Pushing Up Lilies

Innocence Lost: A Forensic Dive into Child Deaths

Episode Summary

Join me through the somber landscapes of true crime, on this episode of Pushing Up Lilies. In a heart-wrenching exploration, we delve into the tragic stories of young lives lost, shining a forensic light on the unsettling realities surrounding child deaths. "Innocence Lost" is a poignant journey that touches upon the inexplicable cases where innocence meets a sinister fate. As a forensic death investigator, I share stories that echo the vulnerability of children caught in the web of tragedy. Among these narratives, we shine a spotlight on the haunting case of the missing Texas girl, Audrii Cunningham. This episode is an unflinching examination of the shadows that envelope the most heart-wrenching cases. Join me as we navigate through the complexities of investigations involving children and reflect on the profound impact these stories leave on our understanding of justice and the fragility of innocence. Listener discretion. <><><><><><><><> Update: Tragic Discovery in the Case of Audrii Cunningham Dear listeners, I bring you an update on the heartbreaking episode, "Innocence Lost: A Forensic Dive into Child Deaths." It is with heavy hearts that we share the devastating news that the body of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham has been found. Our thoughts are with Audrii's family and all those affected by this profound loss. As we navigate through the aftermath of this heartbreaking revelation, we are reminded of the importance of raising awareness about the vulnerabilities of our youth and advocating for justice. Sincerely, Julie Mattson Host, Pushing Up Lilies

Episode Notes


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Episode Transcription

0:06 Welcome to Pushing Up Lilies.

0:08 I'm your host, Julie Mattson.

0:10 Pushing Up Lilies is a weekly True Crime podcast with spine tingling, unusual and terrifyingly true stories from my perspective as a forensic death investigator and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

0:24 Do I have some stories for you?

0:26 Are you ready?

0:31 Hey, y'all, I'm coming to you this week from Fargo, North Dakota.

0:36 I don't even know the temperature right now, but I can tell you I have been having to wear my coat.

0:40 I do think that everyone here would tell you that it is unseasonably warm and it's that way in Texas too.

0:47 I know when I left it was in the fifties or sixties and I heard it was supposed to be somewhere around the eighties later this week, we are here to see family who is in the hospital.

0:59 I'm just trying to get everything caught up and done while I'm here working on homework, working on the podcast and all those things.

1:06 But at least we're not having to fight snow and really bad weather and I've heard a few news stories while I'm here and it's always upsetting to me when Children go missing.

1:19 It's extremely aggravating that anybody would take a child or injure a child.

1:25 I really even hate talking about these stories, but it's real.

1:30 And so I don't want to sugar coat, you know what's going on in the world, the weird things that I see every day at the office, the things that you never would expect to see or happen, especially in our neighborhood, there is a case that is open now that I wanted to talk about and this is because it's an 11 year old girl who's actually missing in Texas.

1:53 She's still missing.

1:55 This little girl is, again, only 11.

1:57 Her name is Audrii Cunningham.

1:59 She was reported missing on February 15th, she did not show up for school.

2:08 She was apparently waiting for the school bus at around 7 a.m. The bus did not pick her up and she did not show up for school.

2:17 Now, the Polk County Sheriff's office and this is down around Livingston, Texas, which is about, I'm going to say halfway between Dallas and Houston, and I went through Livingston frequently when I lived in Houston because I would come back and forth to the Dallas area to see family.

2:37 This is also near Huntsville where the prison is.

2:41 Anyway, I was in that area a lot growing up as a kid, my aunt and uncle owned a fish market in Onalaska, which is very close to Livingston.

2:54 And we went there every year when I was a kid on July 4th weekend, and we would go fishing with my uncle who was an amazing fisherman.

3:04 I loved going out on the water with him.

3:06 Like Livingston had tons of catfish, which I absolutely love, and he knew exactly where to go catch them.

3:13 And so we spent a lot of time in that area when I was younger.

3:16 Haven't been there in a while again.

3:19 Audrii was last seen this last, well on the sixth in Livingston, she was waiting for her school bus.

3:28 I don't know how far from her house she was.

3:31 But John Stephen McDougall who is 42 years old was arrested on an unrelated charge of aggravated assault.

3:41 He is in jail now, but he is believed to be a person of interest because he drives a dark blue 2003 suburban and that vehicle is believed to be tied to her disappearance.

3:56 It is also known that McDougall is the roommate and friend of Audrey's father.

4:04 There was also a small backpack found near the Lake Livingston Dam.

4:09 Now we don't have a description of that backpack.

4:12 Police have not released that, but Audrii was carrying a red Hello kitty backpack when she disappeared.

4:19 Now McDougall has passed convictions of enticement of a child.

4:25 Why is this man even out of jail in the first place?

4:30 I mean, enticement is the act of luring persuading or enticing a minor who would be a person under 18 to engage in unlawful or inappropriate behavior.

4:42 This is often with the intent of committing a crime like abduction, trafficking, or sexual exploitation.

4:49 It can involve a lot of different tactics, offering gifts, giving them attention, making false promises.

4:58 And that's just in order to gain the trust in the cooper operation of the child enticement is a serious offense and is punishable by law in many jurisdictions.

5:08 Why is this guy out?

5:10 I'd like to know what his history is as far as what his bond was when he was arrested for enticement in looking him up.

5:18 He was convicted on two counts of enticement of a child back in 2008.

5:26 But he has previous arrests dating all the way back to 01 again.

5:31 Why are these guys out of jail?

5:33 Why do they continue to be released?

5:36 Why are they not being held there for crimes to be committed?

5:41 Again, this angers me so bad in all cases doesn't even have to be a kid.

5:47 It does not make sense to me why anyone would want to hurt a child.

5:51 This guy obviously, if you can look at his picture online, creepy.

5:56 I mean, this guy is somebody that you wouldn't even want to walk past on the street if you had a weapon in your pocket.

6:02 I mean, he does not, I don't even know how to describe it.

6:07 He looks mean, and I would not want to pass him in a dark alley.

6:13 I just can't imagine the horror of this poor girl if she did have a run in with him.

6:22 I just have a feeling because of his history and because his suburban was, I guess linked somehow to the disappearance and because of the fact that he does know her father, he has to have something to do with it.

6:36 Audrii's mother.

6:37 Cassie Matthews is the one that came forward and said that McDougall may be a friend of the father.

6:46 Now Audrii was last seen on February 15th.

6:50 She's a white female with blonde hair and blue eyes.

6:53 She's 4 ft one and weighs about £75.

6:58 She was last seen in black pants, a black hoodie with white lettering and black high top tennis shoes.

7:06 Now there is a $7000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible.

7:14 And if you do know anything, please call the Polk County Sheriff's office at (936) 327-6810.

7:23 Another case that I came across this week, and it involves Children as well.

7:29 This is two Colorado Children whose remains were found, one in a concrete filled container in a storage building and then one in a suitcase in a vehicle.

7:44 These two Children who were five and three at the time, Jesus Dominguez and Yesenia Dominguez.

7:56 Jesus being the eldest, he was five.

7:59 Yesenia was three.

8:01 They have not been seen since 2018.

8:04 Police just discovered last month that they had even been missing.

8:08 Ok.

8:09 The female Karina Rose Manjares who is involved in this with the father Jesus Dominguez.

8:18 She is not related to the Children.

8:20 She is Jesus Dominguez who's their father's girlfriend.

8:25 They were both arrested last week on two counts.

8:28 Each of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse in the death of Jesus Junior.

8:34 And Yesenia again, police did not even know these kids were missing until last month after Yesenia's body was found in the storage shed.

8:46 These kids now would be nine and 10 years old.

8:50 They have been missing since the summer of 2018.

8:55 And that's six years.

8:56 How sad.

8:58 I mean, did these kids not have grandparents that wanted to see them and questioned the parents as far as where they were and why were they not in school?

9:08 I mean, there's so many ways that this, I guess could have been discovered much, much earlier.

9:16 It may not have been able to be stopped but definitely could have been discovered much earlier.

9:23 Dominguez is 35.

9:25 Manjares is 36.

9:27 They are being held on $2 million bond in Pueblo County.

9:32 Now this all came about on January 20th, and this is this year when police responded to the report of suspicious activity, officers found a metal container in a storage unit filled with hardened concrete.

9:48 And then a couple of days later, it was determined that a girl was inside and then when her DNA came back, it was discovered that it was little Yesenia Police of course, then began looking at the two as persons of interest, the father, and the girlfriend.

10:07 Now a car belonging to Manjares was found in a scrap yard.

10:12 And when they searched the car for any evidence, they discovered the body of Jesus Junior in a suitcase.

10:22 And this was on February 2nd, they found Yesenia on January 20th and on February 2nd was when they found Jesus Junior.

10:31 And again, the DNA confirmed the identity of both of the Children.

10:37 But again, what confuses me a little bit and I'm sure that everyone out there is going to wonder the same.

10:43 Why were there no missing persons reports filed by schools, daycares, which the 2 may not have even been going to.

10:50 Obviously, the parents didn't care whether they were educated.

10:54 I mean, grandparents, neighbors.

10:56 I mean, you would think there would be somebody apparently, they had at one time told somebody who questioned it that the kids may have been in Phoenix, who knows what the story was.

11:06 Maybe they told them that they were visiting family, but the body of Yesenia was found in a storage building on the 20th at the 600 block of West Sixth Street where they found the metal container.

11:22 This guy is still being held.

11:25 Apparently, he's not talking because we don't know yet if he was involved, I'm sure they can do touch DNA on her suitcase again.

11:35 That's where you can just get touch DNA, which is maybe up to just even, I think seven epithelial cells on an object that someone has touched to link them somehow to the crime or to the missing person.

11:51 I'm sure they're doing that just takes a while to get that stuff back.

11:55 Obviously, he has a criminal record, so he's in the system.

11:59 If his DNA comes back, it'll be easy to figure out who’s it is.

12:05 Don't know yet.

12:06 Haven't heard the stories about anything else regarding this case.

12:11 I think we're just kind of at a standstill.

12:14 How sad.

12:16 I think they were also abusing government funds.

12:19 I'm wondering if they were getting some sort of government assistance for the Children and just continued to get the checks.

12:28 But these stories make me absolutely sick and I'm sure that all of y'all are the same.

12:35 You know, back when I was a kid, we rode our bikes everywhere.

12:40 We walked, we went blocks and blocks to see our friends and it was ok.

12:46 I mean, nothing bad happened.

12:49 I mean that we ever heard of anyway.

12:50 I mean, the stories on the news were like they are now where stuff like this just happens all the time.

12:58 We felt safe.

13:00 We rode our bikes to school again.

13:02 We rode to our neighbor's house, and we didn't have cell phones for our parents to call us and say, hey, come home or hey, where are you at?

13:10 Our parents would just sit at home and basically wait for us to ride up on our bicycles.

13:14 Confident that we would.

13:17 It's just horrifying.

13:18 I can't even imagine.

13:20 You can't let your Children out of your sight.

13:23 And there's so many crazy people out there.

13:26 My daughter, I just want to use this as an example because my eldest daughter lives in Memphis this week, her car was broken into for, I believe the third, maybe the second time breaking a window trying to hotwire it and steal it.

13:44 She doesn't drive an expensive car because of this.

13:48 I mean, this continues to happen.

13:51 Her last vehicle was stolen and then this vehicle has been broken into twice.

13:58 I mean, and this is in her own neighborhood.

14:00 I think the gate to her parking garage needs repair.

14:04 And so people are getting into the area where the vehicles are parked that should be secured but are not, it's just sad that there are so many criminals.

14:14 I do not understand.

14:15 And then again, people that have been in trouble before, been jailed before for enticing Children really like they're out walking around only to do it again.

14:28 It's sick.

14:30 I don't understand.

14:31 I don't understand people these days, things like this are going to continue to happen, watch your kids.

14:38 I mean, watch your kids and nothing bad about this mother.

14:42 I mean, you know, you expect the mother, you know, Audrii's mom, you expect to be able to put your kids at the bus stop.

14:51 You know, and there may have been other kids around, I'm sure they've interviewed other Children again.

14:55 I don't know who was in the area when she apparently disappeared.

14:59 I just know that from what I have read, she was not at the bus stop when the bus driver got there and did not report to school at all that day.

15:08 She's obviously missing.

15:10 It's very, very odd that this backpack showed up near the dam.

15:16 It has to be hers.

15:17 I would think even though we don't have a description of it because she did have one on and of course, the one that they found they just said appeared to be long to a child.

15:26 We're going to pretty much assume that it was Audrii's again.

15:30 Anybody who has any information on her case, please call the Polk County Sheriff's office.

15:38 Let me give you that number again, (936) 327-6810.

15:47 There is another case in Alabama.

15:49 This is involving a child, and this was back on November 1st of last year, Alabama tenants were actually prepared to move into a home when they found decomposing remains believed to belong to a 19-year-old man in a broken freezer.

16:06 All right, this discovery was made about 18 days after the man's father called the police and confessed to hurting his son.

16:13 The remains were found in Headland, Alabama, which is about, I guess 100 and 30 miles southeast of Montgomery in Henry County, people were cleaning up basically to get ready to move in and they tried to move the freezer and smelled an odor.

16:30 Guess what?

16:30 They discovered?

16:31 The caller said they saw a hand or a body part in the freezer and then called the sheriff's office at that point.

16:38 Ok.

16:39 This is going to be my question.

16:41 Why if he called 18 days prior and told police that he hurt his son, why would they not go to the house he used to live in?

16:50 Like, why was that not part of the investigation?

16:52 I just have to ask that again.

16:54 I'm not a police officer.

16:55 I come after the fact when I do my death investigations, but why would you not like chase down where this guy would obviously have been, which would have been his residence.

17:05 The freezer was broken, had it been working and the body still been frozen, there would not have been an odor.

17:12 But I would think if police had even gone there that they would have looked everywhere.

17:18 Now, the body was taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science for an official autopsy, but it was believed to be severely decomposed and believed to be the remains of 19-year-old Logan Halstead.

17:33 Now, this Logan who was 19 suffered from spina bifida and his parents were 44-year-old Michael Shane Halstead and 43-year-old Karen Tysinger Halstead, who have been charged with abuse of a corpse in connection to the case.

17:53 Now, their bonds were set at $175,000 each.

17:59 The man said during the court hearing that his wife, Karen had nothing to do with getting rid of their son's remains.

18:08 The Alabama Department of Human Resources has taken custody of the couple's other twin Children.

18:16 Halstead and his family moved out of that residence in September on October 11th, Halstead called the police in Headland and said that his son was in the freezer the same day.

18:31 He called the police, dad was arrested and locked up for about 10 days because he didn't show up in court for a domestic violence charge.

18:42 He said he was hearing voices, he said he had done something that he thought was wrong.

18:47 The police said that they had three officers respond and when they responded to the scene, nobody had lived there for several weeks.

18:55 Why would you not go in?

18:58 I mean, why would you not go in and look around?

18:59 Even if the house is believed to have been empty, he could have been buried in the backyard.

19:04 He could have been stuffed in a suitcase in a closet.

19:07 I mean, many things, but it, and this is kind of hard to believe.

19:13 They said that responding officers did look inside the freezer and found papers but not a body. Liars, you didn't look in the freezer.

19:23 You did not look in the freezer.

19:25 Now on Sunday, 18 days after Halstead called police about his son's body.

19:31 That's when the new tenants showed up and said that they had found their remains.

19:36 You know what?

19:36 He was already in there, he was in there and the police didn't look, I'm sorry, don't lie about it.

19:42 You cannot be a police officer if you can't tell the truth.

19:45 And I'm sorry, that's just the way that it should be somebody who would lie.

19:51 And especially in a case like that, one does not need to be an officer.

19:55 Now, the call came in just before 11:30 a.m. that day and when deputies arrived, they found the deceased body in the freezer in the backyard again, you don't even have to go in the house.

20:06 The dang thing is in the backyard open it kind of use a little bit of common sense.

20:12 These guys may not be detectives, but I'm sure they've seen CIS on television and kind of know where to look and what to look for.

20:20 The man's parents were found in Jack Alabama 60 miles northwest of Headland, which is where this occurred.

20:27 And they were brought back to Headland for questioning and then were eventually arrested.

20:32 Apparently the police in that area are still trying to gather evidence and pull some witnesses together to try to get a timeline as far as when this occurred.

20:41 He said that there may be additional charges filed and the office is meeting with the District Attorney's office to go over any new evidence.

20:51 Again, the sheriff's office there is asking that anyone with information, call the Henry County task force at (334) 585-3131.

21:03 And again, this occurred in Alabama, Headland, Alabama, and this happened just back on November 1st of last year.

21:16 It sickens me.

21:17 I mean, I can picture, I don't know these people or anything about them.

21:21 Obviously, they're not good people.

21:22 But I can picture in my head that they were probably getting government benefits for this kiddo because I mean, he was 19, still living at home, had spina bifida.

21:31 I don't know exactly what his disabilities are, but I can guarantee you that they were still collecting those benefits even though he had already been killed.

21:42 Just super sad.

21:44 I don't understand it at all.

21:47 And again, I hate to cover stories about Children and young people, but again, I don't want to sugar coat, you know, the things that we deal with every day, we have homicides.

21:59 Even in our town, our county is about, I guess probably a little over a million now.

22:05 And truth be known this happens a lot and it's not always obvious or evident.

22:11 Like dad calls the police and says, hey, my son's body is in the freezer and has been there for several days.

22:19 You know, sometimes we'll go to the scene and family has done something to the child and they know they have and sometimes their significant other knows they have, and they just pretend it was an accident and literally sit there acting completely innocent like they didn't know what happened and they had no idea what was going on, even if we suspect them.

22:41 Of course, me, when I ask questions, I don't accuse any specific person.

22:47 It's the police's job to find out who did it and make sure that that arrest takes place.

22:51 But I do still have a lot of questions to ask as far as say, if it's a young child, you know, part of the thing that we want to know is, you know, when did they last eat?

23:01 When were they last seen awake?

23:03 Were they born with any medical problems that could be related to the death?

23:08 We have a lot of co-sleeping cases. And again, I just encourage people not to co-sleep, but to have a little one in bed next to you.

23:18 Even if the beds are pushed up against the wall and you don't think that they can fall off of it.

23:24 That is not true.

23:26 They can fall between the bed and the wall and suffocate.

23:30 You can, in your sleep, when you don't even know what you're doing, because we move a lot.

23:35 My husband scared the crap out of me last night because in the middle of the night, while fast asleep snoring he starts screaming and literally my heart stopped.

23:44 I know I jumped out of bed, and I woke him up and I was like, oh my God, you just scared me to death.

23:48 He had a dream that somebody was chasing after him with a gun.

23:53 You don't know what you're doing when you're asleep.

23:55 I mean, we fidget, we roll over.

23:59 Some people kick, some people scream, I mean, just all kinds of things.

24:03 And if there's a little one next to you, even if you roll over on them and accidentally like, roll them onto their stomach, if they're small enough not to be able to raise their head, then they can suffocate, they cannot roll, they cannot move.

24:19 It doesn't mean you have to be laying on top of them.

24:21 You know, a lot of people I think, think, oh, if I roll over and, you know, if I'll feel them, but you may not be necessarily lying on top of them.

24:29 If you've moved them in any way and their head is against a pillow or a stuffed animal or a blanket or against a mattress, it could cut off their airway and cause them to suffocate.

24:41 And so we do have a lot of co-sleeping cases and I know a lot of those are not purposeful, but if you know that it can happen, why would you do it?

24:52 That's just my take on it.

24:54 It's very dangerous.

24:57 You know what? Call me?

24:58 If you need a bassinet, I'll send you a bassinet.

25:01 I just hate, hate, hate to see so many babies and children's life cut short by people who aren't paying attention or people who purposefully want to kill them or hurt them.

25:14 That's my soapbox for today.

25:16 We haven't had knock on wood very many child cases lately in our office.

25:24 I've had one recently hasn't been ruled on yet.

25:27 It's not really particularly suspicious.

25:31 Just kind of again waiting.

25:32 I wait anxiously for those to come back just so that I can see, you know, did I miss something at the scene?

25:39 Was there something that I didn't see that I maybe should have noticed.

25:43 And I try to learn from all my cases because I learn something new every day.

25:49 And that's one thing I love about this career.

25:52 This is my last week of this semester of undergrad school.

25:57 And so I have had two graduate classes and will be starting, officially, starting grad school.

26:05 I'm thinking maybe in May, they're going to make me wait until my BS actually confers and my grades come back.

26:13 But working, working, working towards my nurse practitioner for my med spa.

26:19 I've been trying to get that done this week at the same time.

26:23 We're traveling and there's just a lot going on anyway, I encourage again for everyone to go on my website.

26:32 Look at my Murder Merch store.

26:35 There's some really cool stuff there.

26:37 I'll be adding more stuff to that soon.

26:40 Also, if you have a story that you'd like for me to cover, please reach out.

26:44 I'd love to investigate it for you.

26:46 And again, even if you want to talk with me about it, I'd be glad to put you on there and you can be my guest host.

26:53 You can do it virtually, you can do it from your home.

26:56 Super easy.

26:57 We can do it over a Zoom.

26:58 We can record it and soon we'll have our Patreon account up so that you can see behind the scenes videos and get other specials for subscribing to our Patreon account.

27:10 I hope everyone is having a great week so far.

27:15 I hope the weather continues to be on our side and I look forward to talking to you all next week.

27:21 Stay safe.

27:23 Thank you so much for joining me today on Pushing Up Lilies.

27:27 If you like this podcast and would like to share with others, please do me a quick favor and leave a review on Apple podcast.

27:34 This helps to make the podcast more visible to the public.

27:38 Thanks again for spending your time with me and be sure to visit me at PushingUpLilies.com for merchandise and past episodes.