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Polly Klaas Case Led to Crucial Call : Crime: Apparent solution of 1976 kidnaping came because Petaluma tragedy aroused a woman’s suspicious about events in her own family.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Myisha Alvarez said it was the TV reports on the Polly Klaas kidnaping case, spotlighting the problem of missing and abducted children, that got her thinking again about some mysterious circumstances in her own family years earlier.

The mystery centered on a boy who was almost 5 when he suddenly appeared in her grandmother’s household in 1976. She said the grandmother insisted that the boy, whom the family knew as Henry Miller, was her son. But why did other relatives say they had never seen him before?

Alvarez, now 18, said she grew up in Riverside County believing that Henry Miller was her uncle, and they became close. But every now and then, something would happen to raise the questions again, she said--such as when, as a young teen-ager, Henry tried to get work and used a Social Security number his “mother” had supplied to him, only to be told it was invalid.

“That’s when I knew that the stuff I was hearing (as a child) was true,” Alvarez said.

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It was with that in mind, she said, that she watched the reports on the abduction of Polly Klaas, the 12-year-old taken from her home in Petaluma in October, and decided to phone the number of a child advocacy group she saw on TV.

Alvarez’s call set off a chain of events that may have solved a kidnaping case. It was a computer search by the child advocacy group, police said this week, that turned up clues that Henry Miller actually may be Kevin Portis, who was abducted from an Inglewood park when he was 4.

On Tuesday, the now 22-year-old Miller--or Portis--flew to Los Angeles meet the parents of that boy, Willie Mae Ruffin of Hawthorne and Kenneth Portis of Lompoc.

After a tearful embrace, both parents said they were sure he was their son. Inglewood police also said they believe he was the missing boy, although they were awaiting genetic tests to confirm it.

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The 22-year-old, who works in a gas station and a pet shop in Oakland, had no doubt. “I can feel it,” he said firmly during a short interview after arriving in Los Angeles.

Although the principals say they are convinced, much of the case remains a mystery.

Police said Wednesday that they had not been able to question Alvarez’s grandmother, who reportedly raised the boy in Riverside County, because she was out of the state.

Even the way the reunion was arranged was unclear: Alvarez was not sure which hot line she called. Police said they believed it was the Missing and Exploited Children’s Hotline in Sacramento. But a spokesman for that group could find no record of the call, while saying it was possible a volunteer forgot to log it.

Presumably, that organization--or another like it--punched details such as Miller’s age and race into a computer that has information on missing children, then sorted out possible matches.

Alvarez, who joined her “uncle” for the trip from Oakland, where she also lives, said she talked the matter over with him and then called the Inglewood Police Department on Dec. 21 to tell them that she believed he was the kidnaped youth.

“I should have done it a lot sooner,” she said of her call to the missing children’s group. “I just didn’t know how.”

Police said Henry Miller told them that, as a child, he had questioned his identity and later grew more suspicious when the woman who raised him had trouble giving documentation on his origins--such as a birth certificate.

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