Heartbreak Hill – The Search For The Body Of Baby Joshua and The Hunt For His Killer.
The morning of August 13, 2013 was your typical Chicago area late summer day. Temperatures were projected to hit the upper 80 s with high humidity. I received a call around 8:15 AM from one of my Assistant Commanders Kyle Helgesen who was also a Zion Detective. Kyle was at the scene of a possible child kidnapping.
Joshua started crying in the early morning hours and his mother, Kisha Summeries, went to quiet him. At around 8:00 a.m., Joshua’s mother’s boyfriend, Demetries Thorpe went to check on the infant again reporting Joshua had been abducted by a man who reached through an open window into the garden floor apartment. Thorpe told the hysterical mother he tried chasing the would be kidnapper losing sight of him. When Kisha asked him more questions, about not calling the police, Thorpe fled.
Not having all the facts and considering the urgency of the situation, we concurred, a full Task Force call out should be initiated. By the time I arrived at the scene, local K9 officers and Zion officers had begun a methodical search of the area. I was approached by our Chief Evidence Technician Terry Richards who was also a patrol Sergeant with the Zion Police Department. Both Terry and Kyle immediately expressed some concerns about the scenario. The fact that Thorpe had left the scene was a red flag. However it was determined that Thorpe had an active warrant for his arrest which could explain his quick exit from the scene. Another issue was Thorpe’s account to Kisha that he had observed a subject reaching through an open window and snatching Joshua from his crib. As many times a we attempted to reach through the window it was impossible to reach the crib as Thorpe had described. Without Thorpe being able to demonstrate what he observed we continued to treat this as a valid child abduction.
Within hours word had spread that an infant had possibly been abducted. We started receiving calls from surrounding agencies offering resources. As a former Critical Incident Response Instructor I always preached control and containment. The first hour of a Critical Incident could easily spiral out control with too many resources.
Our team first began making an assessment of what we were up against. We were already into the second hour making time a factor. We were also working on two theories, a kidnapping or possibly some type of coverup. Another issue was establishing a wide enough controlled search area. We needed manpower to assist in a search of a densely populated area. The area was also the territory of an extremely violent street gang that controlled drug trafficking in the neighborhood. Our team had handled a few homicides related to gang and drug activity in this neighborhood. A simple knock on a door during a canvas presented many different officer safety issues. During the briefing I was told it was also garbage day as well. We secured several blocks and canceled garbage pickup in that area.
We contacted specialized search dogs including blood hounds from surrounding counties. As our detectives started arriving we began a canvass of the immediate area looking for witnesses and video. We still needed to address the overall search and officer safety.
We finally caught a break when I was contacted by the Commander of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System (NIPAS). This is a highly specialized unit consisting of officers from over 85 surrounding agencies. There are two components to NIPAS, the Emergency Services Team (EST) ,a more public friendly name for SWAT, and Mobile Field Force,a highly trained crowd control unit. NIPAS doesn’t respond to these types of situations, however when word got out this was infant kidnapping all hands were on deck and approval was obtained. The structure, training, resources and professionalism immediately made percentages of a recovery rise.
We set up two command centers which goes against a unified command center. We made it work. We assigned one of our Assistant Commanders to NIPAS as a communications link. Our investigators were teamed with EST units to begin a coordinated search in the high risk area. Along with every team a K9 was assigned. This plan went on without one issue.
During the search our crime scene technicians were still working on the scene attempting to reconstruct the story we had been provided. At a certain point this turned into a recovery. We believed that Thorpe’s story was concocted to cover something more sinister.
Our detectives located a video camera located on a home directly in back of the apartments Joshua was missing from possibly giving us a full view of the the alley and two sides of the building. Unfortunately the homeowners were out of town. We made every effort to locate them. A few hours later we finally got in touch with them.
The search went on for hours. Every house, garage, yard and garbage can within the perimeter was checked and rechecked.
- READ: BACKSTABBING THE BLUE.
We also had a team of investigators searching for Thorpe. We put the word out on the street that this involved an infant. Eventually street justice prevailed and information about Thorpe came through. After a brief foot pursuit and an NFL equivalent tackle by one Zions finest we had Thorpe.
Within an hour of his apprehension we had the video from the house directly to the rear of the apartment building. When we finally viewed the video it was one of those “ Oh Shit” moments.
About 20 minutes prior to the police being notified we see Thorpe is seen sprinting around the side of the building holding what appeared to be a back pack. Kisha later confirmed it was a spider man back pack that was kept in the child’s room. Within minutes you see Thorpe running back to the apartment minus the back pack. A few minutes later you see Kisha desperately running around the building with Thorpe.
The search was stopped and now we were switching gears. Although no one said it out loud we all knew the inevitable.
We kept reviewing the video clocking Thorpe run to and from. We returned to the scene that evening and had a few of our investigators sprint while we clocked them. Each one of them wound up in an alley outside the perimeter. Fortunately trash had not been picked up anywhere in that area. We brought a cadaver dog back to the scene and he immediately tracked to a garbage can near the area the officers were sprinting too. We spent hours searching all the cans with no luck.
- READ: IT’S NOT NORMAL.
Our plan was to put detectives on every garbage truck in the area the next day and go through every pickup. Fortunately Thorpe finally gave it up.
Thorpe confirmed he had volunteered to get up when Joshua was crying. When he didn’t stop crying Thorpe placed his had over Joshua’s face suffocating him. Thorpe panicked placed Joshua into a Spider-Man back pack, dumped the back pack out of a widow, picked up and ran as quickly as he could down an alley in back the apartment placing the backpack into a garbage can. He returned and contrived the kidnapping story.
The garbage can he placed Joshua in was the same one we had focused on the night before. The question was where was Joshua?
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Thorpe told us that he was in the crowd watching us search. At some point he began to get nervous about where he placed the back pack. He retrieved the backpack and walked several blocks to another apartment complex placing it into a dumpster. He then waited for a garbage truck to confirm the dumpster was emptied. We recovered video from the area of the dumpster clearly showing what Thorpe described.
For the next four days from dusk to dawn all of us worked non stop attempting to find Joshua’s remains in a 330 acre landfill. We would work in shifts with cadaver dogs and engineers from the disposal site slowly moving trash layer by layer.
- READ: ANNIVERSARY BLUES.
The physical and mental toll this case took on everyone from first responders to volunteers was incredible. We would shuttle personnel from a staging area every four hours. Cadaver dogs needed to be rotated and children’s pools were set up at staging to decontaminate the dogs.
Landfills keep meticulous records of where and when certain trucks dump their content. Garbage is billed by the pound. When the truck compacts it’s load the pressures disintegrates most biological material. Any biological material left is compacted on the site by enormous end loaders. At one point I noticed no vegetable matter, banana peels or any other food in the landfill. An engineer explained that the process disintegrates everything. We were now searching for a Spider Man back pack.
About three days into the search at the landfill I made my way down to rest area. Tried to thank as many volunteers as I could and sat with several of my team having a quick sandwich. One of the detectives in the group started talking about difficulty sleeping during this case. It was like a chain reaction. Everyone sitting their expressed the same problem. This was probably the first time I’d ever seen a case take this type of toll on everyone. Frustration, fatigue the senseless murder of an infant and as usual radicals in the community complaining we weren’t doing enough. One in particular who had been a constant pain in the ass on many of our cases was leading the pack for no other reason then to feel important. Their should be a nice hot seat in hell’s waiting room for him.
In the end Thorpe was charged with multiple counts of murder plead guilty and took 35 years. Joshua’s remains were never recovered. All the officers involved in that case are no longer with the Task Force, some have retired. All were offered counseling most refused. We all left a little piece of ourselves on that hill during those four days.
A year later a memorial was organized for Joshua. I attended with a few of the other detectives. It brought no closure just sad memories.
When a child is involved all hands are on deck. Police Officers, First Responders are wired differently. There is no giving up at any personal cost. Be a coach not a player. If your on the offensive line your only going to see what’s in front of you not the entire field. Take care of your officers, watch them, don’t take no for an answer. These are tough times for Police Officers, wether the public believes it or not we care, we sacrifice, we ask for nothing in return.
For years the Lake County Major Crime Task Force (Task Force) had been preparing for a child kidnapping.
Several years ago a federally funded initiative C.A.R.T. , Child Abduction Response Team, was proposed by one of our Task Force Executive Board members as an additional response protocol for the Task Force. The program was supported by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Amber Alert with financial support from the federal government. Designed to coordinate an expeditious structured response to perhaps the most time sensitive and heinous crime, the kidnapping of a child. Statistically every 30 minutes that passed during a verified abduction decreases the possibility of a successful recovery.