Kids Found Dead In Washer And Dryer

In this undated photo provided by the Illinois State Police, 7-year-old Demond Tunstall, 3-year-old Ivan Tunstall, and 2-year-old Jinella Tunstall are shown. Police are searching for the children they say were last seen with an unnamed 26-year-old woman, who police said they are questioning as a person of interest Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, in East St. Louis, Ill. Police say they are questioning the 26-year-old in connection with the death of a woman whose fetus was cut from her womb.
AP
Authorities on Sunday were trying to pinpoint the cause of death for three children an investigator says were found decomposing inside the washer and dryer of their apartment, hours after a woman was accused of killing their pregnant mother and her fetus.

Saturday night's discovery inside apartment 28J at the John DeShields public housing complex came two days after the mother of the children — ages 7, 2 and 1 ½ was found in a weedy lot, her abdomen torn open and the fetus missing.

Investigators carried out a furious two-day search, including scouring an 1,100-acre state park, for the children they said were last seen Monday with 24-year-old Tiffany Hall, a family friend prosecutors charged Saturday afternoon with killing Jimella Tunstall and her fetus.

Hours later, Hall pointed authorities to Tunstall's apartment that investigators had briefly visited earlier in search of photographs of the children for media outlets to publicize as the search pressed on, said Ace Hart, a deputy St. Clair County coroner.

Hall "fessed up where the kids were. She didn't say she killed them," Hart said Sunday, saying he understood why investigators may have overlooked the children during their previous trip to the apartment. "Who would be looking in the washer and dryer?"

But by Saturday night, Hart said, "you could find them by the smell."

Two of the children were nude, the third wearing only underpants, Hart said. The oldest, 7-year-old DeMond Tunstall, was found in the dryer, the younger two children — 2-year-old Ivan Tunstall-Collins and 1-year-old Jinela Tunstall — in the washer.

Hall remained jailed Sunday in nearby Belleville on $5 million bond, charged with first-degree murder in Tunstall's death and with intentional homicide of an unborn child.

Autopsies on the children were scheduled for Sunday, Hart said.

Illinois State Police Capt. Craig Koehler declined to say late Saturday whether Hall was suspected in the children's deaths. The cause of their deaths had not been determined, he said.

"Any time you have three deceased children, it's a very emotional time," Koehler said, fighting back tears. "All these investigators have worked tirelessly with one outcome in mind — to find these children alive."

An autopsy showed that Jimella Tunstall, 23, whose body was found Thursday, bled to death after sustaining an abdominal wound caused by a sharp object, believed to be scissors, Hart has said. Authorities believe her womb was cut open after she was knocked unconscious.

Relatives say Tunstall grew up with Hall and had let her baby-sit her children.

Officials suspect Tunstall, who was seven months pregnant, was slain on or about Sept. 15, said Robert Haida, St. Clair County's prosecutor. The same day, Hall summoned police to a park, saying she had given birth to a stillborn child, Hart said.

Hall and the baby were taken to a hospital, where she would not let doctors examine her and offered conflicting reasons for why she went into labor, alternately saying she had consensual sex and was raped, Hart said. The dead baby showed no signs of trauma, and an autopsy the next day failed to pinpoint a cause of death, Hart said.

Authorities say Hall acknowledged to her boyfriend during the baby's funeral Thursday that the child wasn't his, and that she had killed the mother to get it. The boyfriend, reportedly a sailor home on leave, told police, who arrested his girlfriend hours later, investigators said.

Hall has two children of her own. Koehler said they are "safe and sound."

Hall likely will be arraigned Monday on the two charges, each carrying a 20 to 60 years or life in prison, Haida said. The murder count could be punishable by the death penalty.

DNA tests should determine definitively whether the baby was the one Tunstall was carrying, Hart said.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.