#CrimeTime with Alicia Dean ~
I love watching true crime shows…as long as they are about murder…, and I watch them every night. (Since I write suspense, thriller, and mystery, it’s not a waste of time…it’s research, right? 🙂 Each week, I blog about some of the recent episodes I’ve seen and I’d love to know your thoughts. (this is a 20/20 episode, rather than an Investigation Discovery episode)
One of my short stories, Blood and Breakfast, is about a crime junkie who gets a little closer to murder than she anticipated. You can buy the Kindle version here for only $1.99 Blood and Breakfast – It’s also part of a print book with 6 other scary stories: A Collection of Friday the 13th Stories…
20/20, “The Accused”
Wilmington, Illinois – June 6, 2004
On the weekend of June 6, 2004, Melissa Fox and a group of friends participated in the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer in Chicago, where she stayed for two nights. Her husband, Kevin, stayed home with her son, Tyler and her three-year-old daughter, Riley. Riley was a beautiful, happy, cherished toddler, who was especially close to her daddy.
Early Sunday morning, Tyler woke up Kevin to tell him that Riley was missing. Thinking she had to be somewhere nearby, Kevin searched the house and yard. After 30 to 40 minutes, Kevin called the non-emergency number for police. He reported finding his front door open and Riley’s yellow blanket still on the couch, where she had been sleeping.
Melissa called in to check on the kids, and Kevin told her Riley was missing.
“He sounded so startled. I knew immediately something was wrong,” Melissa said. “He just said, ‘Riley’s gone,’ and I immediately hit the ground and the phone fell out of my hand.”
Melissa hurried back home. Word of Riley’s disappearance had spread and multiple search parties were out looking for her.
After several hours, the police separated Melissa and Kevin into two different police cars. Melissa had no idea what was going on. What she didn’t know, what neither of them knew, was that volunteers had found little Riley’s body in Forked Creek.
The baby was lying face down in the water wearing only a shirt. Duct tape covered her mouth and there was duct tape residue on her wrists, indicating she’d been bound. An autopsy later determined she’d been drowned and sexually assaulted.
From that moment forward, Melissa never stepped foot in the house where Riley had disappeared from again.
A pair of adult tennis shoes were found in the water nearby. On the tongue were three letters, EBY. Police never followed up on those shoes. Additionally, there was a break-in reported at the house next to the Foxes’. That was also never followed up on nor connected.
At Riley’s funeral a few days later, attendees wore pink, the little girl’s favorite color. Nearly 6,000 people attended.
Police focused their investigation on Kevin as Riley’s killer. After the funeral, police came to Melissa’s house and asked her if she thought Kevin was capable of doing this. She immediately said, “No.”
Almost three weeks after Riley’s murder, the detectives asked to speak to Riley’s brother, six-year-old Tyler. Melissa and Kevin agreed.
For over an hour, a forensic interviewer questioned Tyler about Riley’s disappearance. On a videotaped recording, Tyler was seen crouching into his chair, covering his face and crying while the interviewer questioned him. He told the interviewer 168 times that his father had nothing to do with the disappearance of his little sister. When Melissa saw the recording later date, she was distressed. She only allowed her son to be questioned because she trusted the detectives. She had no idea he’d be treated in such a manner.
Months went by with nothing happening on the case. On Oct. 26, 2004, Melissa and Kevin received a call from the sheriff’s office asking them to come in as there were new developments in the case.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is it. They found the person,” Melissa said. “We were just grinning from ear to ear like we’re finally going to know what happened.”
But when they arrived, they were separated and Kevin was taken to a backroom for questioning. Something didn’t feel right to Melissa. She’d been telling police for months to stop looking at her husband. He had nothing to do with Riley’s murder but it sounded like he was their main suspect.
About eight hours into Kevin’s interrogation, police told Melissa Kevin had agreed to take a polygraph exam and that he had failed. Melissa said she then spoke to her husband. She said the sergeant overseeing the investigation pulled her out of the room, yelled obscenities in her face and insisted to her that Kevin had murdered their child. The Will County Sheriff’s Office has denied these claims.
At approximately 8 a.m., Will County detectives said Kevin had confessed to killing his daughter. He had been questioned by police for 14 hours and hadn’t slept in more than 24.
According to the detectives, Kevin confessed that he had accidentally killed Riley when he opened the bathroom door and struck her in the head early Sunday morning and that he then staged her death to look like an abduction and murder. Police said that he sexually assaulted Riley as part of the cover-up and dumped her body in the creek.
Melissa still stood by him. She was certain his confession had been coerced.
I have never really understood how people end up confessing to something they didn’t do, even with the grueling interrogation by police. To me, they should just ask for an attorney and the interview would stop. But I guess people don’t always think about doing that. I’ve heard that only the guilty think of asking for an attorney to prevent an interrogation. I guess I think of it because of all the murder shows I’ve watched. But it’s disconcerting to know I think like a criminal. 😊
Kevin’s brother, Chad, contacted famed attorney, Kathleen Zellner, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the country, who had helped exonerate nearly two dozen innocent people.
The Will County State’s Attorney filed first-degree murder charges against Kevin Fox and announced they were planning to seek the death penalty against him for the murder of his daughter. Kevin vehemently denied killing Riley, claiming the detectives threatened and coerced him into giving a false confession. The investigators have denied threatening Kevin and coercing him to confess.
Zellner and her PIs began to investigate. They went to Wilmington where they reenacted the crime. The DNA results from the state crime lab were initially inconclusive but Fox’s attorney sent it in for more sophisticated technology, which determined the DNA was not a match.
She quickly began poking holes in the Will County Sheriff’s Office investigation and Kevin’s confession. For example, she alleged that the current of the creek wasn’t strong enough at the spot where Kevin said he’d placed Riley’s body to move her to the location where she was found. As she stated, a confession is not a slam dunk. It is only one piece of evidence and it has to be investigated and corroborated. However, to most jurors, a confession alone is enough for a conviction.
When DNA results came back, they excluded Kevin, but did not identify the real killer. He was released from jail the next day and the charges against him were dropped. He had spent eight months in jail wrongfully accused of his daughter’s murder.
I can’t imagine how traumatic this must have been for a family grieving the horrific murder of their child and then to have the father jailed for nearly a year.
Upon Kevin’s arrest, Zellner filed a civil rights lawsuit against Will County, the Will County Sheriff’s Office, multiple sheriff’s detectives who investigated the case, the former Will County State’s Attorney, the polygraph examiner and the forensic interviewer who spoke with Tyler, and others.
Zellner’s claims for Kevin Fox included violations of due process, false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and conspiracy. For Melissa Fox, claims included conspiracy, loss of consortium, and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against one detective.
“This was not about incompetence. This was a case where we had to show that there was some malicious intent,” Zellner said.
Just before the trial, the former state’s attorney who filed charges against Kevin negotiated a resolution with the Fox family without admitting wrongdoing. They ended up awarding the family 15.5 million but it was later reduced to 8 million.
The attorneys for the detectives had said one of the reasons they suspected Kevin was that they found no sign of forced entry into the Fox home and that he didn’t immediately call police. Melissa and Kevin said the lock on their back door had been broken and wouldn’t lock.
After the civil trial, the Fox family turned its attention to finding Riley’s real killer.
In 2009, the FBI took over the case. A woman came forward and said that they needed to look at her boyfriend at the time. He was living with her and he acted strangely when Riley was murdered. They were walking past a memorial and she said, “So sad about that little girl.” And he replied, “Yeah, what a shame.” But it was said in a cold manner.
The FBI followed up and learned the boyfriend, Scott Eby, was serving time for a sexual assault against a relative. They went to see him in prison. He was cooperative but denied any involvement. When they were leaving, they shook hands. The female FBI agent remarked to her partner, “That’s the clammiest handshake I’ve ever felt.”
Eby placed a call to his mother after the agents left. The call was recorded. He told her to drop whatever she was doing and come see him. He said it would be the last chance he had to hug and kiss her. She asked if he’d done something bad and he said he did something really really really bad.
FBI agents spoke to him again and, at first, he asked for an attorney. So, they had to end the questioning. They left him alone in the interview room. After about 75 seconds, he looked up at the camera and said, “I changed my mind. I’ll talk to you.”
They went back in, and he confessed everything. He told them in detail about how he’d taken Riley from her couch and stuck her in his trunk. He’d just broken into the house next door and went in to the Foxes’ house with the intent of robbing them also. He found nothing of value but spotted the sleeping child, and something compelled him to snatch her. He took her to the park into a restroom where he assaulted her. At one point, the bandana he wore slipped from his face, so he knew he had to kill her. He said one of the last things she said was, “I want my daddy.” He drowned her in the creek and tossed his shoes, because he was afraid his footprints would be matched to them. He said that, right after he’d done it, he realized how stupid it was. He expected any moment to be arrested. So, the shoes found near her body with ‘EBY’ written on the tongue belonged to him, and literally had his name on them. It was also learned that Eby attempted suicide the day Riley went missing. He was living in the same neighborhood and police came out after being called about his suicide. He asked them about the missing girl. He vomited while talking to them. And they never investigated him. Additionally, a red Chevy Beretta was seen Saturday night driving through the neighborhood. That was not investigated, but it turned out that it was the car Eby drove.
Eby pleaded guilty in 2010 and Melissa finally faced her daughter’s killer in court. She described him as “pathetic.” Speaking directly to Eby in a victim impact statement, Melissa called him a monster, a coward and a “disappointment to his mother, family and society.” She requested that he not be given the death penalty so that he had to spend the rest of his life thinking about what he’d done.
I can’t say that I agree. Monsters like that likely don’t have a conscience and won’t suffer over what they’ve done.
Eby was sentenced to life in prison without parole. For Melissa, justice was bittersweet.
Years after Riley’s murder, Melissa and Kevin had another child — a daughter — but their marriage couldn’t survive the trauma their family had endured. They moved, got divorced and are both now remarried with new families.