EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – Three missing children whose mother and unborn child were allegedly killed by a friend were found dead on Saturday, East St. Louis police said.
The children, ages 7, 2 and 1, were found in a dryer in the basement of an apartment complex, according to police. No cause of death has been determined, and a police spokesman said that an autopsy was scheduled for Sunday morning.
The news comes after a woman was charged earlier Saturday in the deaths of their pregnant mother and the fetus authorities believe was cut out from the womb after the victim was knocked unconscious.
Tiffany Hall, 24, was jailed on $5 million bond, and faces charges of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child in the death of 23-year-old Jimella Tunstall, said St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida.
Relatives of both women told media outlets the two grew up together and attended alternative schools. The woman in custody often baby-sat Tunstall's children, and Tunstall never expressed worry about leaving them in her care, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
An autopsy showed Tunstall bled to death after sustaining an abdominal wound caused by a sharp object, believed to be scissors, said Ace Hart, a deputy St. Clair County coroner.
Hart said he believes Tunstall was knocked unconscious before her baby, seven months into gestation, was removed during a slaying he called "very graphic and very brutal."
Koehler and Mister refused to publicly discuss the evidence or possible statements Hall has made to investigators. Authorities have also refused to reveal how the women knew each other, or whether Hall's alleged confession came before Tunstall's body was found.
Hall will likely be arraigned Monday on the charges, each carrying a 20 to 60 years or life in prison, Haida said. The murder count could be punishable by the death penalty.
The charges came a day after a meticulous scouring of the 1,100-acre Frank Holten State Park, just blocks from where Tunstall's body was found.
Officials suspect Tunstall was slain on or about Sept. 15, Haida said.
The same day, Hall summoned police to the Frank Holten park, saying she had gone into labor, Hart said. The dead baby, taken to a hospital, showed no signs of trauma, and an autopsy the next day failed to pinpoint a cause of death, he said.
Hall would not let doctors at the hospital examine her and offered conflicting reasons for why she went into labor, alternately saying she had consensual sex and was raped, Hart said.
Authorities say Hall acknowledged to her boyfriend during the baby's funeral Thursday that the child wasn't his, and that she killed the mother. The boyfriend told police, who arrested his girlfriend hours later, investigators said.
DNA tests should determine definitively whether the baby was the one Tunstall was carrying, Hart said.
The baby was buried Thursday as Taylor Horn after a funeral arranged by L. King Funeral Chapel, whose president said Hall called minutes after the service was to start, asking if she could reschedule for a different day so more relatives could attend. At the time, Levi King said, only two relatives were there.
The woman showed up two hours late, ultimately signing an affidavit for the funeral home stating that the child was hers, King said.
The East St. Louis case is the second recent case in the area involving babies.
Shannon Torrez, 36, of Lonedell, Mo. — south of St. Louis, about an hour's drive from here — is accused of slashing a young mother's throat and kidnapping her baby on Sept. 15. The baby was returned unharmed Tuesday, the same day Torrez was arrested.
Also in Missouri, Lisa Montgomery will stand trial April 30 on charges of snatching a baby from the womb of Bobbie Jo Stinnett at her Skidmore, Mo., home in 2004. The baby survived.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.