot of blankets on it.  He claimed it had not been there the day before and that his mother made him get out of the garage telling him that there was a motorcycle seat in the box.  He claims it was just a few days later when they packed up the car and left for Illinois.  Over the years Richard Jr. said he was forbidden from talking about Michelle, especially when his mom was still with Mike Kent and that when he did bring her up his mom always changed the subject. Apparently Mike Kent's son was asking the same questions over the years and said his dad told him he would only discuss Michelle on his deathbed, a promise it seems he kept. In 1987 Richard Jr. made one last attempt to approach his mother about his sister.  Once again she refused to tell him what happened to her but after he pushed her more she claimed that Michelle was still alive and was using the Pulsifer name.  It seems that after this exchange Richard Jr. had minimal contact with his mother.  In fact it was said that while Donna knew Richard Jr's wife was expecting a baby in November of 1997 she never contacted to inquire the sex of the child.

So things seemed to just go on without answers just as they had for a few more years.  Then in 2001 at a family reunion a relative of Richard Sr's was reminded of the situation and offered to pay for a private investigator to look into the issue.  The investigator, Paul Chamberlain, was a former FBI agent and was quote as saying he was sure it would be an easy case to solve.  He began innocently enough looking into records pertaining to Michelle and was quickly stumped that there seemed to be absolutely no records pertaining to her past July 1969... no school records, no drivers license, no doctor records... nothing. Then he made his way to Donna, who was now remarried but still in Wisconsin.  

Donna told Chamberlain that when she had left California they did not have room for Michelle so she had left her with Mike Kent's mother.  She made it sound like she intended to go back and get her but simply never had and she was not sure where she was.  It was not only this bizarre story that she told that peaked Chamberlain's interests but also the fact that Donna seemed so unconcerned as to where her child had gone. By now it seems that Chamberlain had heard enough and he contacted someone he knew in the police department with the information that he had.  

Investigators started looking into the case and in 2004 they themselves made their way back to Donna.  They had already interviewed several witnesses and family members so they went to her pretty well armed with information.  They had discovered that no one had seen Michelle past July 1969 and family members in California just obviously assumed that they had taken Michelle with them.  They were also ready to really pin Donna down about Mike Kent's mother. They had learned that in 1969 not only was Mike Kent's mother a barely functioning alcoholic, but she had been diagnosed with cancer.  Family and friends of the woman stated not only had they never seen Michelle with her but she was in no condition to take on a child from that point until her death in 1972.  But, even if she did have Michelle, where did she go after the woman's death and why had Donna not inquired or seen her child again?  Donna had no answers for them.  Just as she had been with Chamberlain she seemed very flat and uncaring and simply did not know, or seem to care where her daughter had gone.  At one point she claimed that one of Mike Kent's relatives may have taken her and raised her as they had a daughter named Michelle.  It was confirmed that there was a Michelle, born to a relative of Mike Kent's, but that was their child and not Michelle Pulsifer.  Again, this information seemed to make no difference to Donna.  

Investigators then went to Illinois to find Mike Kent and talk to him.  As they had with Donna they were armed with information, including the fact that Kent had a rather long criminal history pertaining to anything from drugs to domestic violence.  By the time they reached him Kent was not in good health.  In fact he was on a donor list hoping for a new liver among other things.  Almost immediately Kent seemed to cooperate with authorities.  Unlike Donna, investigators said they got the impression that this had been a heavy burden on him and it was a relief to tell his story. Then again, one can never tell.  According to the story that Mike Kent told investigators, sometime on or around July 4, 1969 Donna had gone into Michelle's room only to come out and tell him that she believed she was dead. He fell short of accusing Donna of murdering Michelle but stated she was the last one with her.  He said he then helped Donna dispose of Michelle's body by digging a shallow grave in a remote gorge.  

Mike Kent, and just after Donna Prentice, were arrested and charged with murder.  It seems that Kent continued to work with investigators while Donna fought extradition to California. Mike Kent's help and cooperation was in vain however despite the fact that he agreed to testify against Donna because he fell into a coma and died in February 2005 before anything could be set in stone. His son would later say that he spoke to his father and that he swore that his store to the authorities was true and that he had not murdered Michelle but only help hide her body.  

Donna's first, yes I did say first, trial was in June of 2007. The prosecution was asking for a conviction for 2nd degree murder. The defense would claim that Mike Kent had been abusive to Donna and her children during their relationship.  This is something that Richard Pulsifer Jr. would contend was correct. The defense would say that Mike Kent had insisted that Michelle stay behind in California with his mother and that she was always too scared to ask him about Michelle's disappearance.   Of course this left not just the question of how a mother could act like that but why had she not looked after she and Kent divorced and she had gotten away.  They would claim that she was a loving mother and loved every "child she came in contact with" (presumably speaking of stepchildren) and yet there was evidence to the contrary.  The prosecution played interview tapes where she seems uncaring about the whereabouts of her daughter.  In essence the blame was completely put on Mike Kent and since he had died he was not there to dispute it. After several days of deliberation the jury was deadlocked 10-2 for guilty. The judge declared a mistrial. The hard part was that Michelle's body had never been found.  If Mike Kent was telling the truth as to where the body was buried and the fact that it was not a very deep grave then investigators theorized that it was an area that flooded often and deep and finding her body had been impossible.  Without the body there was no way to determine cause of death, or to surely collaborate Kent's story.  Kent did have a shady and criminal past.  Many claim he had been quick to anger in those days and that he was abusive.  Donna on the other hand seemingly had no criminal record before or since Michelle's disappearance  

In December of 2008 Donna went on trial again.  This trial was much like the first one, with the same problems and same allegations. This time the jury deadlocked 11-1 for not guilty.  It was said they had to agree on the 2nd degree murder charge before they could consider the involuntary manslaughter charge, which most felt applied.  Once again the judge called a mistrial. Most of the jurors that were later spoke to said that they all felt she had done something wrong, but the state did not and could not prove that she had murdered Michelle and the law required that they lean towards any reasonable doubt. Some jurors would say that they had been unaware until the end of the trial that Donna had spent 4 years in jail already.  When the judge decided to dismiss charges against Donna after the second mistrial some felt that those 4 years she spent was satisfactory.  

The judge did not seem to just offhandedly and simply dismiss Donna's charges.  He was sure to admonish her for her actions... or in actions, whichever it shall be.  He simply felt there was no way to prove one way or another after all the time that had passed just exactly what happened to Michelle and who was responsible. It seems Donna's husband was right there waiting for her as he had proclaimed her innocence all along.  

There is a part of me that understands how the second jury came so close to acquitting Donna Prentice but I just wish that lone hold out for 2nd degree would have compromised and discussed involuntary manslaughter.  Donna Prentice deserved something, even if it would have ended in a time served sentence (she served 4 so it would have been like an 8 year sentence). I am assuming since the second trial was a re-trial charges could not be added but I would have liked to have seen charges relating to her neglect or failing to report a body, or something to that effect.  Was the prosecution so confident, even after Kent's death they could prove things?  The only real thing they had was the testimony of Richard Jr. who was six years old at the time he last saw his sister.  I would gander to guess that Michelle's body was put in that gorge like Mike Kent said it was but beyond that I am sure how or why she died, or even for sure who killed her. But, for me that does not matter.  For me both Mike Kent and Donna Prentice were guilty. She can say she did not know what happened and she allowed her then boyfriend (later husband) to force her to leave her child in California when they moved to Illinois and she can claim he was abusive.  I am almost certain at least the latter part was true. But, I am almost just as certain she knew what happened to her child and if she did not, and never asked or inquired or cared, then she deserved to be in a jail cell for at least those four years, if not more. All that the family can hope for is that when Donna is on her own deathbed she will own up to her part and bring peace and closure if possible, but she needs to rot for all the lies she has told that failed to not just save her child but bring justice to her child.


Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this, Susan. Donna deserves to be rotting in prison, but of course there are many thousands of murderers who have escaped any measure of justice. Rest in our Lord's loving arms, little Michelle Kelly Pulsifer.

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