3-year-old’s body discovered in freezer of Detroit home; mother arrested

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Detroit — When a team of Detroit cops and a state child advocate arrived at a rundown house on the city’s west side Friday morning to conduct a wellness check, the woman who answered the door acted strangely, police officials said.

“She tried to push the officers away as if there was nothing going on,” Detroit Police Chief James White said. “Something was not right about the conversation.”

Their suspicions raised, the officers called for a supervisor and the team entered the home. They found five children living in squalor — and the decomposed body of another child, thought to be a 3-year-old boy, entombed in a basement freezer.

“This case has shocked me, and shocked our investigators,” White said during a Friday press conference down the street from the crime scene.

Following the discovery of the boy’s body, the woman was arrested and her five surviving children taken to a hospital, White said. Once their physical health is assessed, the children will undergo “Kid’s Talk,” a forensic interview with investigators and a child psychologist.

“The other kids who were in the home — just imagine what they’ve gone through,” said White, a licensed mental health counselor. “Imagine what they endured living in that home.

“You can imagine they’re all going to be suffering from some level of trauma. We’ll learn more in the coming hours and coming days after the kids are interviewed.”

In addition to interviewing the suspect and her children, investigators are looking into whether the woman had previous contacts with Detroit police or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, White said.

Toni Haynes, the boy’s grandmother, said she and other family members have called Child Protective Services “dozens of times.”

Haynes said her dead grandson’s name was Chayse Allen, and that he was blind. Haynes said she became suspicious when her daughter, Chayse’s mother, told her the boy had burned his hand by touching a plateful of noodles.

“I knew that was some bull—-,” Haynes said. “I called CPS on her. A lot of us called, and they’d come out and give her kids right back to her.”

Haynes said after the state visited her daughter’s home several times, her daughter told her Chayse had gone to live with his paternal grandfather’s girlfriend in Coldwater.

“But then (the grandfather) got out of jail and he told me Chayse wasn’t living with his girlfriend,” Haynes said.

She said family members went to the house on Monte Vista about two weeks ago to confront her daughter, followed by another call to state Child Protective Services.

Haynes said she had no idea how long Chayse had been entombed in the freezer.

“You wouldn’t believe how pissed off I am about this,” she said.

Investigators also did not know Friday how long the child’s body was in the freezer or whether his siblings knew he was interred there, police said.

Police didn’t say what triggered the wellness check by officers from the 2nd Precinct and a representative of the state’s Children’s Protective Services program. But after the team entered the home, “then this sad and tragic discovery happened,” White said.

“The house was in poor condition, and there is a lot of concern for the other children based on what we saw in the home,” the police chief said.

White said the officers who were at the scene are being offered counseling through the department’s Peer Support program.

Friday’s grisly discovery harkened to a 2015 case involving Mitchelle Blair, who enlisted the aid of two of her children to help kill their two siblings and cram their bodies into a freezer.

Known as the “Freezer Mom,” Blair pleaded guilty to first-degree murder charges and is serving a life prison sentence.

At the house on Monte Vista Street Friday, a collection of stuffed animals lined the front steps, while three children’s bicycles lay on the back lawn.

Next door neighbor Lynette Hardy said she had never met the boy whose body was found in the freezer. But she said she often bought clothing and food for the five other children, whom she described as “deprived.”

“I did help clothe them and feed them and take care of them,” Hardy said. “They were very loving children. As a matter of fact, the mother was loving.

“They didn’t have anything,” Hardy said of the kids next door. “In the winter I saw them with summer clothes on … summer shoes, some had no shirts.

“I picked up the children Saturday and (the mother and I) had a nice conversation,” Hardy said. “She asked me did I know of any tutoring programs for the children to learn how to read, and I gave her the best information I had.”

She said she was “devastated” to learn of Friday’s discovery in the house next door, and said she was under the impression the child was living with relatives.

“I never met him,” Hardy said of the boy. “(His mother) said that her aunt and uncle in Alabama had him … and that he was really adjusting.”

Hardy said she’s praying for the surviving children.

“I believe in prayer,” she said. “Those kids need a lot of attention. They need a lot of schooling. They need a lot of help.”

Haynes has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for Chayse’s funeral, and for clothing and other necessities for the surviving children.

“If anyone has anything other than money that they can donate to the children, we would greatly appreciate that too due to the mother being incarcerated,” Haynes wrote. She said the other children are girls aged 3 months and 9 years old; and boys aged 2, 5 and 7 years old.

“Please keep our family in your prayers,” Haynes wrote.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

Michigan students facing educational neglect is a ‘hidden problem’

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No one seems to know how many Michigan children are going without an education.

But a Free Press story about a 12-year-old Michigan girl, Jo, who struggles to read and has rarely stepped foot into a classroom, has some lawmakers and advocates contemplating ways to prevent educational neglect.

Jo’s parents did not send their three children to school, and told investigators with Children’s Protective Services that they were home-schooling Jo and her two siblings. But family members, friends and court documents contradict the parents' claim.

Michigan law requires little oversight over home-schooled students: Parents don’t have to register their children with the state or their local school district, like they do in other states. No state agency will investigate educational neglect claims unless they come with other claims of neglect or abuse.

After hearing Jo’s story, Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said he’s exploring what legislative reform might look like.

“I know that certainly Michigan could strengthen its laws around educational neglect,” Irwin said.

Defining educational neglect

Educational neglect can come in several forms, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit that advocates for home-schooled children. Possible scenarios include:

If a parent or caregiver fails to enroll their child in school at all, while also failing to educate them through home school. In some cases, parents may not be adequately home-schooling children or home-schooling them at all.

If a parent or caregiver enrolls their child in school, but fails to get them to school, causing at least five absent days a month.

Failure of a parent or school to meet special education needs for a child with a diagnosed disability.

According to the coalition, 24 states include educational neglect in their definition of abuse. Michigan is not among them.

The lack of state oversight means there is no data to suggest how widespread the problem might be in Michigan.

Jillian Ruck, executive director of Child USA, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit think tank dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect, said it is difficult to know how many kids across the country experience educational neglect.

“We don’t really know how many kids are not enrolled and so they kind of aren’t even on the radar,” Ruck said. “We think it’s hard to measure but we think it’s definitely more common than people think.”

Peri Stone-Palmquist, executive director of the Ypsilanti-based Student Advocacy Center of Michigan, said instances of educational neglect aren’t always intentional on the part of parents, but rather may signal that parents are struggling financially or in other ways.

“Some of these kids really want to go to school,” she said. “And their parents are really struggling to get that to happen.”

But quantifying the number of children missing out on education is a challenge.

“It’s definitely happening. … It’s such a hidden problem,” Stone-Palmquist said.

Getting kids to school

Ruck said she believes reform should happen at the state level.

States like Michigan without educational neglect statutes can’t prosecute parents or caregivers for educational neglect, she said. However, it is possible to prosecute parents if their child is truant from school.

“It does come to legal reform in the states of really establishing what is the baseline education that every child needs,” she said.

State lawmakers briefly weighed more oversight over home-schooled families in 2015, after a mother in Detroit abused and killed her two children, 13-year-old Stoni Blair and 9-year-old Stephen Berry, stashing their bodies in a deep freezer. Before they died, their mother, Mitchelle Blair, removed them from a local school to home-school them.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, then a state representative, introduced legislation after the children’s bodies were discovered.

Her proposal would have required parents and caregivers to register their children as home-schooled with their local school district and have the children meet twice a year with an adult outside the home.

Irwin said he is still researching whether Michigan’s problem lies in a lack of oversight of home-schooled students or a lack of enforcement of existing mandatory education laws, which require a child to be educated from ages 6 to 18.

“It’s clear that Michigan has essentially no rules for home-schooling,” he said. “But we do have rules and we have laws that prohibit neglect of children.”

In Jo’s case, Children’s Protective Services, an agency within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, knew the 12-year-old and her siblings were not receiving an education for at least a year before petitioning to temporarily remove the children from their parents due to other claims of neglect, according to court documents and transcripts. Jo’s case is currently pending in Wayne County.

Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson with MDHHS, wrote in an email that, generally speaking, the agency has no authority over educational neglect if that’s the sole allegation, but can investigate if it’s paired with other claims of abuse.

In a statement to the Free Press, Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote that adding more oversight over home-school education would be up to state lawmakers.

“A lack of oversight can result in an inadequate education that does not prepare kids for personal success in life. Michigan children deserve better,” she wrote.

Contact Lily Altavena: laltavena@freepress.com or follow her on Twitter @LilyAlta.

Man Accused Of Stuffing Grandma In Freezer — And Leaving Her To Die

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Robert Tincher III told police that he heard “numerous bones break” when he put his 82-year-old grandma in the freezer.

When 82-year-old Doris Cumming took a fall in her Armuchee, Georgia home in December 2021, her grandson could have called 911 for help. Instead, Robert Keith Tincher III allegedly wrapped her up in plastic bags, dragged her across the house, and forcibly stuffed her into a freezer, where she died.

According to People, Tincher, 29, hesitated to call for help because of an outstanding warrant for his arrest. In 2018, he had allegedly attempted to hire a hitman on Facebook to kill his wife and then failed to appear in court.

So when Cumming took a fall, Tincher took matters into his own hands. According to The Charlotte Observer, he placed plastic bags around his still-breathing grandmother and pulled her toward the freezer. He told police he heard and saw “numerous bones break” as he dragged her body and that “her back broke” when he crammed his grandmother into the small space.

“From what we determined, at the time, he believed she was still breathing and had some movement at the time she was going into the freezer,” explained Floyd County Investigator Brittany Werner.

Tincher kept the freezer at the home until March 2022, when he moved it to a storage unit. According to the Floyd County Police Department, that’s where investigators found Cumming’s body.

They had been notified by another family member who was concerned that Cumming was missing. The family member noted that Cumming may have moved out of the state, but they were concerned that nobody had heard anything from her in several months.

Police then found Cumming’s body in the storage unit. Their suspicion fell on Tincher, who had been living with Cumming before her disappearance and had apparently planned to move out of state with her.

He was arrested, booked into Floyd County Jail, and charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, and concealing the death of another.

Tincher has also been charged with a felony for his failure to appear in court in 2018. In that case, he allegedly asked a man over Facebook Messenger to put his then-wife Courtney “six feet deep.”

But though Tincher later described how his grandmother moved and breathed while in the freezer in “graphic detail,” according to a Floyd County Police Department news release, police say that Tincher did not kill Cumming following any “altercation or provocation.”

In fact, Tincher himself told police that he’d always gotten along well with his grandmother. He said that of all his family members, she was the only one who seemed to understand him.

“He said she was the only family member that gave him the courtesy and love and attention he needed,” Werner stated.

It’s currently unknown if Tincher, who remains in jail, has a lawyer through whom he can make a statement. Nor have any of Tincher or Cumming’s family members appeared to have spoken publicly about her death.

For now, the Georgie Bureau of Investigation is planning to conduct an autopsy on Doris Cumming’s remains so they can determine exactly when and how she died. Based on Tincher’s statements so far, however, it seems that she might have survived her initial fall if he’d only called for help.

After reading about the man who stuffed his grandmother in a freezer while she was still alive, see how Mitchelle Blair killed her children and hid their remains in a freezer for years. Or, learn about the 11-year-old Arizona boy who shot his grandmother after she asked him to clean his room.

This Week In History News, Apr. 3

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Massive stone spheres from the pre-Columbian era unearthed in Costa Rica, mysteries of the Venus of Willendorf statue unlocked, burials uncovered in Siberia’s “Valley of the Kings.”

Fabled Stone Spheres Of Pre-Columbian Legend Just Uncovered By Archaeologists In Costa Rica

Archaeologists in Costa Rica just unearthed six enormous stone spheres carved by the country’s pre-Columbian inhabitants more than five centuries ago — and the experts are absolutely baffled. Researchers believe that the Diquís people who made these spheres used them as decorative objects designed to symbolize power and adorn key places like public plazas and the entryways to chieftains’ homes.

However, even though archaeologists have uncovered some 300 of these stones to date, no one knows what their exact purpose was. Learn more about this stunning find and the ongoing mystery behind the stone spheres of Costa Rica here.

The Origins Of The 30,000-Year-Old “Venus Of Willendorf” Statue Have Been Traced To Italy

In 1908, an archaeologist digging along the banks of the Danube River near Willendorf, Austria made a striking find: a 30,000-year-old limestone statue of a voluptuous woman, since dubbed the “Venus of Willendorf.” Now, scans of the statue have revealed that it likely originated in northern Italy, nearly 600 miles away.

The origins of this 4.4-inch Ice Age statue have long baffled experts. For one thing, the Venus of Willendorf is made of oolite limestone, a material that isn’t native to Willendorf — or even found within a 124-mile radius.

Dig deeper in this report.

Archeologists Discover 2,500-Year-Old Burial Mound In Siberia’s “Valley Of The Kings”

Amid the sprawling green vista of the Touran-Uyuk valley in Siberia, a team of Polish and Russian archeologists has made a stunning discovery. There, within the so-called “Valley of the Kings,” they’ve uncovered a sixth-century B.C.E burial mound containing five people, including a woman buried with unusual honor.

The burial mound, called a kurgan, was likely constructed 2,500 years ago by the Scythians, a nomadic people who migrated west from Asia during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. It’s one of many mounds in the area, dubbed the “Siberian Valley of the Kings” because of the riches some of them contain.

Read on here.

Brittanee Drexel, The Teen Who Vanished While On Spring Break

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Even though her parents forbade her to go on the trip, Brittanee Drexel went anyway — and three days later, she vanished outside her friend’s hotel.

The maddening disappearance of 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel in 2009 left her friends, family, and investigators in shock. In April of that year, the Rochester native had secretly left New York for a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she vanished.

A cheerful teen who excelled at soccer, Drexel had reportedly grown increasingly depressed in the months leading up to her disappearance. At home with two parents embroiled in a divorce, Drexel was eager to get out of the house.

Though her parents permitted her to spring break at Lake Ontario with a friend, she instead drove to Myrtle Beach where, in a macabre turn of events, Drexel vanished outside of her friend’s hotel on April 25.

Then in 2016, Drexel’s case took an even more disturbing turn when an inmate asserted that she had been abducted and brutally killed that night — and investigators now consider her case a harrowing homicide.

The Disappearance Of Brittanee Drexel

Born on October 7, 1991, in Rochester, New York, Brittanee Marie Drexel had a pleasant childhood. Despite her biological father leaving the family in her infancy, her mother Dawn married a man named Chad Drexel who adopted and raised her as his own.

Though Drexel had been born with a rare eye disorder that required several surgeries and left her blind in one eye, she wore a contact lens to keep the right pupil from wandering and aspired to become a cosmetologist and model as a result. She also become proficient in soccer.

“She was full of life,” said her mother. “Brittanee’s heart was soccer; she was small, but boy, she could run fast, at lightning speed right down the field.”

The 17-year-old junior at Gates Chili High School was in a slump that year, however. After her parents separated in 2008, Drexel’s passion notably lessened while her grades began to slip. This only compounded when her parents initiated divorce proceedings in 2009.

Drexel proposed she spend Spring Break with her friends and boyfriend John Grieco in Myrtle Beach, which her mother swiftly forbade. Feigning acceptance, Drexel asked if she could spend her vacation at a friend’s on Lake Ontario, instead. With a green light for this, she drove off on April 22.

Drexel arrived at Myrtle Beach on April 23 and subsequently called her mom from the Bar Harbor Hotel where she and friends were staying. The following night, she went out clubbing with fellow Rochester friend Peter Brozowitz.

Dawn Drexel didn’t even know that her daughter’s boyfriend hadn’t even gone with her and was spending his break at home in Monroe County.

Around 8:00 p.m. on the night of the 25, Drexel made a mile-long walk to the BlueWater Resort where Brozowitz was staying. She had made this walk at least once before on the trip and had been in constant communication with her boyfriend back home throughout the day.

While BlueWater Resort security cameras showed Drexel arriving there safely, she then left the premises 10 minutes later. Brozowitz was the last person to see her alive.

While still replying to her boyfriend’s text messages after departing Brozowitz’s hotel, all communications from Drexel’s phone then suddenly stopped at 9:15 p.m.

The Frantic Investigations Begins

Concerned by her silence, Grieco texted Drexel that he would tell her mother about the Myrtle Beach trip if she didn’t reply. He did just that before asking a friend, a U.S. Marine stationed in LeJeune, North Carolina, to drive south and file a missing person’s report with the Myrtle Beach Police Department. It was now April 26.

“I think somebody saw her walking and offered her a ride and she got in the car with the wrong person,” Grieco later theorized.

In the immediate aftermath of Drexel’s disappearance, some of her friends stayed behind for an extra day to help find her before returning to Rochester. Local police combed Myrtle Beach, followed up leads that she was spotted at a bus stop and convenience store, but came up empty-handed.

Though her phone records showed that her last signal came from Georgetown County about 35 miles south, Drexel’s trail went cold for seven years after dozens of fruitless investigations.

While the FBI joined the search and offered a $25,000 reward for information, the first real lead only arrived in June 2016 when an inmate in the McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina made a startling confession.

His name was Taquan Brown, and he claimed to have witnessed Drexel being gang-raped at an abandoned “stash house” he frequented in McClellanville on April 27, 2009. “She had a black eye,” said Brown. “Like eight to 12 guys were in there, and they were having sex with her.”

He claimed that he was bringing money to a man named Shaun Taylor when he saw Drexel and claimed he then heard her killed. “As I see it, the guy in the front yard told me, ‘hold on a second,’ he had to go inside … and after he goes inside, I hear … Two gunshots. At this time I’m trying to get the hell out of there because I’m thinking someone has been shot.”

He added that Drexel’s body was likely left in an alligator pit.

Promising Suspects Meet Dead Ends

Investigators can partly corroborate this story of abduction and homicide. “What we’ve come to discover through the course of this investigation is that Brittanee Drexel did leave the Myrtle Beach area,” said David Thomas, special agent in charge of the FBI in South Carolina. “We believe she traveled to the area around McClellanville and we believe she was killed after that.”

But beyond Brown’s confession, investigators have little more evidence to make any arrests.

Serving 25 years for unrelated manslaughter, Brown’s description of the stash house was also corroborated by investigators. It was 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach and near where Drexel’s phone gave off its last ping. Brown said Taylor’s 16-year-old son Timothy Da’Shaun was present that day.

Investigators believe Da’Shaun likely lured her to McClellanville to be trafficked, but the disappearance garnered too much media attention to keep Drexel alive. Convicted of robbery in 2011, he failed a polygraph when asked about Drexel in March 2018 — but has never been charged with her murder.

While authorities brought federal charges against him in hopes of spurring a confession, it never came. Instead, Da’Shaun allegedly put a $15,000 bounty on Brown’s head for cooperating with police. In June 2019, Da’Shaun was sentenced to 319 days of time served for the 2011 robbery.

As of now, Brittanee Drexel’s disappearance is considered a homicide, and the FBI are still offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of her killers.

After learning about the disturbing murder and disappearance of Brittanee Drexel, read about the mysterious disappearance of Brian Shaffer from an Ohio bar. Then, learn about how nine-year-old Asha Degree vanished after leaving home on Valentine’s Day in 2000.