Search for missing girl turns to uncle's property

Search for missing girl turns to uncle's property
A helicopter searches the backyard of Michael Jacques in Randolph, Vt., on Monday, June 30, 2008.
CHELSEA, Vt. (AP) - The investigation of the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl zeroed in on her uncle Monday, with police searching his home while he was being arraigned on sex charges in an unrelated case.

Michael Jacques, a registered sex offender who was one of the last people seen with Brooke Bennett before she vanished, pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated sexual assault and was held in lieu of $250,000 bail.

Jacques attorney, L. Brooke Dingledine, called the evidence against him in that case "very sparse."

Col. James Baker, the head of the Vermont State Police, called Jacques a "person of interest" in Brooke's case at a Monday press briefing. He said investigators began focusing on Jacques based on information developed over the weekend through computer forensics.

The other girl, a relative of Jacques', says he assaulted her over a five-year period, beginning when she was 9 years old and ending a few weeks ago, Orange County State's Attorney Will Porter said.

Authorities released an affidavit in which State Police Detective Sgt. William Jenkins said the girl told police that when she was 9 or 10, she was told - by telephone call and in a note left under her pillow - that she had been selected for enrollment in a "program for sex" and that Jacques was to be her trainer.

The girl, identified only as "A.R." in court papers, said she was told two other girls also were in the program. "The first who does it lives and the second gets her throat cut," she told police, according to the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, the girl said she met two other men besides Jacques who were affiliated with the program. But it didn't specify whether the girl said she had sex with the other men.

Baker said police were investigating whether the alleged sex ring actually existed or whether it was a ruse Jacques allegedly created to intimidate the girl into having sex with him.

"The State Police would like to speak with any child or teenager who may have had contact with Michael Jacques," Baker said.

At the home of Jacques, 42, in Randolph, Vermont State Police called in state police from Connecticut and Massachusetts and used a helicopter and dogs to search the area.

Jacques, who is married to a sister of Brooke's mother, dropped Brook off at a convenience store in Randolph on Wednesday.

She had told family members she was going to meet a friend and visit a hospitalized relative of the friend but police believe that was a lie. Investigators believe Brooke may have been bound for a meeting with an unknown individual with whom she had been communicating through an online social networking site.

Surveillance video showed Brooke and Jacques leaving the store and going in separate directions.

Brooke, who just finished seventh grade, has not been seen since.

The prosecutor had argued against the judge's decision to grant bail.

Jacques has 1993 convictions for kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault and there is "a threat of prejudicial violence to this particular juvenile complainant," said Porter, in arguing for no bail. "Her personal safety was threatened."

He also noted the serious nature of the crime, which could lead to a life prison term, and said Jacques had violated the terms of his probation.