Child lay dead as parents told stories

October 29, 1994|By David Kidwell | David Kidwell,Knight-Ridder News Service

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. -- Sometime in the night, police say -- four days after he beat her to death and stashed her body in a bedroom closet -- Walter John Zile said a prayer over the 6-foot makeshift grave of his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Christina Holt.

She died because she had soiled her pants during a tongue lashing, then wouldn't stop crying when he began beating her.

Christina Holt -- whose picture in the past week has graced 10,000 fliers and the television sets of millions -- has been dead and buried for more than a month.

That's how long it took Mr. Zile, 32, and Christina's mother, Pauline Zile, 24, to concoct a scheme to cover the crime with a tale of child abduction from a restroom at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop.

The couple began telling their story last Saturday and finally gave up on it late Thursday, when John Zile -- charged with first-degree murder -- led police to a vacant lot behind a Kmart store in Tequesta and pointed to the grave.

After more than 10 hours of interrogation, with Mrs. Zile already having confessed after failing a lie detector test, Mr. Zile suddenly decided to tell his story.

"We had him in this room and he had decided not to say anything, to invoke his rights," said Lt. David Harris of the Riviera Beach Police. "Then all the sudden he says, 'I think it's time to talk.'

"He said he'd take us to the spot."

Police records released yesterday afternoon detailed the story both parents told police. Details of the murder sickened even hardened homicide detectives.

Around midnight on Sept. 15, Mr. Zile was chastising Christina, and she soiled her pants.

Angered, Mr. Zile began beating her. When she wouldn't stop crying, Mr. Zile covered her mouth with his hand. "The victim then looked at Mr. and Mrs. Zile, swayed back, started to go into a seizure and was choking," Roviera Beach Sgt. Ed Brochu wrote in his report.

The parents said Mr. Zile then tried to revive the child, but she died within minutes.

The second-grader had lived with paternal relatives in Poolesville, Md., until moving in with her mother in June.

"Mr. and Mrs. Zile made no attempt to summon help for the victim," Sergeant Brochu wrote in a probable cause affidavit. Mr. Zile put the girl in the bathtub, saw the bruises on her rear and a swollen and bleeding lip.

"He stated that, by looking at the situation, their lives were over," the report reads. He "placed her in the bedroom closet. He covered her in a blanket and sheets. He kept her there for four days as he searched the northern part of Palm Beach County for a suitable place to bury her."

Four days later, he wrapped the child's body in a children's tent, bags, and a blue tarp, taped the outside of the bundle, and buried her.

"He made a prayer and left," the report states.

Over the next four weeks, the Ziles concocted the cover-up scheme, rehearsed it, and last Saturday executed it, Sergeant Harris said.

There were problems from the beginning. A witness spotted Mrs. Zile rehearsing her panic at the swap shop. Neither Pauline nor Christina showed up on security videotapes at the swap shop. And Broward Sheriff's Office investigators who went to their Singer Island motel apartment found blood on the girl's bed, walls and floor.

By 7 p.m. Thursday, after five hours of off-and-on interrogation and the failed lie detector test, Mrs. Zile caved in, tearfully laying out the whole story in exchange for limited immunity.

By 11:30 p.m. -- confronted with his wife's statements -- Mr. Zile broke down and agreed to take detectives to the spot she was buried, police said.

Police said there is no evidence that Mr. Zile ever abused his two sons with Mrs. Zile: Daniel, 5, and Chad, 3. The couple gave up for adoption a third child born Oct. 4.

Broward sheriff's detectives began to question the Ziles' story early on but continued to work the case as a missing person.

Pauline Zile had never wavered on her story.

If she detected doubt, Pauline clutched her daughter's "favorite doll" and sobbed.

"We learned from family members that her favorite doll, was not in fact, the one carried by Pauline," said Sgt. Dave Robshaw, a detective. "We're not certain she even held it."

But it was Mrs. Zile's language that worried investigators.

She kept referring to Christina in the past tense.

"It concerned us," Sergeant Robshaw said.

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