We are all familiar with the stereotype of the evil stepmother. Literature and movies are full of sinister tales of children who were made to suffer at the hands of these villains. Thankfully, in real life, most women who take on the role of stepmother are loving people who cherish their stepchildren as if they were their own. Unfortunately, there are also those who not only live up to the stereotype but surpass it.
On June 14, 2014, Charlie Bothuell IV called police to report his son, 12-year-old, Charlie V, missing from their home in Detroit. The case quickly garnered national attention. Almost two weeks later, Mr. Bothuell appeared on the TV news program Nancy Grace. During the live broadcast, a bombshell was dropped when the father was informed police had just found his son alive in the basement of his house.
Mr. Bothuell and his wife, Monique Dillard-Bothuell, the child’s stepmother, were arrested and charged with torture and second degree child abuse. During the trial, Charlie testified that his stepmother forced him into the basement and told him to stay there no matter what. He heard her go upstairs and call his father, telling him his son was missing. The young boy recounted how he was deprived of food and forced to undergo an extreme exercise regime. He stated he was scared to come out of hiding, even when police were conducting a search of the basement, because his stepmother had threatened him. Mr. Bothuell was sentenced to 18 months of probation and ordered to attend anger management classes. His wife accepted a secret plea deal that involved no jail time. Her record was erased six months later.
In 2016, a concerned party walked into the Quarryville, Pennsylvania, police department and alerted officers to a case of child abuse. The woman, whose name has not been released, stated that on several occasions, spanning three months, she witnessed Danielle Miller physically and verbally abuse her four-year-old stepson.
An investigation revealed Danielle, 31, resented the boy because he was not hers. She forced the child to eat laxatives and hot sauce. She frequently bound his legs with tape, restraining him for hours. If he soiled his pull-ups, he was made to wear them all day. When she took the children to the fishing creek, he was forced to sit in the car while Danielle’s biological children played. The boy’s father, Nathan Duke, knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it. Danielle is currently facing trial on a host of charges, including false imprisonment and unlawful restraint. Nathan has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy.
8 Melinda Drabek-Chritton
On a cold February day in 2012, a 15-year-old girl was spotted wandering the streets of Madison, Wisconsin. When a good Samaritan noticed the girl was barefoot and only wearing pajamas, they contacted police. The girl told authorities she had been held captive in the basement of her family home, where she was sexually and physically abused. Her father, Chad Chritton, 42, her stepmother, Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 44, and stepbrother, Joshua Drabek, 20, were arrested.
During the trial, the teenager testified she was confined to the basement, which was equipped with an alarm and motion sensor. She was denied food, beaten, and forced to eat her own feces. She was also sexually assaulted by her stepbrother. The young girl told the court that while her father took part in some of the abuse, it was her stepmother whom she feared. Chad and Melinda Chritton were each sentenced to five years for reckless endangerment, child abuse, and causing mental harm to a child. Joshua was convicted of sexual and physical assault and also received a five-year sentence.
On the morning of January 13, 2011, five-year-old Celeste Lowe was sick from a stomach bug. Instead of bringing the child to school, her stepmother, Catherine, 34, brought the young girl to work. When they arrived home, her father, Wesley, 32, noticed his daughter was still vomiting. The couple rushed the little girl to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Tests revealed the time of death to be two hours prior to the child’s arrival. The coroner noted that rigor mortis had begun taking effect. He ruled the death a homicide, as a result of internal injuries that bled into the body cavity.
While being interviewed by police, Catherine and Wesley stuck to their story that Celeste simply had the flu and they did everything they could for her. But Catherine’s coworkers told investigators that the child was a pale blue color and was unable to stand on her own. They told her Celeste needed to see a doctor. Catherine said she called Wesley but he told her not to bring his daughter to the hospital because Child Protective Services would get involved.
Catherine was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Wesley was charged with negligent homicide, but those charges were later dropped.
On April 17, 1980, 13-year-old Chris Hobson was reported missing from his home in Overland Park, Kansas, by his father, Edward. Less than a month later, his body was discovered in a shallow grave. He had been shot in the head and chest.
Later that day, Chris stepbrother, James “Jimmy” Crumm, was taken into custody. Jimmy, 16, confessed to the murder and implicated his mother, Sueanne, 39, and his friend, Paul Sorrentino, 16. The teenager told police his mother had previously tried to kill Chris by poisoning his ice cream. When that failed, she enlisted the help of the two teenagers. She told them she wanted her stepson gone by Christmas so she wouldn’t have to buy him any presents.
On the night of the murder, Jimmy and Paul picked Chris up at the Hobson residence. The three boys drove through some back roads and stopped at a dead end. They had Chris dig a shallow grave and told him to get in to try it out. On the count of three, Paul and Jimmy took turns shooting the teenager.
Paul, Jimmy, and Sueanne were each sentenced to life in prison. Sueanne was released in 2011. She is currently living with her husband Edward.
On November 25, 2015, police were called to the home of Michael and Heather Jones for a domestic disturbance. While investigating that incident, officers learned the couple’s son, seven-year-old Adrian, had not been seen for months. A few days later, police served a search warrant on the property and found human remains in the barn. DNA testing confirmed it was Adrian.
Though little information was released, the district attorney revealed the little boy had been horribly abused, neglected, and his body fed to pigs. Officials said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen.
Heather Jones, 30, pleaded guilty to murdering her stepson and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. Michael, 45, was charged with first-degree murder and is currently awaiting trial.
On November 20, 2010, Renee King, 29, of Macomb County, Michigan, called 911 to say her stepdaughter, two-year-old Lily Furneaux, was unconscious. When first responders arrived, Renee claimed her back gave out while she was bathing Lily, causing her to drop the child.
The coroner determined Lily had died at least two hours before her stepmother called for help. In addition, the injuries sustained were inconsistent with Renee’s explanation. The little girl had suffered at least 20 blows to the head and had a penetrating injury to her vagina.
Renee was arrested and charged with felony murder, child abuse, and criminal sexual conduct. During the trial, it was revealed the she was upset with Lily because she frequently soiled her pants and had temper tantrums. Renee was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Due to the heinous nature of the crime, the judge added an additional 30–50 years for the sexual assault and five to seven years for child abuse.
Zahra Baker was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia, on November 16, 1999. Her mother suffered from post-natal depression and was unable to care for the little girl. She relinquished custody to Zahra’s father, Adam Baker. At the age of five, Zahra was diagnosed with bone cancer. As a result, she lost part of her left leg and her hearing. In 2008, when the young girl’s cancer went into remission, they moved to the United States with Adam’s new wife, Elisa, to get a fresh start.
On October 9, 2010, Adam called 911 to report Zahra missing from their home in Hickory, North Carolina. He told the operator someone had set fire to his property the day before and left a ransom note for his boss’s daughter. He thought the kidnappers took Zahra by mistake.
During the investigation, it was discovered that no one had seen the girl for at least two weeks. When questioned by police, Elisa broke down and confessed to murdering her stepdaughter. She told officers she had dismembered Zahra in the bathtub and scattered her remains at various sites. She tried to implicate Adam in the murder, but police eliminated him as a suspect. Elisa pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years. In 2013, she gave an interview stating she was innocent, and it was Adam who really murdered Zahra.
Lauren Wright, of Welney, Norfolk, UK, was only six years old when her life was tragically cut short on May 6, 2000. Unwanted from the day of her birth, she experienced nothing but pain and suffering. In 1997, while on holiday in Turkey, she was abandoned by her mother. When she was brought back to the UK, her father, Craig, was awarded custody.
In 1999, Craig married Tracey Scarff, a school playground supervisor. He and Lauren moved in with Tracey and her two children. Tracey instantly resented her stepdaughter. She would openly discriminate against her while lavishing love and attention on her own children. When she began physically abusing Lauren, Craig turned a blind eye. The little girl was often seen with bruises on her face, injuries Tracey always explained away. In 2000, Lauren’s teacher became worried and met with Tracey. Tracey claimed Lauren was being bullied at school. Later that year, concerned neighbors began calling social services. Norfolk social services noticed the girl was underweight, covered in bruises, and her hair was falling out. The pediatrician who examined Lauren reported her injuries were consistent with Tracey’s explanations. Social services returned the child home to her family. More calls were made to the organization, but they were not properly investigated. After suffering unimaginable abuse that left the young girl bedridden and unable to eat or drink, Lauren died from a blow to the stomach that caused her digestive system to collapse.
Craig, 38, received a sentence of six years. His wife Tracey, 31, was sentenced to 15 years. While in prison, she was attacked by inmates. Upon hearing how the system failed Lauren, a local MP called for a public hearing into the little girl’s death.
Heather Leavell Keaton, 26, was jealous of the attention her stepdaughter, five-year-old Nathalie DeBlase, received. She segregated the little girl from her grandmother, causing Nathalie to become withdrawn. Heather didn’t appreciate being ignored, so she began physically abusing the child. She would often put antifreeze in the little girl’s sippy cup.
On March 20, 2010, Heather gave Nathalie too much antifreeze, causing her to become violently ill. When the little girl began screaming in pain, Heather and her common law husband, John DeBlase, 30, duct-taped Nathalie’s hands and feet and placed her in a suitcase. In an act he calls a mercy killing, John choked his daughter to death. The couple drove to the woods and disposed of the body.
John’s son, three-year-old Chase, began asking where his sister was. The couple were worried he would mention something in front of relatives. Three months after murdering Nathalie, Heather dosed Chase with antifreeze, tied him to a broom handle, and left him in the bedroom overnight. He was then strangled by his father and his body dumped in the woods.
Both Heather and John were found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death for their horrific crimes, making Heather the first woman in Mobile County, Alabama, to be sent to death row.