Convicted killer William F. Hurley, in an emotional court appearance yesterday, acknowledged that he strangled his estranged wife in 1983 and buried her body in a remote area of Montgomery County. His unexpected admission comes four years after an unusual trial in which Hurley was convicted despite the inability of police to find the victim's body.

Hurley, serving a 10-year prison term for manslaughter, pleaded not guilty at his well-publicized trial in 1983, and prosecutors later said his conviction was the first of its kind in the county -- a defendant found guilty of a killing in which no body had been discovered.

Catherine Hurley's remains finally were unearthed last year off a secluded road near Damascus after a girlfriend of Hurley's alerted police. Yesterday, while Hurley was appearing in Circuit Court to be sentenced for additional crimes, he acknowledged his crime and told Judge William M. Cave how the body got there.

His attorney, Joseph Suntum, said Hurley wanted to demonstrate his remorse and "clear the air" about the killing. Cave sentenced him to 11 years in prison for arson, theft and suborning perjury. Deputy State's Attorney Matthew Campbell, who had recommended a 20-year sentence, had no comment afterward.

The 11-year term will not begin until after Hurley completes his 10-year sentence for manslaughter.

Hurley, who was 35 and separated from his wife in 1983, said he was distraught over their divorce proceedings and the poor financial health of his once-successful office-cleaning business in Rockville. On Aug. 11 that year, when his wife stopped at his business to collect child support payments, he said, they argued and he lost control.

He said he knocked her down, then strangled her. Catherine Hurley, 34, had left her 5-year-old daughter outside in a car. Hurley said he drove the girl to his home in Rockville, then returned to his business. He then placed the body in a truck, he said, and buried it off Brink Road, near Damascus.

Investigators eventually came to believe that the missing Catherine Hurley was dead and charged her estranged husband with the killing.

Shortly before his trial was to start in December 1983, Hurley said yesterday, he returned to the grave to make certain his estranged wife's remains were undisturbed. He said he discovered her skull, picked it up, and later tossed it in a river.

Two years after his conviction, when investigators found her remains, there were suggestions that her killer had decapitated her. Suntum said yesterday that one reason his client decided to tell his story was to put such speculation to rest.