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Chef in U.S. murder trial said he boiled wife's body for 4 days

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles-area chef charged with murdering his wife, whose body has never been found, told investigators he cooked her corpse for four days in a vat of boiling water to dispose of the remains, tape recordings of his account showed.

David Viens, 49, whose lawyers were to begin presenting his defense at trial on Wednesday, made the statements in March 2011 under questioning about the 2009 disappearance of his 39-year-old wife, Dawn.

At the time of the two interviews, he was recovering from injuries he had suffered weeks earlier from leaping off a cliff in an apparent suicide attempt. He has appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Viens, a chef who owned a restaurant with his wife in the town of Lomita, south of Los Angeles, told detectives in the recordings that during a quarrel with his spouse he bound and gagged her with duct tape and went to sleep.

Viens, who has pleaded not guilty to murder, was vague about the reason for the fight, saying in the taped interviews that it "seemed like it had to do with her stealing money." But he said he awoke hours later to find her dead, panicked and decided to dispose of her body by boiling it.

Viens then described in grisly detail how he placed her corpse face down into a large vat that held the entire body, and kept it submerged with weights.

"And I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days," he told detectives in one of the two recordings played in court on Tuesday.

"You cooked on Dawn's body for four days?" one sheriff's sergeant is heard asking Viens, to which he replied, "Before it was done." He added that he then let the remains cool, "strained it out" and disposed of what was left in garbage bags mixed in with other debris and waste in a dumpster.

He also told detectives in the recordings that he believed he may have had one bag of body parts left over, saying, "I'm confused now, and - because of these dreams and stuff I've had. I think the skull is there ... In my mother's attic."

Sheriff's Sergeant Richard Garcia testified that detectives searched the attic in Viens' mother's home but found nothing.

Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Fred McCurry, the sergeant acknowledged there was no physical evidence to establish how Viens' wife died, or that establishes that her body was disposed of by cooking.

(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom)