Cadaver search fruitless

Erich Sommer
photo submittedTruckee Police Cmdr. Scott Berry briefs the media while federal, state and local law officials search the Sun Valley Drive home of defrocked priest Stephen Kiesle.

Shortly after Steven Kiesle’s arrest by the Fremont Police Department on May 16 on suspicion that he molested three Bay Area girls, investigators learned that additional crimes might have been committed in Truckee.

“During the questioning the Truckee connection became apparent,” Truckee Police Commander Scott Berry said earlier this week.

That connection set off a series of events that resulted in media circus on a quiet Tahoe Donner road where the biggest excitement is typically a bear in a trash can.

Regional and national media flocked to the Kiesle’s Sun Valley Road vacation home when investigators let it be known they were searching for the remains of Amber Swartz-Garcia, the 8-year old girl who disappeared out front of her house in Pinole, Calif. in 1988.

In all, Berry figured there were 10 TV news stations from Reno, Sacramento and the Bay Area, along with half a dozen newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, all clamoring for any new information.

“We even had calls from Dan Rather’s office. But we didn’t call any of them. We only called The Sierra Sun,” Berry said with a laugh on Monday.

Town officials said they can’t remember any other event, including last year’s 14,000-acre Martis Fire, that generated such attention.

“We’ve had multiple fires that have drawn some media, but nothing along the lines of last week. Certainly not since incorporation,” said Town Manager Stephen L. Wright.

Berry said the only other high-profile case he has worked on that rivaled the attention of Kiesle’s was the murder of 8-year old Michael Lyons in Marysville, Calif. in 1996. Lyons was abducted and killed by Robert Rhoades, who was later convicted and sentenced to death.

Berry was with the Yuba City (Calif,) Police Department at the time.

“But because of the Bay Area and the priest connection, [the Lyons’ case] was nothing compared to this. It definitely changes your normal daily activity,” Berry said. “It was an interesting experience. To have press conferences with set times, that was different.”

All in all, Berry said he felt the media was respectful and easy to work with.

“They obliged at all our requests, and nobody took pictures or tried to get into areas they weren’t supposed to,” he said. “I’ve arrested media people in the past. In the Michael Lyons case, I had to arrest a reporter because he kept going into the river bottom.”

Body search may revisit home

It was one week ago that the Truckee police joined several other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the California State Department of Justice, in a search that would not produce a happy ending, regardless of the outcome.

Police were digging in the front yard of Steven Kiesle’s Sun Valley Road vacation home in hopes of finding the remains of Amber Swartz-Garcia, the 8-year old girl who disappeared in June 1988 in front of her Pinole, Calif. house.

Last month, as the Fremont (Calif.) Police Department was investigating allegations that Kiesle, 55, of Pinole, had molested three Bay Area girls some 20 years ago, the possible link with the Swartz-Garcia case emerged.

It was then that investigators learned that Kiesle lived on the same street at the time of the girl’s disappearance.

And despite having pleaded no contest to sexually molesting two boys in a Union City Church in 1978, he was not considered a suspect.

Kiesle was sentenced to three years probation, and left the ministry. But because it was a misdemeanor conviction, the case was later expunged from Kiesle’s record.

After joining the Truckee and Fremont police departments last week on the original search warrant for Kiesle’s Sun Valley Road house, Pinole police decided to obtain a second warrant to dig after cadaver search dogs “hit” on smells on the premises.

“We went to look for stuff for the Fremont case,” Berry explained. “But we would have hated to walk away from there and think ‘We wish we would have done something more.”

Along those lines, Berry said Pinole police will likely obtain still another warrant in order to perform ground sonar.

But police will only consider additional digging on the premises and under the garage of the house, which was added within the last 18 months, if the sonar tests produce something.

In addition to the charges out of Fremont, Kiesle may also face charges from Pinole, where police are investigating child molestation allegations from two men, according to Pinole Police Commander John Miner. The department received calls this week from five people, both male and female, claiming relations with Kiesle. Miner emphasized officials have not yet confirmed those accusations.

In 1981, Kiesle resigned following his conviction and returned to volunteer as a youth minister in 1985 at Pinole’s St. Joseph’s Church after undergoing intensive therapy.

Currently, Kiesle is free on $180,000 bond. He is due back in court June 14 for a bail hearing.

As far as the allegations that Kiesle molested three young girls, one who may be a relative, in Truckee, Berry said he is confident that charges will eventually be filed.

“I definitely believe that charges will be filed against him,” he said on Monday.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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