Three young children were found dead Saturday, hours after a woman was charged with killing their pregnant mother and her fetus in a grisly attack in which her womb was cut open, authorities said.
The two boys, ages 7 and 2, and their 1-year-old sister were found together in an apartment in the East St. Louis public housing complex where their mother lived, Illinois State Police Capt. Craig Koehler said.
The kids were last seen Monday with family friend Tiffany Hall, 24, now charged with first-degree murder in the death of their mother. Hall is also charged with intentional homicide of an unborn child, said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida.
Not charged in kids’ deaths
Koehler declined to say whether Hall was suspected in the children’s deaths. The cause of their deaths had not been determined and autopsies would be performed Sunday, he said.
The body of their mother, Jimella Tunstall, 23, was found last week in a weedy East St. Louis lot.
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, who was seven months pregnant, was knocked unconscious before her fetus was removed during a slaying he called “very graphic and very brutal.”
‘A very emotional time’
Hall, jailed on $5 million bond, will likely 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.
The bodies of DeMond Tunstall, 7, Ivan Tunstall-Collins, 2, and Jinela Tunstall, 1, were found in an apartment at the John DeShields public housing complex.
Authorities said a lead directed them to check the apartment, which had not been searched previously. They declined to release more information.
“Anytime you have three deceased children, it’s a very emotional time,” Koehler said late Saturday as he fought back tears. “All these investigators have worked tirelessly with one outcome in mind — to find these children alive.”
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.
Conflicting stories about baby
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 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.
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.