Though he was able to conceal his crime from Manassas Park authorities for more than a year, James B. Moore pleaded guilty yesterday to strangling his estranged wife and burying her in a shallow grave in January 1998.

Lisa Maureen Moore, 32, disappeared without a trace on Jan. 7, 1998, setting off months of fruitless searches and speculation. Shortly after the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, James Moore admitted to police that he choked her to death, and he then led authorities to her remains in a wooded lot in Manassas.

Moore, 36, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Prince William County Circuit Court yesterday, a conviction that could put him behind bars for 40 years. As part of a plea agreement, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Richard Conway recommended that he serve 25 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Detectives have said that although Moore was the only suspect in his wife's disappearance, they had not found enough evidence to arrest him. Moore detailed the crime to investigators on Jan. 13, when he was scheduled for a regular "briefing" on the case.

In testimony yesterday, Manassas Park investigator Anthony DeFelice said Moore killed his wife during a heated argument. DeFelice testified that Lisa Moore had gone to James Moore's house on the night of Jan. 6, 1998, to discuss divorce and the custody of their children. The couple had been separated for three months.

After strangling his wife, Moore jumped into her pickup truck and drove to a Days Inn hotel in Prince William County before jogging home and putting her body in the trunk of his car. He later wrapped the body in plastic and buried it.

Moore originally told police that he had last seen his wife the night before she disappeared, when she supposedly had fallen asleep on his couch.

The couple's three children, now 14, 9 and 6, lived with James Moore until the time of his arrest and are now living with his brother, though Lisa Moore's family is battling for custody.

Several of Lisa Moore's relatives attended yesterday's hearing, wearing photos of her on their lapels. A few broke into tears during testimony. Her older sister, Cathy Banks, said the family is still trying to understand what happened.

"None of this is going to put her back into our lives," Banks said. "I hope that this is hurting Jimmy as much as it is hurting us. That year was a year of hell."