Chicago authorities have charged the parents of a 5-year-old boy with murder after finding his body in a shallow grave about 7 miles from his home in the suburb of Crystal Lake.
Investigators found Andrew “AJ” Freund wrapped in plastic in a remote area of Woodstock, Illinois, after a weeklong search, Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said Wednesday. Police and FBI officials had questioned the boy’s mother and father, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr., overnight after discovering incriminating information from a forensic analysis of cellphone data, Black added.
“Once presented with the evidence obtained by investigators, both JoAnn and Andrew Sr. provided information that ultimately led to the recovery, what we believe is the recovery of deceased subject AJ,” the chief told reporters.
Black did not say how the boy died, but that the coroner had been on scene.
Cunningham and Freund had told police that they last saw their son around 9 p.m. April 17. The next day, Freund called 911 and told the dispatcher that after returning from a doctor’s appointment around 8:30 a.m., the 5-year-old had vanished.
“We canvased the park, the local gas station down here where we sometimes take him to buy treats,” the father said, according to a recording of the 911 call. “I have no idea where he would be… We’ve checked closets, the basement, the garage, everywhere.”
Authorities searched the area for a week, bringing in canine units and asking neighbors to submit footage from home surveillance cameras. Police had said there were no signs that someone had kidnapped AJ and that his mother was not cooperating with the investigation.
Officials had previously documented the concerning, squalid living conditions of the home before AJ died. In the past five years, Crystal Lake police visited the residence 10 times for a variety of reasons, from a dog being off leash to a request for protection, according to records.
In December 2018, while arresting Cunningham for driving on a suspended license, an officer noted in his incident report that the living conditions were not “up to an acceptable standard of living,” citing dog feces and urine scattered around, several broken windows, “jagged and broken off” flooring, and piles and bags of clothes on the kitchen table and couch.
“Upstairs in the room where [AJ and his younger brother, Parker] slept the window was open and the smell of feces was overwhelming,” the report stated.
During his review of the home, the officer also noted that the day was cool and most of the windows were open, but the boys were running around dressed only in pull-ups.
Parker Freund had a large bruise on his hip, prompting the officer to call the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The caseworker arrived at the police station that day and interviewed AJ and his brother, but was unable to determine if the boys had been abused.
When the officer followed up with Cunningham a few days later, he asked about the boy’s bruise. She told him that it might have been from the dog, a football, or a belt — “she had no idea,” the report stated.
A few months earlier, officers arrived at the home to check on the boys after someone reported that the family had been living “without power and in bad conditions” for weeks. However, the officer reported that both children appeared to be happy and healthy.
While AJ was missing, DCFS officials removed Parker, who is 4, from the home as police scoured the neighborhoods. His custody hearing is scheduled for next week.
On Wednesday, local reporters captured investigators carrying out evidence from AJ’s home, including a large plastic bin, a shovel, a child’s mattress, and bags of clothes.
Authorities charged Cunningham, who is also 7 months pregnant, with five counts of murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery, and one count of failure to report a missing child or their death.
Freund also faces five counts of murder, as well as two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of concealing a homicide, and one count of failure to report a missing child or child death.
According to state law, each action an individual takes that contributes to another person’s death counts as a murder charged, Deputy Chief Tom Kotlowski told BuzzFeed News.
“We can’t say the details of exactly what happened to AJ, but based on the actions of the offenders and each action taken, that’s why those charges were added,” he said.
Cunningham and Freund remain in custody while they await their bond hearing.