After days of emotional TV appeals for information about her missing daughter, the mother of 7-year-old Christina Holt caved in late Thursday, admitting that her husband beat the girl to death and they concocted an elaborate tale of abduction to cover the crime.
After five hours of interrogation at the Riviera Beach police station, Pauline Zile was given limited immunity in exchange for the truth: Christina's stepfather, Walter John Zile, killed the girl in their tiny Riviera Beach motel apartment.
He carried the body to the trunk of their white Cadillac, drove off and buried her, Mrs. Zile told authorities. The body had not been recovered late Thursday, but police were trying to find it based on vague directions from Mrs. Zile.
John Zile, 32, and his wife, 24, spent the two weeks after the death devising an elaborate hoax they pulled off Saturday: Mrs. Zile said the girl was kidnapped from a bathroom at the busy Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop.
The news prompted a nationwide search for the child. Mrs. Zile appeared repeatedly on television with convincing grief and hysteria, begging anyone with information about her daughter's abduction to come forward. Pictures of the smiling child filled newscasts and front pages for days.
But police said the story didn't ring true. Then they found traces of blood in the Ziles' motel room and on knives in their car trunk.
Zile was charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated child abuse. The aggravated battery counts are for separate incidents in which Zile was seen beating the girl.
Mrs. Zile was released Thursday night.
Little Christina's life _ like that of her mother _ lacked roots. She was shuttled from relative to relative, finally arriving in Florida in June to be with her mother, who had two small children and was pregnant with another. That baby was given up for adoption.