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Another false tip in decadelong search

Acting on a tip from a caller who claimed to be a former priest at San Quentin Prison, investigators searched woods Thursday for the body of a California boy kidnapped 10 years ago.

The anonymous caller to a TV station said an inmate told him in confession several years ago that he abducted 10-year-old Kevin Collins at a San Francisco bus stop and buried him at a rest stop near Saugatuck.

FBI agents and other investigators began searching six acres of woods Wednesday with help from tracking dogs and a helicopter.

The search was called off Thursday when a dog bone, part of a tennis shoe and the remains of a T-bone steak were the only things found.

"We checked it. We checked it twice. We checked it a third and fourth time and found nothing," said Allegan County Sheriff David Haverdink. "What's going to happen on the fifth or sixth or seventh or eight time? I don't know."

The caller on Oct. 21 gave accurate details of the area. He said that he learned the inmate died recently and that he had been reluctant to violate the inmate's confidence while he was alive. He said he decided to make the call to end the anguish of Kevin's family.

"I guess it was a hoax," said Kevin's father, David. "I guess it's to be expected. We've had thousands of calls over the years, and it's something we have to live with. What can we do?"

Kevin disappeared in 1984, after basketball practice. The boy's picture was on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and his parents established a missing children's organization, the Kevin Collins Foundation.

David Collins said it was the first time a caller had actually given a site where their son might be buried.

"I feel like someone knocked all the air out of me," Kevin's mother, Ann Collins, had said of the tip.

The caller told a camera operator who happened to answer the phone at WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo that the inmate told him he buried Kevin's body off Interstate 196 near the Lake Michigan shoreline.

"He said he learned that the prisoner died recently and it's very important that the Collins family know all the details and the whereabouts of their son," said the camera operator, John Short.

Michigan authorities will continue to work with San Francisco law officers but have no plans to resume the search, Haverdink said.

The identity of the caller could not immediately be determined. San Quentin has staff priests, but many outside clerics also visit, said Sgt. Denise Woods, a prison spokeswoman.

"It could have been a priest. It could have been anybody," sheriff's Lt. James Ross said. "But we got a tip, and it was credible, and it has to be acted on."