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Police Search Ex-Priest's Home

Jun 6, 2002 | AP

Police dug up the yard of a former priest's vacation home Thursday, searching for clues in the disappearance of a girl from his neighborhood 14 years ago.

Stephen Kiesle, 55, lived down the street from 7-year-old Amber Swartz-Garcia when she disappeared while jumping rope in her front yard on June 3, 1988, from Pinole, a suburb east of San Francisco.

Kiesle was arrested in May on three charges of child molestation involving three girls at Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont, where he worked from 1968 to 1971. Fourteen other people have contacted police and accused Kiesle of abuse.

"When this thing came up with the child molestation and the victims meet the same age and the same description of Amber, it raises our eyebrows," said Pinole police Cmdr. John Miner.

Kiesle's lawyer accused police of violating the former priest's privacy and tainting his name.

"I know of nothing that is ever going to signify he ever did anything violent to anybody," attorney Bill Gagen said. "And it's very unfortunate he lived in the same neighborhood as Amber Swartz."

Police obtained a warrant to dig at his vacation home near Lake Tahoe after getting "hits" from cadaver-sniffing dogs, authorities said.

Using shovels and a backhoe, the investigators dug an 8-by-15 foot hole that was 4 feet deep in places. They found nothing that could be considered evidence, Truckee police Cmdr. Scott Berry said.

Police do not plan to resume digging but may return later with ground sonar to detect things underground, he said.

El Dorado County sheriff's deputies also were searching for any evidence of another girl, Jaycee Dugard, 11, who has been missing from nearby South Lake Tahoe since 1991.

Kiesle pleaded no contest in 1978 to lewd conduct for molesting and tying up two boys, aged 11 and 12, in a church rectory. He was sentenced to three years of probation, and left the ministry.

Kiesle wasn't investigated when Amber disappeared because there was no record of his 1978 conviction, Fremont police Sgt. Jeff Swadener said. Since the charges were misdemeanors, they could be removed from his record.

After leaving the priesthood, Kiesle married and worked for Chevron until he recently retired.

Kiesle has pleaded innocent to the three molestation charges and is free on $180,000 bond.

Amber's mother, Kim Swartz, said hundreds of leads have come in over the years concerning her daughter's disappearance. "The difference in this particular situation is that he lived so close," she said.

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